Gospel Passage: LUKE 2:22-40
1st Sunday of Christmas (12/28/2014) at Resurrection Anglican Church, Woodstock, GA 30188
This last Advent has been truly a season of ‘waiting and anticipation’ as we awaited the arrival of our newest child, Norah-Jane Brigid Marie. Most of our children have been born around 38-39 weeks, and NJ decided to wait until almost 42 weeks to greet us with her arrival. That almost month in between 38 and 42 was gut-wrenching. Fr Gene even said he felt like I entered Lent a little early during that time. Katie and I literally tried every thing in the book to naturally induce labour— and nothing seemed to work. I was at my wit’s end and was beginning to think that labour would never happen. But Katie knew that something was just not right. So we found out the baby’s position was just a little off, made some changes, visited the chiropractor, had some adjustments, and at her appointed time, when the conditions were right for her but not within our time frame, she graced us with her presence. Our long-awaited child arrived, in a tiny, red head package. And what an highly anticipated, yet completely unexpected package, she was and is.
Today’s Gospel reading goes along those same lines. We join the Holy Family as they are entering the temple for the Virgin Mary’s purification offering that occurred 40 days after the birth. This mention in the Gospel shows that Christ didn’t come as one against the Law, but was under the law, as our passage in Galatians stated today: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
A little history of the purification: according to the Mosaic law a mother who had given birth to a man-child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain three and thirty days “in the blood of her purification”…When the time (forty or eighty days) was over the mother was to “bring to the temple a lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtle dove for sin“; if she was not able to offer a lamb, she was to take two turtledoves or two pigeons; the priest prayed for her and so she was cleansed. (Leviticus 12:2-8)
Back to our text, we see the Holy Family entering the temple with their offering of “two turtledoves or two pigeons” or the sacrifice required for those who were poor, and are greeted by a man named Simeon. From the Gospel, we see that Simeon was a righteous and devout man, and was looking for the Messiah like a a good devout Jew in 1st Century 2nd Temple Judaism. For Simeon, the consolation of Israel was a corporate event that encompassed all of Israel, not an individual salvation for him or for others.
John Piper puts it this way:
The consolation Jesus brings in fulfillment of Simeon’s hopes is the application of God’s tenderness to a war-weary people. It is the application of God’s pardon for a sin-sick and guilty people. When Jesus was born, the voice of God became flesh and dwelt among us. And what the voice said was, “Console, console my people.”
As the family enters the Temple, and Simeon spots them, he sees what he has been waiting for his entire life, what Scripture says was promised to him by the Holy Spirit: the Messiah.
What amazes me in this text is that Jesus first revealing as the Messiah, the Long Awaited One, was not made to the rich or powerful, but to the old, poor, and weary. Jesus was revealed to shepherds and old prophets, not to the Emperor or the Chief Priest. This infant was already being the revolutionary, already reconstituting Israel around Himself, with a group of rag-tag followers.
So Simeon begins to sing a song, a prophetic song:
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
When Simeon saw Jesus and Mary, he pronounced a king among the peasants, a Messiah from the poor. Simeon finds what he has hoped for– it wasn’t on his schedule and it wasn’t what he expected.
Simeon makes an odd request in that song, at least, for us to be considering just a few days removed from Christmas Day and in the midst of this joyful season– “Lord now let your servant depart in peace.” Simeon is asking permission to die. For those of us in the Western world, we distance ourselves from death as much as possible. Some of us, we know, have lost a loved one in the past year and that makes this Christmas especially difficult. And most of us are reminded of those we have loved and lost by a stanza from a hymn, a favorite ornament on the tree, or some fleeting but vivid memory of Christmas past. Well, Simeon is no different. He’s an old man, and has been around the block more than a few times, and so we can imagine that he has tasted love and loss, joy and despair, hope and fear, just like you and me. And so he sings of death simply because he can’t help it; because he, like us, lives with it everyday.
So I was mistaken earlier — Simeon does not ask for death; rather, he accepts it courageously and confidently in the light of God’s promised salvation. And he does so, again, only upon seeing and holding God’s promise in his hands, only after touching and feeling the promise of life which God granted to him through Christ… and which God grants also to us.
He then goes on and announces what wasn’t expected– this servant would suffer. He wasn’t going to be greeted in the streets by the thousands as the Messiah, but was “appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed.” Simeon here is announcing the Suffering Servant prophesied in Isaiah centuries before this moment.
And then comes Anna, another prophetess and servant in the temple, who acknowledges what Simeon is saying and begins to announce it herself. I’ve pondered why Luke neglects to record what Anna says, but from all that we can tell, it was a praise over the coming of the Messiah. Anna’s praise, along with Simeon’s song, continues the spontaneous prayer and praise that has accompanied Jesus from Zachariah to Elizabeth to Mary herself.
Here we see the vocation of Jesus being fore-tolled and practiced even as an infant– this is God’s peace entering the world and already shaking things up. This is Immanuel — God with us– being announced and taking center stage. This is the Paschal Lamb entering the temple to be consecrated to God. This is the Messiah, who fulfills the law to the nth degree, being put under the law. Simeon sees this in our Gospel passage, Simeon & Anna sense this through the power of the Holy Spirit.
But this Messiah isn’t just for Israel, but for all people including Gentiles. This is a Messiah who isn’t coming as a military general or kingly ruler, but is a suffering servant found in this little child who is bringing together a new Israel around himself which is now the Church. This is the announcement of God’s rule to the world in the body of a small poor infant child. If Simeon hadn’t the eyes to look in unlikely places for God, then he wouldn’t have seen what he was promised. Simeon had to be open to his expectations to being shattered for God to reveal Himself to him.
I want to bring up another Feast that is happening today– the Feast of the Holy Innocents. You see, if we go back to what is happening in the world around Jesus, we see him proclaimed as the Messiah in the Temple and that meant he was ‘the King of the Jews.’ Herod, the ruler of land at that time as an emissary of Ceasar, was not happy to be challenged. So he ordered all infant boys, two years or younger, in Bethlehem to be slaughtered. They are commonly referred to as the ‘holy innocents’ and the first Martyrs for Christ. You may ask, how does that go with our Gospel lesson today? We have been talking about unexpected surprises and having eyes to see Jesus. For many of us, we are saddened by the loss of life caused by war, genocide, and abortion. Many of us have felt the loss of young lives in our lives or had loved ones taken in what seemed like too soon. There are women in our congregation and in our community who have lost children to miscarriage. For them, we can only sit, weep, and then pray that God reveals He is there, in the midst of that suffering. God is there, in an unexpected way, for you. May we pray for all the holy innocents, the victims & the loved, as we await the coming of Christ to make all things right.
In our modern lives, it’s so easy to be distracted by our phones, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. We are all connected with information, yet we are not really connected anymore. We retreat to our computers, or our gated communities, or our political allegiances, or our country clubs, and I wonder, are we missing finding Jesus, are we missing finding God’s peace?
Perhaps we are distracting ourselves so much that we are not seeing Jesus in our neighbor.
Perhaps we are on our phones too much that we don’t see Jesus in our family.
Perhaps we are distracted just enough that we are failing to recognize Jesus in the Eucharist.
Perhaps we are so consumed with our daily lives that we aren’t looking for Jesus when we need him the most.
The song of Simeon is a both/ and. It’s about finding our salvation in the most unexpected places and about sitting in the shadow of death singing songs of joy and gladness. It’s about accepting our present reality in hope of the ‘consolation’ that is promised by God. It’s about looking for Jesus.
Jesus is presenting himself to us today not just in this building but out in the streets and parks, workplaces and homes. Jesus is arriving, in his own time, to us and presenting himself to us in packages that are long awaited, but not what we expect, unless we open our eyes to see.
One of my favorite Anglican bishops, Frank Weston, put it this way back in 1923 in the closing address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress:
You have begun with the Christ of Bethlehem, you have gone on to know something of the Christ of Calvary—but the Christ of the Sacrament, not yet. Oh brethren! if only you listen to-night your movement is going to sweep England. If you listen. I am not talking economics, I do not understand them. I am not talking politics, I do not understand them. I am talking the Gospel, and I say to you this: If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.
There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty; and I beg you, brethren, as you love the Lord Jesus, consider that it is at least possible that this is the new light that the Congress was to bring to us. You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.
Will we allow Jesus into our hopes and dreams in the midst of all the unfulfilled promises? Are we looking for Jesus amongst the glitter and glam of modern life or should we be looking for him in the dirty, grimy, and unsafe places? Do we have the eyes and faith that Simeon had, the eyes and faith to recognize God’s redemption in unlikely bodies? Are we willing to open our hearts to God’s Peace found in Jesus even if it means it’s not how we expect?
God’s Peace arrived in an odd package so many years ago– a small child, born to a Virgin, in a small city, in a small country. That my friends is incarnation– God with us, God for us, God one of us. God’s arrival is unexpected, long awaited, but always on time.
May he grant us patience as we await His arrival in our lives and may we have eyes that see where He is already active in our lives. Jesus is here for you. May you open your eyes to see Him.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.