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Christmas for many is over. We’ve had our candlelight service. Our dinners. Our craft days. Throughout Advent we’ve looked at a lot of songs. The songs of Mary, of Zechariah, of the angels. We’ve sung a lot of songs. We love our Christmas songs don’t we? What do we do now though? Once Christmas is over, does this mean that the song is over too?
Not quite yet. We have one more song to long at. The song of Simeon. I’ve said we like these songs and maybe I’m being a little presumptuous. I’m assuming though that if you’re here today you’re into this Christ following thing. If you’re not, maybe you’re here because you’re with someone you love and who loves you, and that someone is into the Christ following thing. We’ve left our beds and our decorated houses and our presents and food and all the other things that go along with Christmas to come here and wait for God. To wait for God to say something to us maybe. Let’s look at our story and hear what God has to say to our hearts this morning.
We’ve said that the story of Jesus’ birth is a continuation of an old story. Jesus represents the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham that he would become the father of a great nation through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise made to David that his throne would be established forever. Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise of God with us.
This old story was played out in the Temple. It was in the Temple that the people of Israel found the presence of God. It was to the Temple that Mary and Joseph take Jesus to present him to God and to engage in a purification rite for Mary. A sacrifice of two turtledoves or young pigeons for a family without means such as this one.
It is in the Temple that two people are about to meet Jesus. The first is Simeon. Luke describes him as righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel. Someone on whom the Spirit of the Lord rested. The second is a prophet. Anna. We are told that she never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.
We have the same Spirit of the Lord on us friends. The same Spirit of the Lord in us. It caused Simeon and Anna to look actively for consolation. For deliverance. The hope of Israel had been represented by the Temple. It was the place of God’s presence. Of worship. Of sacrifice. This is why Israel was so devastated when the Temple was destroyed. The original hearers of Luke’s gospel knew what this was like. The temple had been destroyed.
Simeon and Anna meet the one who would construct a new temple. A temple not made of stones but of hearts. They were in a position to recognize this. Simeon was devout. He was religious. He worshipped religiously. Anna never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.
They were able to recognize the one who was their hope. They were able to recognize Jesus. They sought him, you see. We’ve been talking about this for quite some time now at Blythwood. What it means to seek Jesus. My heart says, seek his face. Your face O Lord do I seek, as the Psalm goes. What we do is important you see. There are those who say “I’m not into religion, it’s all about a relationship with Jesus.” This is true to some extent of course, it is about a relationship with Jesus. It’s about making a personal decision to follow Jesus and to have a relationship with Jesus and God the Father facilitated as it is by the Holy Spirit who transforms us and comforts us and teaches us and reminds us of things and does all the things the Holy Spirit does.
But you can’t have a relationship with someone unless you work at it. You cannot get to know someone new unless you spend time with them. You cannot get to learn new things about someone you have known for a long time without spending time with them. The practices of Simeon and Anna enabled them to see Jesus when he appeared.
So how are we going to be able to see Jesus appear when he appears around us? How are we going to be able to see Jesus in people, in situations? How are we going to be able to experience the wonder of God in creation? Friends by keeping God in front of us every day. We’re not all about a religion but we’re called to do things religiously. Listen for God in his word. Pray. We’re going to start a series on the Lord’s Prayer in January. Gather together. Sing. Gather around this table. Do deeds of kindness. How devoted do we want to be? The devotion of Simeon and Anna enabled them to see Jesus. How do we want to be seeing Jesus and taking the story and the message of these songs that we’ve been looking at beyond this week and into the new year?
I believe that it’s in these practices that we recognize our salvation. That we come to a knowledge of how God has delivered us in Christ. A knowledge that reaches down into the depths of our being. A knowledge that gives us hope. Hope that is tied to memory. The memories that we read about in scripture. Memories of words like “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” Like “Sing for joy; O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.” Like “The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” We’ve heard these promises. Have you seen them in our life? God’s promises haven’t been fulfilled completely but they will be one day. This is our hope. Hope is tied to memory. This is partly why we get together even on Christmas Day. To remember. Simeon remembered the promises and he was filled with the Holy Spirit and this meant he could see the promise when it was in front of him in the form of this little baby boy and he praised God for having seen it.
Simeon makes a choice. He calls himself God’s servant. God’s slave. We have a choice to make and we are going to serve somebody or something. We are going to look for our consolation somewhere. For comfort. For deliverance. We look for it in systems, in people, in ourselves. I read recently that the self-help industry in the US is an $11 billion/year industry. Find goodness/peace/harmony within! The problem is when I’ve looked within myself for those things I have found myself to be sadly lacking. We’ve been talking about the birth of Jesus and the little baby in the manger crib and little Jesus meek and mild but we can’t think of the wood of the manger without thinking of the wood of the cross and remembering that on his way to the cross Jesus said “Now the judgement of the world is at hand” and the word for judgement is krisis, from which we get our word crisis which means a time when an important decision must be made. One writer puts it like this – “Jesus will bring truth to light and in so doing throw all who come in contact with him into a crisis of decision. In that decision, rising and falling, life and death, result. Jesus precipitates the centrally important movement of one’s life, toward or away from God. As much as we may wish to join the name of Jesus only to the positive, satisfying, and blessed in life, the inescapable fact is that anyone who turns on light creates shadows.” This following Christ is not for the faint of heart friends. We may not always like what the light reveals in us. The thoughts of many will be revealed, Simeon sings. Jesus met with a lot of opposition in his life. So did his followers. Much of it had to do with God’s grace being extended in unexpected places – to unexpected people. We don’t always like that. God’s grace is extended even to those who hate us? Those who persecute us? Those who annoy us with great regularity? God is going to call us and enable us to extend the same mercy and grace and love that we’ve been shown? To be this light to the nations? Yes. Yes he is.
When we turn to him, he’s going to cause those shadows to flee with a lot of tenderness and mercy and gentleness and kindness. Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, Simeon sings. I can die in peace. I can live in peace. We can put aside false promises of peace and look to the one who was to be known as the Prince of Peace.
Isn’t this what we need? Isn’t this what our world needs? What our world is crying out for? At the end of our passage we have this picture of Anna praising God and speaking about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Jerusalem represented hope. She praised God and spoke about Christ to all who were looking for hope.
May this be true for us friends as we go from here and into a new year. Hope is tied to memory. What are your best memories of Christmas? Time spent with ones you love and who love you? Coming to see Christ newly? To see Christ anew? It’s not over yet. There is still some Christmas to come. We’ve been talking about keeping Christ in Christmas. May the memories of Christmas 2016 kindle our hope, kindle our faith, kindle our love. Our love of God. Our love of one another. May we ever more come to know that our best memories and our best hopes are to be found in the one who comforted and consoled, who comforts and consoles, and who one day will bring all things to himself. The author of our salvation, our deliverance. Christ Jesus. Merry Christmas everyone.