Listen: Click to listen
(to save a file simply right click the link and select 'Save Target As...' or 'Save Link As...')
Christmas is over. For some, this might seem like a good thing I suppose. For some, it’s not so good. A season of a lot of activity and good times has come to an end. The season of Advent has come to an end – a time of intentionally taking time together to re-align ourselves with God’s purposes of bringing life and blessings. We’ve had a lot of celebrating. A lot of time together. A lot of singing. Gathering around tables. Dressing up in Christmas sweaters and so on.
It can be hard after Christmas. The lights that made the short days seem a little better are put back in their boxes. We try and not get the needles all over the place as we bring our Christmas trees outside. Speaking of those there are few sights more forlorn to me than a discarded Christmas tree awaiting pickup by the curb. Post-Christmas blues is definitely a thing. You can look it up on Wikihow. It’s described in the DSM IV as mental distress occurring after the holidays and festival season.
By no means are we here to bring anybody down. We do like to keep it real though, as we’ve been saying since the 1st Sunday in Advent. I want us to look this morning with Simeon and Anna at what happened, what’s happening, what will happen. We began our Advent series by looking at Isaiah 64. We talked about lament and confession. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down...” “After all this, will you restrain yourself, O Lord? Will you keep silent, and punish us so severely?” We talked about what home means. We talked about what it means as a community to live with the joy that comes from God with us. We talked about living in expectation of promises. We talked about the events of the first Christmas and God appearing in a tangible way and how we meet God in tangible ways.
What happens when we go back to the everyday? Regular school and work schedules. Regular life schedules. Let us look to the stories of Simeon and Anna. Simeon. God has heard. This is what his name means. This is what God does. We looked at this in the story of the Exodus. “I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters,” God told Moses. Anna. Her name means Grace. How perfect.
Two people who are going about their daily lives. Going about their seemingly mundane activities. Of course where God is involved nothing is ever merely mundane. Seemingly just another poor Jewish family coming to the temple to fulfill the law. A reminder that this story in which we are invited to be caught up in is the continuation and the fulfillment of a promise that was made to Abraham – I will make you a great nation through whom all the nations of the world will be blessed. God is doing something new but it’s in the context of promises made long ago.
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel…” Simeon looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s promise. Consolation. Not in the sense of “consolation prize” but in the sense of being consoled. We’ve talked about a lot of the things that make life hard. Things that make us see life as a howling wilderness waste. This consolation, this comfort had been promised through the prophet Isaiah. Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. This is the promise to which Simeon looked forward.
A couple coming to the temple to offer a sacrifice of turtledoves or young pigeons was not a particularly singular occurrence. Simeon saw things differently. Look at how he is described. The Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple…” It seems that the Holy Spirit is rather important here no? The Holy Spirit enabled Simeon to see that there was something going on here beyond what might be readily apparent. Think of the scene. A not very well off couple from Nazareth and their baby. It’s not like anyone is going around with halos here. The Holy Spirit enabled Simeon to see what God was doing. Luke would later describe the same Spirit as being poured out on the followers of Christ after his return to the heavens. The same Spirit that rested on Simeon, that revealed to him, that guided him, rests on us, reveals to us and guides us.
Let us take that with us into the New Year.
We’ve been talking a lot about waiting through Advent. We’re still waiting. The people who read Luke first were still waiting. They were living in a world in which Jerusalem had just been destroyed. How could one talk about its redemption? Its consolation? Because in Christ there is a day that is coming. The day when we hear God say Look I am doing a new thing. The day described as a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven. The day when mourning and crying and pain will be no more. There is also a “now” though. “Now” is actually the first word of Simeon’s song. You have this great picture of old Simeon (it’s not specified but it’s generally thought Simeon was quite mature what with his whole “you are dismissing your servant in peace” talk) taking this young child in his arms and saying “Now master, you are dismissing your servant in peace.”
Because these promises are for now. These promises that we looked at last week are for now. Because in Christ and in the Holy Spirit we find God’s promises being fulfilled in our lives. We find them being fulfilled in our lives in the most seemingly ordinary mundane situations. A word of encouragement. A word of blessing. An email of encouragement. A word of thanks. An act of encouragement. An act of blessings. An act of thanks. How might we be blessings to one another? Reminders of the promises of God to one another? People in and through whom God makes his promises known?
We face a lot of unknowns as we go into the New Year. We face a lot of unknowns all the time, truth be told. Let these questions guide us as we step into the unknown with our hands clasping the hand of the one who saves us, who brings consolation and comfort and peace. Let us ask God to enable us by the Spirit to see where God is at work in our every day. Let us continue to be intentional about our seeking God. Let it not be something we reserve for Advent and Lent, but let it be something that permeates our every day. If you don’t have a daily devotional practice talk to me or Pastor Abby about it. We love those conversations and they’re encouraging to us! Simeon lived in expectation of the promise. Let us be a community of faith that lives in expectation of God’s promises, that reminds one another of God’s promises. Ask the Holy Spirit to enable this in and through us.
Not that this is all sweetness and light or an ever progressing onward and upward movement. Look at the note of warning Simeon sounds – “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed…” Jesus represents a decision point you see. It’s all very well to celebrate the birth of a baby and all the things that go along with it at Christmastime. It’s another to remember that this baby will grow up to extend love and acceptance to groups that many thought were outside of God’s love and acceptance. It’s one thing to invite Jesus to bring light in our lives, but as someone has said, light creates shadows. When Luke speaks of inner thoughts, he’s generally speaking of thoughts that run counter to God’s purposes of life and blessings. Self- centred thought. Self-righteous thought. Self-promoting thought. Those who believe they’ve arrived will fall. Those who believe that they need to pick themselves up by their own spiritual bootstraps will fall. Those who believe that they can rely on their own competencies/wealth/ingenuity/wisdom insert-whatever-it-is-you’re-depending-on-here will fall. There is a good way to be falling though. Bernard of Clairvaux called it self-abnegation. Not self-degradation or self-effacement but a denial of the tendency to depend on ourselves – to look to God, in other words, as our foundation, and in so doing to find ourselves lifted up!
To ever be developing a sense of our need for God. To tell God this. Lord, I Need You. I Need Thee Every Hour I Need Thee.
This is what we were created for. It’s not about our pride at this point, in the presence of Christ. It was never supposed to be about our own pride.
Speaking of someone who knew her dependence on God, we have Anna. Grace. “There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. Had no means of her own, likely, as a widow. Depended on God. Literally. Worshipped at the temple with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
She began to tell it. Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Anna’s dependence on God, her seeking of God, enabled her to see the promise when The Promise appeared before her in the form of this baby. She began to tell about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. All who were looking for consolation. There are people all around us every day who are looking for consolation. For meaning. For a purpose. For fulfillment. These two devout Israelites saw fulfillment. Have you known this?
Then go. And tell it. And show it. Our opportunities to tell will often be a result of what we show. Ask God to enable us to show the grace, the mercy, the peace that we have known, that we know, that we will know.
Let that be our resolution as we go forward from Christmas 2017. As Christmas 2017 becomes a memory, let us remember that, as someone has said, hope is always tied to memory. Let us remind one another continually of what God has done. Let us encourage one another by pointing out what God is doing in and among us. Let us remain hopeful together as we remind one another what God will do one day.
These two people represented Israel’s best memories and best hopes. What are some of our best memories of Christmas? Joyous times with family. Lots of love. Joyous times of praise, of thanks. What are our best hopes? Peace. Goodwill. Justice. Forgiveness. Reunion. The end of mourning, of tears. These are God’s purposes friends. May God continue to enable us to show and tell of them as we remember together and as we hope together.