June 2019   
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Luke 2:22-38


            As we begin a new year, we often look back and remember the year that’s past.  We see lists of famous people who died.  We remember the big news stories, both good and bad.  We rejoice over new births, weddings, and accomplishments.  And we grieve for memories of times that can never be lived again.

            But at some point, we put away the Christmas decorations, pull out the new calendar, and look to the future.  Some see the New Year as a hope for improvement – a chance to leave behind past mistakes – a clean slate to try again and get our act together – a chance to lose weight, make more money, and/or kick old habits.  Some see the future as a downhill slide into more loneliness, deteriorating health, and the hopelessness of old age.  How does God want us to look forward to the future?

            Our scripture this morning is about 2 godly people, Simeon and Anna, who spent their whole lives looking forward to the future, with great expectation.

            When Jesus is one month old, his parents bring him to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice as required in the Law of Moses.  Jesus is presented to God in the Court of the Women, an outer court which is as far into the Temple as his mother Mary (or any woman) can go.  They bring him to the big bronze gate known as the Nicanor Gate, the same place where Peter tells the lame man to rise up and walk.  Since Jesus’ parents can’t afford a lamb for the sacrifice, the Law of Moses allows them to offer a pair of turtledoves or pigeons.

            Little do Joseph and Mary realize when they visit the Temple that 2 very old saints have been waiting all their lives for Joseph and Mary to appear on the scene.  When these old saints see this newborn baby in the arms of Joseph and Mary, they proclaim that this is the promised Messiah they’ve been waiting for so long, the one who will set the world free from bondage, the Savior, not only of the Jews, but of the entire world.

            When Simeon sees the child, he says, “Now, O Lord, you can let me depart this life in peace.  Today is the day I’ve been waiting for all my life.  Because now my eyes have seen your salvation!”  Likewise, when Anna sees the child, she gives thanks to God and runs out and spreads the news to everyone who will listen, saying, “He’s the one we’ve all been waiting for!”

            Joseph and Mary hear such wonderful words spoken about their newborn child: from shepherds who bring them news of a vision of angels in the night sky – from these two devoted senior citizens in the Temple – and later on from mysterious visitors from the East who come to worship Jesus.  Why do Joseph and Mary marvel at their words, after the miraculous birth they have witnessed?  Because they can still hardly believe what has happened – especially Joseph!  All of these events reinforce Joseph’s conviction that Mary was telling the truth, and that the angel who spoke to him was not a hallucination or a product of his imagination.

Joseph and Mary may have had reason to feel starry-eyed about the wonderful words they were hearing, but Simeon brings them back to earth by bracing them for the trauma Mary will go through as she sees what happens to her son.  Simeon warns them that this child is going to upset the political power structure.  He will be “a sign that is spoken against / contradicted / contested.”  But in the end, those who reject this child will themselves be rejected by God.

            Simeon and Anna have spent their entire lives waiting for this day.  Instead of all the other things they could have been doing, they devoted their lives to prayer and praising God.  Unlike many people of their age, Simeon and Anna were not living in the past.  They were living completely for the future.  Look especially at Anna!  She lived for nothing else than to see her Messiah come!  It says, “She did not depart from the Temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.”  And she did this for almost 60 solid years.  She spent 60 solid years waiting for Christmas!  Now, that’s what I call devotion!  This 84-year-old Jewish lady had more chutzpah than most of us have.  Some might call her a fanatic.  Some might say she lived in a fantasy world.  But the Bible presents Anna to us as an example of faith, whose faith is rewarded in the end.

            Simeon and Anna were two open-minded, forward-thinking senior citizens.  They may have belonged to the older generation, but they were not afraid of change.  They were willing to let go, trusting that the past was worth leaving behind in exchange for a glorious future.  The fact that they waited with such determination for the coming of their Messiah shows that they were dissatisfied with the world as it was, and they were willing to say, “Out with the old order and in with the new!”  And that takes an open mind.  They were willing to accept, and eagerly awaited, the changes that God was bringing to pass.  And that takes complete trust.

            Simeon says, “Now, O Lord, I can die in peace.”  For some, death is an escape from a world which has changed too much.  Grace Livingston Hill, a famous author of Christian romance novels from the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s (and a dedicate Christian herself), said after the end of WWII, “I don’t want to live anymore in a world that has nuclear bombs.”  Even with her lifelong faith in God, the world had become too scary for her.  The world had changed too much.  But Simeon says “Now, Lord, I can die in peace” because he has seen with his eyes the proof that the world’s gonna be OK.

Simeon and Anna were not afraid of change, even though they knew Jesus would turn the world upside down.  For Simeon, death was far from an escape.  He cannot depart this world in peace until change has come.   Simeon and Anna could sing those words by Fleetwood Mac made famous at the 1992 Democratic Convention:  “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow!  Don’t stop; it will soon be here.  It will be here, better than before.  Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone!”

Simeon and Anna lived BC, but they longed for AD.  I hope I can be as open-minded as Simeon and Anna were about change when I get to be as old as them.  Unfortunately, I already find myself holding on to the past.  I see it every time I go back to towns I used to live in and see how much has changed.  The geography of Belleville has changed so much that maps from 10 years ago are no good anymore; there are major roads that never used to exist.  If you are using an old map, prepare to be confused.

At this time in my life, I find myself struggling with a culture that has changed so much, I feel like I no longer have the tools to deal with it.  We live in a world where how cool you are, how well you can browbeat people with emotion, and how persuasively you can tell a lie have become more important than reason, evidence, and honesty.  Maybe God’s trying to keep me from getting too comfortable down here.

Churches need to learn to live in a new reality.  In most towns, churches have an uphill struggle to command the ability to attract people that they once had.  We must earn the right to be heard, and we must be willing to go to them, because they are highly unlikely to come to us on their own.  I grew up in a time where people in the church wanted to know exactly what the Bible really said.  Today, to the vast majority in the church, it doesn’t matter.  It may not be the world we want to live in, it may be a world that has chucked God, but it’s the world God has thrust us into, and we need to learn how to navigate in it, like Simeon and Anna, who had already said No to what their world had become, and were longing for something better. 

Simeon and Anna were old enough to remember when their country was free, before the Romans took over in 63 BC.  They could remember the days before Julius Caesar abolished the Roman republic and became a dictator in 44 BC.  A lot of Romans wished they could go back to the Republic.  A lot of Jews wished they could go back to the kingdom started by the Maccabees, which was still fresh in their minds.  Those were the days!  A lot of Jews and Romans saw the world as going straight down the tubes, and they didn’t want any part of it.  They wanted to go back to what they once had. 

A lot of change took place during the lives of Simeon and Anna.  They had no choice.  They couldn’t hang on to anything if they’d tried.  The world they once knew was swept away like the waters of a raging river.

We all have a fear of letting go.  Like Simeon and Anna, we need to learn to let go, to quit clinging to the past, to realize that this world is destined to never again be the same, to practice looking forward and realizing that one day, all of this will disappear and be transformed into a brand-new creation.

Simeon and Anna may have had failing eyesight, but they had eyes that could see what no one else could see.  They could recognize that this helpless infant in Mary’s arms was and is the Savior of the world, the One who will bring sinners into a new relationship with God, who will restore our broken relationship with God that was lost through sin.  Even pagan nations will come to believe in the God of Israel through this child.  He is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises, the only reliable source of hope for our troubled world.  He is the one who came to conquer death, and to give us joy and everlasting life and peace with God, if only we will place our faith in him.

Lord, give us the faith of Simeon and Anna – a willingness to let go, a willingness to let our world be transformed by you.  Give us the eyes to see who Jesus really is: the fulfillment of all your promises.  Give us the courage to let him change our world.  We ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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