Sermons

 

"Meeting Christ in 2018”
Luke 2: 21-40, by Marshall Zieman, preached December 31, 2017 at PCOC

Our Scripture reading today resumes the Christmas story from Luke 2.  Let’s see what happened in the Bible the week after Christmas…

2:21After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.  22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”  33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.  34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36There 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, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At 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.

39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God!

When's the last time that you met somebody famous, maybe recently, or maybe long ago?  Do you remember who it was and when?

Way back in college my whole family got to meet the Governor of our state, Kansas.  I had a 2nd cousin who was a watercolor artist and that year he was selected the "Governor's Artist" for 1978.  They were having a little ceremony at the Capitol in Topeka so my folks sent me to J.C. Penney to get a new suit.  My whole family got to gather and chat in the Governor's Office for about 15 minutes, and we all shook the Governor's hand as we filed out. 

Once at a mall in Colorado Springs I met an Apollo astraunaut.  One of the people in our group had worked for the Air Force and recognized James Irwin out shopping.  We all said "hi," and smiled, and then went on our way.

Many restaurants like to frame pictures of famous people who've dined at their establishment, especially, it seems, if it's a Bar-B-Q restaurant.   BBQ places in Kansas City anyway where I grew up have autographed pictures of actors, senators, presidents, and athletes on their walls.  I've yet to meet anybody famous at a restaurant, but I did once meet somebody famous at a baseball game. 

Once at a Royals game at the Old Stadium in Kansas City, right as we were crossing the street to go in, a big blue Cadillac pulled up and a white haired man in a bright royal-blue suit jumped out.  My dad said, "Quick, go get his autograph.  That's probably the richest man you'll ever meet."  It was Ewing Kauffmann, the late owner of the KC Royals.

Governors, astronauts, celebrities, millionaires - it's thrilling to meet people like this.  It's a nice memory, but I don't think that meeting any of these people really changed my life in any way.

In contrast, I would say that the people in our reading for today, they had their lives profoundly altered by the events of that day:

  • Simeon, who says basically, "God, you can take me home now. I have seen your salvation."
  • Anna, who never had left the Temple for many, many, years now begins to tell anyone who'd listen about the Child who had crossed her path that day.
  • Mary and Joseph, who are astounded at what is being said.
  • These onlookers, those who are looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem, get more that they'd expected when they'd left their homes that morning.

On this day all their paths converge on that tiny person of Jesus Christ, and people marvel as to what this child would mean to them and to their future.  And now, regardless of whoever else you may meet in 2018, this same Jesus still causes people to marvel and wonder.  In fact, the kind of people we ultimately become is determined by what we have done with the person of Jesus Christ.

What will you do with Jesus Christ this new year?  This story of Anna, Simeon, Mary, Joseph and a little baby shows us what is supposed to happen when the reign of God intersects with whoever holds the reins of your life.  

It easily boils down to this – what is your attitude towards Jesus Christ?  Let's look briefly at the attitudes of all these people towards this baby from the manger and see what we can learn from them.  Here’s two things I see:

The first thing has to do with Mary and Joseph:

  1. Like them, we also should do what the Lord requires.

The whole reason this story even takes place is because of the obedience of Mary and Joseph.  Luke has framed the story of Anna & Simeon, before and after, with five repeated phrases which indicate that Mary and Joseph were presenting Jesus at the Temple to do what the Law, or the Law of Moses, or the Law of the Lord, required. 

Jesus grew up in a family that meticulously observed the law of Moses, doing everything that the Law required.  They were trying to obey God.  We read that after eight days their baby was circumcised and given a name.  Later, when her time of purification had been completed, they go to the Temple. 

In Israel, a woman was regarded as ceremonially unclean for 40 days after the birth of a son    (and for 80 days if the baby was a girl).  She could go about her household and daily business, but couldn't enter the Temple.

After these 40 days, she had to bring with her to the Temple two sacrifices for purification:  a lamb for a burnt offering, and a pigeon for a sin offering.  This was somewhat expensive – so the law also provided that if you were poor and couldn't afford the lamb, you could bring another pigeon instead.  The offering of the two pigeons (instead of a lamb and a pigeon) had a name: It was called the Offering of the Poor.  It was the offering of the poor which Mary brought.

And so Jesus grew up in a family that observed the Law of Moses, and it can also be said that he grew up in a family that did not know much luxury: an ordinary home, where they probably counted every penny, where each member knew about the hardships of making ends meet and the insecurities of life.

So if your life as we begin a new year feels insecure, or if you sometimes have trouble making ends meet, or if life does not hold much luxury for you, remember that Jesus knew this environment, too, and that his mother and stepfather remained faithful in doing what God required of them. 

What will God require of us in this New Year?  May our attitude be one of obedience to whatever God calls us to do.

A second thing that we learn about our attitude towards Jesus Christ we see in Simeon and Anna:

  1. We Should Long for Dreams to Come True.

Are you a dreamer?  What is your dream for 2018?  If you want to see your dreams come true, then it’s this intersection with our lives and Jesus Christ in 2018 that makes things happen.

I remind us again of that phrase in Galatians where it says that God sent Jesus into the world just at the very right time, or "when the time had fully come."  Israel has gone hundreds of years without a word from the Lord, there's corruption, divisions and factions in the Jewish religious circles, and the Roman Government is occupying their land and taking over.  We generally take this to mean - "things couldn't have been much worse."

In spite of this, here are two people still looking forward, with great yearning, to the "consolation of Israel" - for salvation to come through the Messiah.  It’s been said that Anna and Simeon are Israel in miniature and Israel at its best.  They are a portrait of the Israel that would accept Jesus.  They are a portrait for us of what our attitude towards the Messiah is supposed to be: devout, obedient, constant in prayer, led by the Holy Spirit, at home in the Temple, longing and hoping for the fulfillment of God's promises.  Now, Anna was a widow, she had known sorrow, and yet she hadn't grown bitter.  She never stopped hoping, worshiping, and praying.  Her attitude towards God affected the quality of her character.

Would that these same three characteristics be true of each of us in 2018:  that we would never stop hoping, that we should never stop worshiping - inside or outside these walls, and that we'd never stop praying, believing that God desires to work for our good.

This story is really a portrait of faithfulness.  We need to be like Anna and Simeon and Mary and Joseph, believing that God Is going to answer us.  That’s how we will we meet Christ in 2018 – through answered prayers, and that comes about through our own obedience, in our dreams and vision, and in our willingness to see even each other as answers to our prayers.

And a year from now, when 2018 is done, may we be like Simeon and Anna and Mary and Joseph and know that our lives have been directly affected by the baby who changed history and the Savior who died to bring us life.  Amen. 

Let us stand and say what we believe.  Today we will say part of the Nicene Creed together, the part that talks about Jesus Christ….

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