Sermon, First Sunday after Christmas

Sunday Dec 3, 2017, St Petri

Luke 2:22-40

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’[a]), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’.[b]

 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

 29 ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[c] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.’

 33 The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

 36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[d] She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

 39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

Have you ever waited a long time for something promised to finally happen – and when it does finally begin to happen you are just so relieved and overjoyed?

Through the 1980’s we watched the Australian cricket team get hammered by those big fast West Indian bowlers and be regularly beaten by the Poms. We wondered how on earth we would ever triumph again! We waited for a new day, a new leader, a new cricketing future!

Enter “AB” (Alan Border): A ‘Captain Courageous’, who by sheer grit and determination, and without much show and shine, provided the spark that oversaw the dawn of a new cricketing future for Australia. As a young man, “AB” was my man. We could all breath a sigh of relief because the future would be better now.

Same for the old man, Simeon, and the even older woman, Anna. They saw their “Captain Courageous” in this one-month old baby boy.

Mary and Joe did all that faith required. On the eighth day after he was born, they had the boy Jesus circumcised and named in accordance with Jewish law.

Now, thirty-two days later, Mary and Joe are again living out their faith by returning to the Temple in Jerusalem (from the Bethlehem stable?), this time in order to offer a sacrifice and to consecrate their child to the Lord. Jesus is the first-born son. This is what is required in order for this son to take his place as the guardian and protector of his family and its long-term future.

They pay five shekels and bring a couple of doves (because bringing a lamb would be  too expensive) to be sacrificed to the Lord in thanksgiving for the child.

Can you imagine what they felt when this old guy, who they don’t know, Simeon, who just happens to be in the temple and is a priest comes from nowhere and grabs the boy and starts to speak words of prophecy over him!?

29 “Now, Lord, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
30     because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and a glory for your people Israel.”
(CEB version)

The joy that just has to be put to song was of a new baby for sure, but even more because of a God who keeps his promises. God is a God who can be trusted and who makes good things happen even in tough time, dangerous times, scary times, confusing times. God keeps his word and his word keeps his people – that is why Simeon sings this different Christmas song.

Same for us post-Christmas? Christmas has come. God has appeared up close and personal. He is here. The bible’s promises are fulfilled and the future promised life with the Lord is secure again. If our end came today, we would be OK because we have been visited by the Lord in the manger. The future is assured even if unclear and difficult.

The remarkable thing is that after all the happy songs of Christmas with angels and light and trumpets and “glory be to God”, we can now talk of death and dying – but with a new joy.

“Now, Lord, let your servant go in peace”

Simeon can speak of his old age and his natural end freely and openly. Like finally getting the will and all the affairs in their right order, like making peace with that person after years of conflict, like a coming to faith of one’s partner for whom you have prayed for decades, like getting the ATAR score you were shooting for after year 12 exams, rest is sure, the future is brighter and peace is in the heart – all thanks to the Lord who keeps his promises despite appearances and suffering.

Simeon sings that he does not have to keep up the vigil of waiting and hoping. He can die in peace. He has seen it. He knows God is still in his world and on the move.

Can you sing this way as you face a new year? Are you convinced again that God keeps his promises and can be trusted? Or does this remain elusive for you? Can you trust that this Jesus is actually the guardian and protector of his family and its long-term future?

We sing this song. In the Lutheran liturgy it is sung straight after we have seen, tasted, smelt and touched the body and blood of this risen Jesus Saviour.

We sing it in the evening. The song turns up in the last prayers of the day. As darkness descends and sleep comes, Simeon is there singing his song and we with him. “You have been in my day, Lord Jesus. The kingdom has been near and I am still here. Help me rest this night in peace”.

And there is one more place we sing with Simeon. It was sung as they lifted the coffin high and processed my good friend, Jenny, out of the church a while back. The song of God’s people gathered rose as another departed saint was taken home and we were left to sing this Christmas carol that named death and helps us trust the Lord in it and beyond it.

Same at St Petri. Simeon’s song gets a run at every funeral of one of our faithful number whom the Lord calls home. I pray that when it comes to my funeral, this grand song of joy and faith is sung as they commend me to the God who keeps his promises.

Would you like it sung at your funeral? Would you like this song to be a part of your day? It does speaks of trust in your Lord and Saviour and all of his promises to you for every day.

I pray you learn to love this song and sing it in your own words and way as you live your day the way he calls you to live it – with confidence in his presence and rest in his promises.

As you sing it, pray it, love it, you will be the light that Simeon speaks of –

“It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles…’

As you sing it at any time of year, you will be a sign of God’s glory in an often dark world.

“…..and a glory for your people Israel.”

As you trust like Simeon trusted and keep watch and wait for this same Jesus to complete everything, you will have a very special gift with which to face 2018.

With a trust in the Lord’s solid faithfulness to deliver what he promises to you, as Simeon and Anna displayed, you will be able to face the new year neither denying the harsh realities of this life nor being deterred by them.

Singing with Simeon you will find yourself facing whatever comes your way in the coming week and year with courage. For you are God’s beloved child, and it was for your sake that Christ was born!

This is because, like Simeon, you will be able to name your own death, name the trouble we have and the struggles we experience freely and openly, because these things will no long terrify or diminish you as a person.

This is because in the birth of the Christ-child so long ago, and now again as we gather around word and meal, we too have seen and heard, tasted and felt, God’s steadfast and tenacious commitment to be both with us and for us…forever!

“Lord, now you let your servants go in peace today; because your word has been fulfilled”…for Christ the saviour is born!