December 30, 2018

Seeing the Light

Passage: Isaiah 61 10-62:3 and Luke 2:22-40

Today we continue the Christmas story. We celebrated the birth of Jesus the Christ child on Tuesday, December 25th, just a few days ago. Though the Christmas music no longer plays on the radio and the stores are clearing their Christmas stock to make room for other merchandise… within the church the celebration continues and does so for 12 days. Today is the sixth day of Christmas. Within the church, the season of Christmas begins on Christmas Day and lasts 12 days ending on January 5th with the new season of Epiphany beginning on January 6th. Within the 12 days which make up the Christmas season in the church, we continue to ponder the amazing and priceless gift of the incarnation – Emmanuel, God with us.

Going back to the events of that first Christmas, by the 6th day after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph would be settling into the routine of caring for a new born. The peace and quiet of that first Christmas night, has been replaced by the everyday challenges of looking after a new born… including some crying and sleepless nights – for both infant and parent. And beside the everyday tasks that come with caring for a new born baby boy, there are the rituals that must be adhered to including circumcision, purification and dedication. According to custom on the eighth day Jesus was circumcised and officially given the name Jesus, which means ‘Yahweh is salvation’. The next ritual is the rite of purification for the new mother. Following the birth of a boy a woman was considered unclean for 40 days and after the birth of a girl, the mother was unclean for 80 days. As Jesus was a boy, Mary just had to wait 40 days for her days of purification to be complete. At the end of her days of purification the family traveled to the temple in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph offered a sacrifice of two pigeons – in keeping with the law – and then Mary was considered clean once more.

The next ritual was that of dedication, where Jesus – at just about 6 weeks of age – was presented to the Lord at the temple in a ceremony acknowledging that the child was a gift from God. And it was at that time of purification and dedication that we are introduced to two people who have waited a long time for the coming of the Messiah. Simeon, a righteous and devout man, and Anna, a prophet. Both Simeon and Anna…well into their eighties…have waited their entire life for this very day…they have yearned for this very day…this very extraordinary day. They have seen a lot in their lifetime…and both believed that one day God would send a savior – a Messiah – to free them from oppression. The first hymn we sang today speaks to this longing: “Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in thee.”

Guided by the Holy Spirit, Simeon had gone to the temple…as he had done every day of his adult life…and this day he realized that something extraordinary was about to happen. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the Messiah…and he knew that this was the day that he would see the Messiah. The day that he would get to hold the baby Jesus – the embodiment of the hope that he had longed for all his life. This day he was drawn to Mary and Joseph and this new born baby boy named Jesus. Before his very eyes lay salvation. Simeon saw in Jesus the long-awaited light meant for all people. I can picture Simeon holding the baby Jesus in his arms. It is a tender moment. I see him with tears of joy streaming down his face. He breaks out in song singing: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
Simeon’s words of blessing confidently state that the expectations of a lifetime have now been
fulfilled. Having seen the light revealed in the young Messiah named Jesus, Simeon is ready to
depart in peace. His life is complete. He can die with no regrets and no disappointments. Christ
the light of the world has come! His long wait was worth it and his faithfulness has been rewarded.

Following Simeon’s words of great joy and thanksgiving…Simeon blessed both Mary and Joseph and then offered words of great sorrow to Mary. Simeon prophesied that this child Jesus would cause the rise and fall of many…be misunderstood and spoken against. Simeon then spoke of the rejection and then the price both Mary and Jesus would pay, saying that a sword would pierce her heart. Not exactly words of comfort that a mother wants to hear. Simeon’s words would have been difficult for Mary to hear and take in. Mary knew that Jesus was the son of God, and that he would save the world but she didn’t yet understand how that could happen or when that would happen. Mary undoubtedly recalled Simeon’s prophetic words as the years went by and Jesus grew. Perhaps she tried to hold onto Jesus…to be more protective in an effort to keep him safe. And yet, she knew she couldn’t hold him back and keep him from being who he was meant to be.

With the prophetic words uttered by Simeon still fresh in her mind, Mary turns to see Anna the prophet. Anna, like Simeon, has been waiting and she knows when she sees the baby Jesus, that he is the one she has been waiting for. She gives thanks to God for Mary’s son Jesus.

Anna was an elderly widow, a prophet who was known to speak the Word of the Lord. She
never left the temple but worshipped there night and day…and she had done so since she became a widow just 7 years after her marriage. We don’t know much about Anna for Luke doesn’t record any of her own words. We’re not sure what she was thinking…but we do know that at the very moment that Simeon holds Jesus, that Anna looked at Jesus and saw salvation. I like to think that Anna also got to hold Jesus in her arms. That she too held him and praised God. We know that she spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. I like to think that she didn’t just speak about Jesus but lifted up in praise the wonder of seeing the glory of God in the Christ child and so filled with joy couldn’t stop telling everyone that Jesus was the long awaited one – the redemption of Jerusalem – the light of the world! She sang out just like the words of our last hymn call us to do: “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!”

Both Simeon and Anna waited a long time – a life time – for the promised Messiah. They waited and waited and waited. How challenging that must have been. To praise God continually not knowing when the promised Messiah would come. They wondered each day if this would be the day. I don’t know if they grew weary in their waiting…even impatient. I wonder if they ever had doubts about what they were waiting for. I expect they heard more than once from all kinds of people around them, that their waiting was a waste of time.
Waiting has never been a popular activity. Most people don’t like waiting and have very little patience for waiting. It is a challenge. But we all have to wait. And what we are reminded of again and again in scripture is that God is there in the waiting. As we struggle, as we worry, as we fret…God is there. We don’t know all the emotions that Simeon and Anna experienced while they waited…but we do know that they kept waiting, and ultimately held onto to the promise that God would come…that God would show them and all people how much he loves us…and that love would be revealed in the tiny baby named Jesus. Simeon and Anna waited, and in their waiting they remind us to be patient for God’s timing. In their waiting they turned to God and placed their life in God’s hand…and in so doing changed the waiting from a burden of wondering when, oh when would they see the promised Messiah, to waiting as a gift, of each day growing closer to God and trusting in God’s promises and love.

I think that is why this post-Christmas story resonates with me so much. In their waiting both
Simeon and Anna held onto the promises of God. They remained open and attentive to God’s presence. While they waited, they did so in hope and in God’s time the Messiah was born…Jesus the one who was – and is – a light in the darkness…and behold the light of salvation was presented to them. They both looked into the eyes of Jesus…and saw in Jesus the fulfillment of God’s promise. They both knew as they held Jesus that they would not be around to see Jesus grow and see the change that this child would bring to the world. But still they rejoiced and told everyone that their waiting had not been in vain…that the one whom God had promised had finally come.Jesus…this tiny baby…was the long-awaited light. They were seeing the light. And it is in seeing the light that the Christmas story continues.

The Christmas story continues into the new year. Tomorrow is the last day of the current year, 2018. On Tuesday the new year begins and with it the practice of making a resolution or two to go along with the start of the new year. For a resolution this new year, how about choosing to live more fully in the light this coming year? What about remembering to thank God each day for the blessings of life – counting them one by one. What about opening our hearts to God who promises to be with us always, and promises to always shine his light. Even in the midst of challenging days…the light that came to us at Christmas still shines. Even in the midst of pain and loss…the light that came to us at Christmas still shines. The light that is the love of God. The light that tells us we are not forgotten. The light that shines so that we can see.

The story of Christmas does not end at midnight on December 25th. The story continues as Mary and Joseph present their son Jesus, as he grows in wisdom and grace, and as he answers God’s call to offer himself as God’s greatest gift to us. And what better way to begin the new year than to look to God who gave us his one and only Son… and to the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit who accompanies us on our journey of faith this new year.

So, people of God, during the coming new year…the year of our Lord two thousand and nineteen…be forward looking…and look forward…trusting God in all things. Give thanks for all that has been… and praise God for each new day and for the blessings, large and small, that are contained in each new day. As we go forward remember that God goes with you, shining bright the light that was revealed on that first Christmas Day. Thanks be to God that we have received the light…and thanks be to God that we can see the light this day and always! Amen.