for the Beginning
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
Traditionally, over the
centuries, the Sunday after Christmas Sunday has been called "Low
Sunday". And it's unusual that both of our outstanding preachers are out
of town today. One is herding Ducks in southern California, and I'm not
sure where the other one is. But when that happens, rarely does it
happen, but when it does, a search is put on for a low-down retired
minister :), who can come and stand and try to deliver the sermon.
I'm going to read the text, it's from the gospel of Luke, beginning with
verse 22, chapter 2:
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
turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
25 Now 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
‘Master, now you are dismissing your
servant in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your
31 which you have prepared in the
presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the
and for glory to your people
33 And 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.’
36 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
for seven years after her marriage,
37then as a widow to the age of
eighty-four. She never left the
temple but worshipped 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.
39 When 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
May God bless our
understanding of this reading from his holy word.
This is a long text, isn't it? I'm going to try and develop this text,
so I want to warn you, it's going to be boring for awhile :) I've got to
refer to a lot of scriptures -- can you stay with me? Can you give it a
I heard not too long ago about an EMT (emergency medical technician) who
retired in a fairly small town. He was being honored, because he had
been a local hero many times through the years. He was being interviewed
at a local radio station. And of course the interviewer always asks
"What's the case that sticks in your mind the most over the years?". He
said one time on Sunday, an usher called him. He said we have a person
in the pew that has stopped breathing. I've tried to find a pulse, and
there is no pulse -- I think he's expired! Can you get over here?
Well, the interviewer said, that's quite a story. But he asked: what's
so unusual about that in your line of work? And he said "Well, we
carried out four before we found the one that expired" :)
Just to say, if you can't stay with me, that's alright :)
The setting for our text today is in the Temple in Jerusalem. Mary and
Joseph were obligated to take their newborn son, Jesus, to the Temple
for the dedication and purification that's required by the Jewish law.
The Temple was a center of action for the Jewish faith, had been for
centuries. Though it's the darkest time of year, we believe, when this
took place, light was awaiting them.
Waiting for them was an old man named Simeon. Our text describes him as
devout and righteous. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he would not see death before he had seen the promised Messiah. And
Simeon came into the Temple, guided by the spirit (our text goes on to
say), and when they brought Jesus in, he recognized him. He went right
over and picked him up in his arms and that's when he made that
wonderful proclamation that I just read:
"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your
word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in
the presence of all peoples. A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and
for the glory to your people Israel".
You know, that really, when you stop to think about it, that includes
everybody. This newborn was bringing in a new dispensation for
everybody, and Simeon got to make the announcement. Wouldn't you have
liked to have been there when this took place?
Mary and Joseph
were amazed, the text says, their son, the instrument of salvation for
Jews and Gentiles, grace for all? A new dispensation is being announced
here. Promised fulfilled to Simeon. He sees it as a beginning.
And then Anna chimes in, this 84 year-old prophet, from one of the
Northern tribes -- isn't that interesting? Down there in the Temple,
praying day and night, but recognizing Jesus as the light for the future
Dr. Craddock remarked about these two old saints, he said these old
saints are Israel in miniature -- and Israel at it's best. Devout,
obedient, constant in prayer, led by the Holy Spirit, at home in the
Temple, waiting, longing for the fulfillment of God's promises.
We have another New Testament reading that wasn't mentioned in the
bulletin, but it's Paul's letter to the Galatians, chapter 4, verses 4
But when the fullness of
time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the
law, 5in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we
might receive adoption as children. 6And because you are children,
God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba!
Father!’ 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child
then also an heir, through God.
And if there's a
word that can cover all these announcements that are being made, both by
Simeon and by Paul, it's the word "grace". For all included. I like the
way Paul Tillich puts it (he was a theologian active way back in the
last century when I was in school :) -- he insists grace comes as though
a voice were saying "You are accepted by that which is greater than you.
Do not seek for anything, do not perform anything, do not intend
anything, simply accept the fact that you are accepted. If that happens
to us, we experience grace. Nothing is demanded. If this experience is
yours, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition -- nothing
-- but acceptance".
An old college professor said: "All is grace. Once that notion gets into
your gizzard, life will never be the same again".
So let us pause for a moment, and let it shift into your gizzard. Accept
it anew for this new year. You are accepted, you are loved by God. It's
a great way to start a new year.
After this beautiful statement about light and salvation for all, the
Messiah as a instrument of God, Simeon went on to put a rather dark
shadow on what he had just said.
Then Simeon blessed
them and said to his mother Mary: "This child is destined for the
falling and rising for many in Israel. And to be a sign that will be
opposed. So that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed and a sword
will pierce your own soul too".
Now why would he add that to a young mother, after that beautiful
beginning? But he was laying out that there was a cross that was already
beginning to leave a shadow at the very beginning. And yet when you stop
to think about it, that's very much the way life is, isn't it? There's
always, always, some hitch. Things just don't go the way everything is
I read about a Christmas play, a celebration of Jesus. They asked 3
young boys from the youth choir to be the three Kings. They practiced
and practiced, and learned their lines, they were the only 3 that could
really carry a tune in the youth choir (among the boys). It was meant to
be a glorious conclusion to the pageant. They would come down the aisle
singing (as we did earlier this morning -- "We Three Kings"), bearing
But then disaster struck, and one of the three Kings was hit with the
mumps. It was too late to find a replacement who could sing. The two
remaining Kings and their harried Director frantically discussed what to
do. There was always that voice in the background that says "Let's just
cancel it". You know, there's always that voice there -- let's just let
it go. If you haven't got everything perfect, all your props together,
you can't go ahead with it.
The crowds were already gathering, the music was starting, the moment
had arrived, and they were one King short. So what to do? It's an
appropriate question, because it describes a predicament that most of us
experience this first Sunday of the year, we don't ever have all our
props in a row for a new beginning, do we? It's just kind of the human
situation. Despite a lot of planning and hard work, few of us come to
the new year with all our lives intact and all the props in place. Maybe
quite literally for you, someone just isn't here that used to be. Well,
what to do.
Although the scripture doesn't really tell us how many Kings there were,
traditionally there were three. And the Director had another idea. He
said, why don't we just have 2 Kings? Can you sing "We Two Kings of
Orient Are"?. And with a smile, they accepted that challenge.
"We Two Kings of Orient Are". In a hospital room, someone is singing it.
A soldier in Afghanistan is singing it. A coach who didn't win enough
games is singing it. A person looking for work, or living on the
streets, is singing it.
We don't have all
the props in place, but we must go on, mustn't we? And that's what
Simeon is trying to say, I think, with that shadow that he cast after
that beautiful light-filled blessing. The Messiah was 6 weeks old, he
saw the clouds would be there in time.
But the Prince of Peace, promised by Isaiah, had arrived. The world
hadn't changed that much, Herod was still on the throne. There were
plenty of reasons for fear still around. But Simeon was not talking
about the short-term. He was seeing it all for the long-run. God will
win this one, in the long-run.
Cheryl and I, when we lived in Oklahoma, had a next-door neighbor, he
was a retired minister, and old guy named Harold Inns. His last several
years, he was Administrator of the Oklahoma Christian Home. And for
years and years, they had tried to put a nursing unit into what the home
offered, but just couldn't get it off the ground. Harold retired, and
had been retired for years, and we had moved next door. He kept talked
about that, and finally someone got a hold of that, and they put in a
nursing unit, and they asked Harold to go and dedicate it.
I wasn't at the dedication service, but I saw Harold when he got home,
and he was grinning from ear-to-ear, and said "Now I know just how
Simeon felt. I'm ready to go in peace" :)
Well, maybe we're all in that same boat today. You know how Simeon felt
announcing what was in store for them in the future, through Jesus
Christ. Drawing on the light that Simeon saw, now we can live in peace.
It's January 1st, 2012. And we're all here. And together, we're
beginning a new year.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
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