I don’t usually bother to write down my sermons. Partly because I’m lazy and partly because they tend to change by the time it comes around to give them. For some reason this Sunday morning I wrote my thoughts down. It isn’t exactly the message I delivered in the sanctuary but since I did write it down – here you go.
Luke 2: 21-52 Mary & Joe take baby Jesus to Jerusalem where they meet Simeon the priest and the prophet Anna.
When the angels leave…
Mary and Joe are left in a glow. Quickly before the glow begins to fade, they take the baby to the temple. They’ve already traveled so far from Nazareth to Bethlehem; they’re the closest they’ve been to Jerusalem in years and closer than they probably will be for years to come. So, to say thanks and maybe to try to make it all real – put a seal of something solid on these mystical experiences of angels and dreams and strange visitations – you know? - before time starts to steal away the potency of the memory and makes one wonder whether it wasn’t just all my imagination – my mind playing tricks - they take the baby to the temple.
The Mosaic law calls for the mother to be purified (still hung up on that woman/blood/dirty thing – we’re past all that now right?) and the child is dedicated with an offering for the poor of a purchased dove (is that like buying a goat for a family in the Dominican Republic?).
But the mysteries aren’t over quite yet. The priest they come upon is this guy Simeon. He wasn’t going to be there that day. It wasn’t his regular shift. But the Holy Spirit told him to show up so he did.
Now just a minute. You could just kind of skip over that detail couldn’t you? But - you’ve had those experiences right? I know you have. Those times when you just had a sense that you should call someone and when you do they say they were just thinking of you. And then your conversation is encouraging and empowering and healing.
What about when you acted on just an inkling of a urge that told you to stop by the …you fill in the blank. You know what I’m talking about. You followed your gut and you just happened to meet someone who you needed to meet. You just happened to be where God needed you to be – and you connected. You connected with God’s purpose.
Maybe you called it a coincidence. Maybe time has already stolen away the potency to that experience. Maybe even the person whose life you touched with encouragement has forgotten. But for just a moment, you had a sense that you were engaged in a sacred purpose. Remember? Or, did you even stop to notice?
That’s the difference between you and I and a prophet. It’s not that God doesn’t use every one of us as his messengers. God uses us all the time to be messengers of light and love. No, the difference between you and I and Simeon – and Anna – is that they notice and remember and trust that those inklings, coincidences, urges, dreams, spontaneous words in their mouths, are from God.
The story says that Simeon received a word from God that he wouldn’t die before he met the Lord’s Christ. Luke doesn’t tell us how many years before he had got that message. Did Simeon get that word in a dream? Did he hear a voice while he was washing the dishes? Did an angel with fiery eyes come and tell him or, was it just a whisper in the wind one day when he was young?
What is amazing isn’t that God gave him a message. That happens every day, all the time, to you and me and your dog. What is amazing is that Simeon noticed it, remembered it and trusted in that message for maybe years and years until….one day when he was old and grey….he connected it to what was standing in front of him.
Luke doesn’t tell us how Simeon knew that these country people before him were the bearers of God’s Messiah. Joe the carpenter and young Mary obviously were poor pilgrims to this holy city – a common daily occurrence. They were one of thousands that would have sought out his blessings for this or that occasion. But somehow he knew.
Did his gut twinge? Did his heart warm? Did his eyes start to flow with tears? Did something just come clear in his mind’s eye? Luke doesn’t tell us how Simeon knew. Luke just has Simeon spill out words of glory and praise. Words from the ancient prophet Isaiah. Simeon didn’t have to go and look them up, they just spilled out from inside him somewhere where God had written them on his heart.
29God, you can now release your servant;
release me in peace as you promised.
30With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation;
31it’s now out in the open for everyone to see:
32A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,
and of glory for your people Israel.
Luke doesn’t even quote Isaiah exactly. He must have just let it pour out of him too. So excited was he to write this story; this episode of confirmation, that he just let the words spill onto the page. And he didn’t go back and correct them later. And all the scribes to follow didn’t go back to get the quote just right. And I’m not going to either.
33Jesus’ father and mother were speechless with surprise at these words. 34Simeon went on to bless them, and said to Mary his mother,
This child marks both the failure and
the recovery of many in Israel,
A figure misunderstood and contradicted—
35the pain of a sword-thrust through you—
But the rejection will force honesty,
as God reveals who they really are.
Ouch! That glow didn’t last long eh? Not exactly the warm and fuzzy blessing they were hoping for. They are faced for the first time with the truth that along with the great and holy power of a Messiah’s change – comes conflict. No pain, no gain.
But Luke gives us Anna. He tells us just a bit about her. That she is a woman who knows pain. She was married just seven years before she lost her husband. No word about children. Anna has served the Lord and the people who come to the temple for years and years. Maybe it is her pain that makes her so aware. Maybe it is a terrible wound that keeps her awake and noticing. She serves God and the people who come to the temple because of the compassion that her own pain feeds. And she is someone who notices. Notices and remember and trusts and…and….risks telling people about it. And that day she tells everyone who will listen that the Messiah has come.
The story doesn’t say, but I say, that on that day Anna’s pain was transformed that day. Jesus’s spirit changed the source of her prophecies from pain to joy. From that day on she would continue to serve and share God’s messages, now from a place of God’s sure and pure joy.
Now is the time to pay attention. Take Notice. Look today for God’s salvation because it is among you. Here is God’s power. God’s kingdom is revealed in you and in me and is moving through us right now for the healing of the nations, for the healing of Carol Wells and John Hughes and for whoever God puts in your heart today. The kingdom that is the only real and everlasting kingdom is just waiting for you and I to notice, take hold of it, trust it, and follow it’s direction. Remember, trust, be ready.
God is going to use you in 2008 in a way that you’ve been waiting your whole life for. Everything that has happened in your life has just been preparation for this year. For one moment. Are you ready for it? Are you awake? Are you noticing?