December 30, 2018
When I was a young woman, I wanted a particular bracelet for Christmas. I hinted & hinted about the bracelet—that bracelet was what I wanted! A large pkg appeared under the Christmas tree. Aha, I thought, the tiny box inside a big box trick. I unwrapped the big box. It was a FarberWare box and pictured a set of 5 pots. I opened it—and it was cooking pots. I was so disappointed. Yet, I needed the pots. I still use those same pots.
The bracelet? —It was a self-centered, frivolous fancy.
The Jewish people had been promised a Messiah.
They wished for a champion who would free them from Roman domination and lead them to national power. They had not calculated the huge cost of violence that would result from following a military leader they wished for. They got a much greater leader than they’d imagined. But he did not meet their preconceived notions. Jesus was a cooking pot sort of champion who served spiritual food rather than military glitter and might. He was a wandering preacher who networked with poor folks, rather than power brokers. Jesus was what God had promised, but Jesus was not what the people had wanted and expected. A crucial question is: Do members of Union Church today and the Jews of Jesus’ time have similar self-made expectations? As a new pastor search begins, what kind of pastor-messenger do Union Church members hope for? I wonder what each congregation member hopes and expects about the gifts and skills the new pastor will bring. Are all members praying regularly for the church, as did faithful Simeon? This congregation wants to preserve the strength of the church.
I hear a lot of church members say they want more young people involved in the church. What is the inspiration for this desire?
Getting lots of young people involved in the church would imply needing to call a youth pastor type of pastor who will focus on young people’s interests and a contemporary worship style that is meaningful for youth or millennials. Focus on younger generations would require youth oriented congregation activities. The strategies of past decades to put youth in an unseen corner are not viable today. A focus on young people would require that many members step up to help lead youth oriented and intergenerational activities. Members would need to reach out to young people in the Newburgh community. Members would WANT to develop meaningful one-on-one relationships with young people during fellowship times and other church gatherings.
Congregation members seem wistful and discouraged because of numerical membership declines in Union Church. Everyone wishes for more members. Some of us have mostly given up hope. Before Jesus came, most Israelites had given up looking for the Messiah. Most people did not recognize Jesus as God’s Messiah because they had given up hope and had become apathetic. They let their spiritual life slide because they had lost ongoing confidence in God’s promises. Loss of trust in God’s promises. It had been revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Savior. Simeon did not abandon that hope [v.28]. The Gospel of Luke continues that story: Mary and Joseph put their lives on the line for God’s promise. The aged Elizabeth and Zachariah were dumfounded by God’s intervention into the world. The shepherds stopped in their tracks to meet the newborn Messiah. Wise men from Asia dropped everything to make a dangerous trek to see the new king. Disciples dropped everything to follow Jesus. Today’s text from Luke tells of a devout old Simeon and devout 84-year old Anna. These two faithful elders were spiritually in tune enough to recognize that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. It had been revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Savior. Simeon did not abandon that hope [v.28]. When 8-day old Jesus was brought to the temple, Simeon was spiritually attuned enough to be moved by the Holy Spirit to recognize the child. Do we notice when God’s grace is at work in front of our eyes? Simeon also took action. He held the baby in his arms and he praised God. Simeon boldly offered a blessing to Jesus’ parents.
Do we take action in response to such awakenings? Or, do we shirk making claims of faith? Do we explicitly bless people? Bless their new baby. Bless their new home…Bless their new school term…?
Others may not see divine power and grace among us, so we use PC “I” statements to point out what we perceive to be divine grace? We can give God praise and thanks. Better yet—we can demonstrate God’s love. Simeon sensed that God’s agenda was not what people wanted and expected. He warned that the Messiah’s mission would not be what people expected. And indeed, many people that Jesus had come to help ignored or condemned him. Simeon also boldly warned of inevitable opposition to God’s messenger. Certainly with great pathos,
Simeon told Mary that a sword that would pierce her heart: Mary would see her son rejected by the very people for whom he showed God’s grace and peace. Simeon proclaimed that Jesus had a much bigger purpose than any national or personal agenda: Jesus would point the way to God’s vision of a radically harmonious worldwide kin-dom. Wise old Simeon saw the tangible prospect of true world peace. He could rest assured of God’s promise of renewed life. The elderly, faith-filled Anna also recognized Jesus. Anna thanked God. She spoke with spiritual authority to tell about God’s redeeming revelation in this child [v.38]. Anna’s spiritual connectedness gave her confidence that she could rest assured in the fulfillment of God’s promise of renewed life. These two spiritual elders boldly proclaimed the arrival of the world-transforming Messiah. Unlike people who seem to just get old and faded, Anna and Simeon were wise and vibrant. Years of spiritual devotion made them receptive to God’s messages. Anna and Simeon were God-centered people. They trusted God. They trusted that God’s messiah would influence EVERYTHING. People paid attention to their testimony about the Christ because they had seen their constant devotion to prayer. Spiritual maturity does not have to be preachy. As in Jesus’ parables, spiritual wisdom can be framed in humor. I like this example: A 90-year old retired clergyman in assisted living whistled appreciative noises to an attractive nurse. “Reverend,” she responded in mock anger. “Aren’t you a bit old to be making passes at me?”
“I wasn’t making a pass at you,” said the cleric. “I was simply enjoying a fine example of God’s handiwork.” (From Ageing to Saging) Anna and Simeon were humble spiritual seekers. They did not whine or complain. They didn’t brag about their own merits. They looked for the guiding of the Holy Spirit. Anna rarely left the temple. She worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day [v 37]. Do we practice such daily prayerful devotion and trust? I am not advocating that we sit in the church pews 7 days a week without eating—although I urge regular daily prayer time. Unlike others who were disempowered by fears or frustrations, Simeon and Anna could rest assured. They trusted God to renew the world. Simeon was "looking for the consolation of Israel." Consolation is healing from past losses and miseries. Isaiah’s promise of consolation, as we read from the OT, addressed the exile of Israel and their feelings of utter abandonment. Consolation is when God heals past hurts. Simeon counted on God to vindicate and free his people.
The Greek word for “consolation” is also translated as “looking for the redemption of Israel.” Anna also spoke of the child as a gift "to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem."
Redemption looks to the present and future. Redemption delivers us from whatever powers threaten or hamper living whole and meaningful lives. Peter explains: "Set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" [1 Peter 1:13]. Whether we suffer from too much material comfort, or endure serious hardship, Jesus offers hope beyond our imagining! Redemption is freedom and joy. Do you see yourself needing consolation or redemption? Do you see the world needing consolation or redemption? Do you see this church’s need for a surge of vitalization? If you do not recognize a need for consolation or redemption, you may be missing something huge. The Holy Spirit, New Testament and our church heritage and fellowship can guide us if we are receptive to God’s renewing grace. We need faith-filled perseverance to discern God’s guidance. Did you notice God’s spirit at work in your life this week? Is anything wonderfully odd happening in your life?
If nothing amazing is happening in our life, we might learn a lesson from the patient devotion of Simeon and Anna. We may have to wait a long time, yet wait with confidence, even when you least expect it. Spread the news with words and actions: We can rest assured. Anna and Simeon told others what they experienced. Even the not-so-spiritual shepherds who found the newborn Jesus could not wait to tell others! Something wonderfully good is going on. Keep looking for Christ and you may find a much greater blessing than you can even imagine. Rest assured.
Credits: Preparing to Receive Christ: Looking for the Consolation of Israel http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/preparing-to-receive-christ-looking-for-the-consolation-of-israel