January 3, 2021
I want to begin by sharing with you all a Christmas poem, and yes I know, Christmas has come and gone, but this a different kind of Christmas poem, it’s called “Twas the day after Christmas” written by Pastor Chuck Swindoll and it’s a play off of the familiar poem, “Twas the night before Christmas.” Hopefully the memories of the past week or two are still fresh enough for this to hit home. Here’s how it goes:
'Twas the day after Christmas, When all through the place There were arguments and depression –
Mom had a long face. The stockings hung empty, The house was a mess; The new clothes didn't fit, And Dad was feeling stressed. The family was irritable, And the children—no one could please; Because the instructions for the swing set Were written in Chinese!
The bells no longer jingled, And no carolers came around; The sink was stacked with dishes, And the tree was turning brown. The stores were full of people Returning things that fizzled and failed, And the shoppers were discouraged Because everything they bought Was now on half-price sale!
'Twas the day after Christmas— The spirit of joy had disappeared; The only hope on the horizon Was twelve bowl games On the first day of the New Year!
Pretty good, right? I think that sums it up pretty well. ‘Twas the day after Christmas. I think what I like about that poem so much is how on one hand it so humorously captures the post-Christmas blues so many of us feel and yet, in addition, it also speaks into a side of Christmas that is so rarely talked about. And though it may officially be a new year, this morning we are going to look at one more Christmas passage, one too that is so rarely talked about.
Next week we’re going to start a new sermon series on the New Testament book of James, and yet before we do that, it seemed appropriate to look at one last final Christmas story. It’s the story of Simeon and Anna. Together they are two obscure characters, seen here and never again. They are the senior citizens of the Christmas story … sorry, let me try that again, they are the wise and seasoned saints of the Christmas story. And here they’re introduced in a passage that sits in no man’s land here in Luke’s gospel, after the nativity scene but yet well before Jesus’s public ministry. And I want us to look at them in part because of what we can learn from the two of them, and yet also what we learn about Jesus himself. As you may have picked up on from the passage Pat just read, Simeon’s message shared before Mary and Joseph is a bit of a mixed bag, filled with both good news and bad news, both blessings and warnings, and together they tell us something important about Jesus and a life of following Him.
So with all that said, let’s dive in.
We’re introduced to this man, Simeon. We’re told that he’s righteous and devout, he’s a godly man and it says that he has been looking forward to the consolation of Israel, which seems to mean he has been waiting for and anticipating that day when Israel’s Messiah would come, as all the prophesies and promises of the Old Testament Scriptures, scriptures that he surely knew so well, would be fulfilled. And somehow, someway, he’s been informed through the Holy Spirit, that he’s going to see this Messiah, this baby Jesus, before he dies. And what do you know .. it happens! He’s at the temple, and so too are Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus, they are there for Jesus’s purification ceremony, Jesus is about 6 weeks or so old at this point and Simeon seeing Jesus, is likely thrilled and overjoyed beyond belief, he takes baby Jesus in his arms (which, if I’m Mary and Joseph, I’d probably be a little reluctant to let a total stranger hold my baby, but whatever). Anyway, here’s what Simeon says as he holds the Messiah in his arms:
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
This man had been waiting his whole life to see this Messiah and before the Holy Spirit spoke directly to him, Simeon may have doubted if this day and moment would ever come. And now that it had happened, notice the significance of what he’s saying here.
When Simeon says, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace” he’s saying “God, I can die in peace because I’ve seen your salvation.”
Which is such a powerful and stirring thing for a person to say and think and such a stunning contrast to what you and I might say or think. “God, now I can die in peace.” It’s the kind of thing that Red Sox and Cubs fans said when their teams won the World Series after decades of heartbreak and defeat. But yet, here’s Simeon saying this about something much more meaningful and far more eternal. And Simeon’s words here are a helpful reframe and reminder for this present moment - this after all is the season for New Year’s Resolutions, to set goals, it’s the season to dust off your bucket list, those things you want to do or see before you die or before too many years have come and gone. And on our lists include things like trips and vacations, experiences and accomplishments, all of which are good things to want and yet here’s Simeon saying, “God, now I can die in peace because I’ve seen your salvation.” You all, how might our bucket lists and new year’s resolutions look different if our hopes and dreams and longings were more like Simeon’s? Hold onto that for a moment or two – we’ll come back to that shortly.
First, let’s take a quick look at the rest of what Simeon has to say. He says, about this Jesus, that he will be a -
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
To which it says, Mary and Joseph were amazed. Either because they are learning for the first time or being reminded that their baby, though we say this about every baby, truly is special.
And I’m sure Mary and Joseph wished that Simeon’s prophesy would have ended right there, on that promising note. But yet, there’s a second part to Simeon’s message, as he moves from good news to bad news, blessing to warning. Here’s what he says to Mary:
“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Yikes, no matter what that all exactly means, I think we can all intuitively pick up on the fact that those are not words that newborn parents hope to hear said of their little one. Yet what exactly is Simeon saying here? At first glance, his words sound a little cryptic.
Well truth is, this second part of Simeon’s prophesy likely means a bunch of different things with many different implications, but for our purposes today, we’ll keep it simple and simply highlight this. And that is, Simeon is letting Mary know that her baby Jesus won’t be loved and adored and worshipped by everyone. In fact, some, as it says, will oppose him, they’ll reject him, disown him, which will lead to their “falling,” or their demise.
It’s as if Simeon is giving Mary this important warning, that though he comes to Jesus filled with awe and wonder, not all will. And it’s a heads up to Jesus’s parents, that though some people will love and adore him, others will hate him and want to kill him.
And here you would expect that Luke, the author of the gospel, would give us Mary’s reaction to this stunning revelation. Like, she must have had some thoughts on this … like, how did she feel about all of this? But yet, no, instead, we’re suddenly introduced to yet another character, an elderly widow whose name is Anna.
And about this godly woman, one of the things we’re told about her is that, She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. And upon hearing Simeon’s words, we’re told that she began to praise God and to speak about the child[h] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
And so, as we connect the dots, it’s as if Luke, right after Simeon’s ominous warning, immediately puts before us a shining and inspiring example of what it looks like to be devoted and committed follower of Jesus. Where Luke, through Simeon’s words, is saying, some will follow Jesus, some will not. Here, be like Anna.
And together, with Simeon, here we have two elderly saints, who are committed and faithful, righteous and devout, their affections and hearts on fire for the Lord. They are inspiring examples to be sure.
Together they inspire me to grow in my own walk with Jesus. And so going back to that idea of new year’s resolutions, I want to finish with a few questions, questions that can help get us thinking and dreaming about how you want to carry out this new year. You can almost think of these as a spiritual bucket list, where just as Simeon had his own bucket list of meeting his Messiah, here might be a few for us as well, ways in which we can grow in our own faith and walk with Jesus. These come from Pastor Don Whitney, here are 4 questions for a new year.
- In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year?
For Anna, she worshipped God through the spiritual disciplines of worship, fasting and prayer. How about you? In what spiritual discipline do you hope to grow in? Maybe it’s through prayer, maybe it’s through you bible reading, where as I shared in my email this past week, you can join a couple of us in reading the whole New Testament over the course of 2021.
- What’s an impossible prayer you can pray?
Isn’t that great? What impossible prayer can you pray? What thing do you want to ask God for that you think to yourself, no way, that’s too big, that’s too crazy, that’s impossible? Consider Simeon, all his life he wanted to see his Messiah, face to face. He may have thought it was a nearly impossible prayer. What about you? Maybe it’s a difficult relationships reconciled, healing for a loved one who’s in dire condition, unexpected financial provision, maybe it’s something for our church.
- For whose faith will you pray most fervently for this year?
Who in your life, do you hope to see put their faith in Jesus? A family member, a co-worker, a neighbor? Who do you hope to see that happen for. Not only are we told that Anna prayed day and night, but also that after she heard Simeon’s message, she began to be a bit of an evangelist herself as it says, she “spoke about the child[h] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Who’s faith can you pray for this year?
- What’s one thing you can do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
I like this one, because it’s more simply what can you do, what can you accomplish, what can you check off your spiritual to do list, but more profoundly, how can you enjoy God more in 2021? That’s right, your relationship with God is meant to bring you joy. So what might that look like? Maybe it’s in spending more time meditating and reflecting on scripture, more time in silence and solitude and less time on your phone, maybe it’s learning about God with your son or daughter or grandchildren, maybe it’s experiencing God out in his creation. Whatever it might look like, what’s one thing you can do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
There you have it, 4 questions for a new year from Pastor Don Whitney.
I’ll finish with this. Sadly, often times in popular culture or in movies, TV shows, there’s this narrative or stereotype that the older you get the more senile you get. That the older you get the more cynical you become, more stubborn, more bitter, more pessimistic, more ornery. Maybe there’s some truth to it, maybe not.
But yet, it’s not so with the two people in our story today. You have to imagine that as they got older, Simeon and Anna, grew wiser and sweeter, more loving and gentle. And more importantly, they were devoted and committed to God. Filled with and guided by the spirit, praising and fasting and worshipping and evangelizing, right to the very end.
And I’m especially in awe of Anna. She was 84 and widowed, married for only 7 years, which likely means she was widowed for decades at this point. She has experienced loss and heartbreak, she could have easily become bitter and angry towards God. But yet no, there she is, continuously worshipping God in the temple.
With the turn of calendar, with the beginning of a new year, it’s a reminder that we’re all getting older. And so, may we grow old like them too.