Take Jesus Home 5
This is the entire service from Dec. 26. To get to the sermon, go to 25:05.
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas day, and that you are having a blessed Christmas because Christmas is still on. Did you know that? There is a particular day where we celebrate Christmas, but Christmas is really a season – a series of days. The twelve days of Christmas is not just a song. In the year 567 church leaders thought the birth of Christ should be celebrated for twelve days and so they were established as a festive Christian season. As Christianity followed the secular world more and more we got away from that. But there are believers who will be celebrating Christ though the wrapping is in the recycling, the trees are being taken down, and Valentine’s cards are out in the stores. Yes, Christmas is still on for those who know him in our hearts. So, a blessed Christmas to everyone.
And the story of the baby Jesus doesn’t end with the shepherds returning and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, just as they had been told. It continues. At the Temple in Jerusalem.
Mary and Joseph, being the devout Jewish parents that they were, went from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to present Jesus to the Lord. This was a ceremony that all Jewish parents did with their firstborn sons. It comes from the Old Testament where the Lord requires that people redeem their firstborn because the firstborn belongs to the Lord.
They also went through the ritual of purification for Mary. This was to take place forty days after the birth of a son. By “purification” we shouldn’t think Mary was considered dirty. We have to try to put ourselves in the mindset of Old Testament and early Jewish faith. Blood, so much a part of the birth experience, was the power of life. Just as astronauts have to go through a process when they come back to earth before reentering society, so women had to do the same in ancient Judaism.
In these rituals an offering was required. It would usually be a lamb, but Mary and Joseph take the poor person’s exemption which is a “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” This is what people of low income would bring.
Luke’s main point in all of this is to let us know that Mary and Joseph were devout Jews and did everything according to the law of the Lord. Luke makes a point of this by mentioning the law three times in the opening verses of this passage.
While they are in the Temple they are met by two elderly saints. One is Simeon. The other is Anna. We often place a great deal of focus on children when it comes to Christmas, probably because Jesus came as an infant. But these two seasoned veterans of life are important to Jesus’ story as are all those in the later stages of life. Let’s hear it for the elderly saints in our churches! Where would we be without their faith and wisdom and example?
This is a sermon about being able to look for God. Simeon and Anna both had been keeping their eyes open for God, and recognized him when he showed up.
The first person Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus meet is Simeon. We are told that Simeon is righteous and devout and waiting for the consolation of Israel. Israel had been under the control of other powers for several centuries. And that had meant living under oppression, injustice, and hardship. Israel longed for consolation. Consolation is another word for comfort. Simon was one of those waiting for that comfort to come.
It also says that the Holy Spirit rested upon him. And the Spirit revealed to Simon that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. So, the Holy Spirit leads him to the Temple where he encounters Jesus and his parents. Old Simeon takes Jesus into his arms and prays to the Sovereign Lord saying that God can now dismiss him in peace. In essence he is saying, “I’ve seen the Messiah. Now I can die in peace.”
Simeon has seen the consolation for Israel. It would come through this infant who will be a light to Gentiles and glory to Israel.
Mary and Joseph are amazed at what Simeon is saying. But then he goes on and speaks specifically to Mary. He says her son will cause the fall and rise of many in Israel, and that he will be a sign that is spoken against. Yes, he is the Messiah, but he will be opposed. Not everyone will be thrilled about him. And then the topper: a sword will pierce Mary’s soul as well. Mary will be hurt on account of her child.
Here is the cross at Christmas. Maybe you didn’t come expecting to hear about the cross today. It’s the second day in Christmas. We are supposed to be thinking about the birth, the star, maybe some wise men. We are still singing about tidings of comfort and joy. Christmas is so hopeful.
Jesus wasn’t born because all was right with this world and our lives. Let’s remember why Jesus came into this world. Simeon knew: God came into this world of suffering to suffer with us and for us. Simeon knew the child he held would bring the consolation Israel had been praying for for centuries. But he also knew it would come very hard.
The one he held in is arms was destined to be spoken against, opposed, and eventually hung on a cross.
Many people who have been in churches celebrating Christ’s birth this weekend will not be in those churches when Good Friday rolls around. We want the birth but not the death. We want the manger but not the cross.
Jesus’ life began in a manger surrounded by adoring shepherds and gift-bearing wisemen, but ended on a cross between two criminals. Are we willing to go from the manger to the cross with him? Jesus will say that all who want to follow him must deny themselves, take up our crosses, and follow him. Because it is the way to life.
There is no Christianity without the cross.
When Simeon spoke those words over Jesus he was announcing the passion, the fight between light and darkness that already was upon the Lord. Those whom the Holy Spirit rests upon have no problem seeing this.
The second person Mary and Joseph and Jesus encounter in the Temple is Anna. Anna is a prophetess. She speaks the word of the Lord. She is elderly, living as a widow for most of her years. We read that she never left the Temple, but worshipped day and night, fasting and praying. Anna is what we call a prayer warrior.
I don’t picture Anna as some sweet, poised, meek woman. I picture her as strong, worn, with a face the shows she has been through battles. She knows what it is to be on your face before the Lord. Anna knows what a battle prayer can be. She has wept the tears of longing. She knows what it is to pray for hours, days, weeks.
Anna also represents all those who are doing significant spiritual things out of the spotlight. They are quietly praying for people, their church, and this world day after day. They are faithful in coming before God believing that it makes a difference in people’s lives. Can’t always see it. Can’t always measure it. But they just keep worshipping and praying.
Anna gives thanks to God for the child and speaks about him, it says, to all “who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” Again, there was a group of people who expected God to come and change things, to redeem Jerusalem. Jerusalem was controlled by the Romans and the Romans weren’t nice. It was not fun living under their rule. Some in Jerusalem looked for political salvation. Some turned to violent means. But Anna was one of those who knew this was a spiritual thing and that it would be something God must do.
They heard the words from the prophet Isaiah when the Lord said:
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her…” Several places in Isaiah the Lord promises to come and comfort Jerusalem because Jerusalem had been a mess for years. Foreign enemies had come and run over her. There were plagues, famines, persecutions. Simeon and Anna heard the prophecies that God was going to act. They believed this and held onto this.
Both of these saints were looking, expecting, praying for something. They longed for it. Their expectation was not diminished by the circumstances of the world. They still had faith that God was sovereign and that he would bring his plan to fruition. They hoped against hope. They had eyes to see beyond touch and sight.
When Simeon held that child he believed God had, indeed, come into the world. He said his eyes had seen God’s salvation. His vision was God-ward. Anna was one of those looking forward, it says, to redemption. What strikes me about these two-older saints is how they look for God.
And they see him. God come as a baby? When Jesus grew up into manhood many could not see who he was. How could the Messiah be a Jewish, peasant, carpenter? He said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
There are still Simeon’s and Anna’s today. They pay attention to the scriptures to see what God says. They know the promises of God. These are the people who keep longing, keep praying, keep believing that God’s ways will come. They keep looking for peace. They keep looking for justice. They bank on redemption. They keep looking for God to show up. These are the people who keep faith. They know it isn’t easy but they keep their eyes on the Lord.
In Romans 8 we hear of our ultimate redemption. It says that the whole creation is groaning as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons and daughters and “the redemption of our bodies.” God’s ultimate plan is for a new heavens and a new earth. For us to have resurrected bodies, just like our Lord’s. Do we have the vision to see it?
There is a lot of beauty in this world, but there is a lot of ugly, too. And that ugly can cloud my vision. This pandemic, what it is bringing out in people; the hostility between those who should be leading us; the disasters that are destroying communities; violence and wars and immorality. All creation is groaning. All the suffering and darkness makes it hard to see the Lord. And I think every Christian goes through this. But it takes vision guided by faith to keep believing that God is here and working. It starts with that infant of Mary and Joseph’s.
Simeon and Anna had vision of faith. They recognized God had come. And I don’t think it was necessarily always easy. Not everything was right in their world any more than it is in ours. But they knew where to look for God if you want to see him.
Where do you find God? Where do you look for him? Do you only see him when everything is great? Or can you find his presence even when everything isn’t so great?
Her name is Jane Marczewski, but she goes by Nightbirde. This young woman started writing lyrics and music when she was 6, performing her songs in her church in rural Ohio. When she got to college she began to record and get some attention as a talented lyricist and musician. Shortly after college Nightbirde was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. Eventually, she went into remission, recorded another CD, and became an opening act for a Grammy-winning artist named Tori Kelley.
Then Nightbirde was diagnosed again. She was given 3-6 months to live and 2% chance of survival. COVID hit. She went through a painful divorce. She took a leap of faith and entered treatments at a clinic in Southern California, and six months after her diagnosis again was cancer-free.
Most recently she was in the running as a singer on America’s Got Talent. The judges loved her. But the cancer has returned for a third time and she had to drop out.
She has been so sick and in such pain at times that she has camped out on the bathroom floor. She said it became her place to hide as she screamed, spit, and vomited. Sometimes she would fall asleep on the bathroom floor with her head resting on the toilet.
Earlier this year I read something she wrote on her blog about her faith. It was about her prayer life and struggle to keep looking for God in all she has gone through. She continues to see God. I’m just going to read it to you:
I have had cancer three times now, and I have barely passed thirty. There are times when I wonder what I must have done to deserve such a story. I fear sometimes that when I die and meet with God, that He will say I disappointed Him, or offended Him, or failed Him. Maybe He’ll say I just never learned the lesson, or that I wasn’t grateful enough. But one thing I know for sure is this: He can never say that He did not know me.
I am God’s downstairs neighbor, banging on the ceiling with a broomstick. I show up at His door every day. Sometimes with songs, sometimes with curses. Sometimes apologies, gifts, questions, demands. Sometimes I use my key under the mat to let myself in. Other times, I sulk outside until He opens the door to me Himself.
I have called Him a cheat and a liar, and I meant it. I have told Him I wanted to die, and I meant it. Tears have become the only prayer I know. Prayers roll over my nostrils and drip down my forearms. They fall to the ground as I reach for Him. These are the prayers I repeat night and day; sunrise, sunset.
Call me cursed, call me lost, call me scorned. But that’s not all. Call me chosen, blessed, sought-after. Call me the one who God whispers his secrets to. I am the one whose belly is filled with loaves of mercy that were hidden for me.
Even on days when I’m not so sick, sometimes I go lay on the mat in the afternoon light to listen for Him. I know it sounds crazy, and I can’t really explain it, but God is in there— even now. I have heard it said that some people can’t see God because they won’t look low enough, and it’s true.
If you can’t see him, look lower. God is on the bathroom floor.
Corrie Ten Boom came from a Christian family that hid Jews during the Nazi occupation of Denmark before World War II. She was captured and survived the concentration camps. Corrie Ten Boom said, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” And she said, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.”
Heavenly Father, on this second day of Christmas open our eyes to you. Open our eyes to your redemption in the mess of this world, in the hurt and frustration in some of our lives. Because there is no pit that is so low that you aren’t there. Thank you for sending Christ to be light in the darkness, and to come for our redemption. We long for that redemption. And we look for it. Amen.