A sermon preached on December 29, 2013 and based on Luke 2:22-35
Gustavo Guttiérrez, a Peruvian-born professor at Notre Dame, said:
The Son of God was born into a little people, a nation of little importance by comparison with the great powers of the time. Furthermore, he took flesh among the poor in a marginal area – namely, Galilee; he lived with the poor and emerged from among them to inaugurate a kingdom of love and justice. That is why many have trouble recognizing him.
The God who became flesh in Jesus is the hidden God of whom the prophets speak to us. Jesus shows himself to be such precisely in the measure that he is present via those who are the absent, anonymous people of history – those who are not the controllers of history, namely, the mighty, the socially acceptable, “the wise and the learned” (Matt. 11:25).
Christian faith is a historical faith. God is revealed in Jesus Christ and, through him, in human history and in the least important and poorest sector of those who make it up. Only with this as a starting point is it possible to believe in God…
A question for you – How many had a difficult time getting their kids out of bed on Christmas morning?
Christmas has a lot to do with waiting and waiting seems to be hard work for most of us. We started “officially” waiting weeks ago with the start of Advent. All of the decorating at the church was done and, likely a lot of it was done at your homes, but there was the undercurrent, too. The rush to get the baking done, the perfect gifts bought and the cards sent out. But through it all was the waiting. On some occasions you find people who are happy to wait. I’m reminded of the condemned man who, while awaiting his execution in the dead of winter, was asked what he wanted for his last meal. He said, “All I want is a big juicy watermelon.” The warden complained, “Ah, come on…it’s December! How am I going to get you a watermelon?”
“Don’t worry about it warden,” said the condemned man. “I’m willing to wait ’til next year.”
For most of us, however, waiting is an ordeal rather than a good deal. Just ask our children if they enjoyed waiting for the opportunity to open their presents on Christmas morning. The truth is that they are no different from us and we all WANT WHAT WE WANT WHEN WE WANT IT!
And yet one of the predominant themes of Christmas is delayed gratification. Think about it.
• The nation of Israel had to wait thousands of years for the Messiah to come and deliver them.
• Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, had to wait nine months to speak again because he failed to believe the words of God,
• Joseph and Mary had to wait at least as long for the birth of their son after the announcement from the angel Gabriel.
• And the magi waited months before they were finally able to see Jesus. Christmas has a lot do with waiting!
Christian writer and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, imprisoned by Hitler during WWII, wrote to his fiancée on a lesson learned from life in prison: “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, does various unessential things and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”
In the scripture that David read this morning, we learn that Simeon had been waiting for the appearance of the Christ for a long time. He was waiting for the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed one. This was the One for whom Simeon had patiently waited…the very hope of Israel. In what ways would He bring hope to the world?
Following the birth of Christ, Joseph and Mary went to the temple to observe two important ceremonies in obedience to the Word of God: the presentation of the child and the purification of the mother. While they are there they ran into Simeon. His name means “one who hears and obeys.” Simeon was called a “righteous and devout man.” The first word indicates that he behaved well towards people. The second means that he took his religious duties seriously. He had been waiting patiently for the opportunity to see the Lord’s Christ before he died because God, through the Holy Spirit, had revealed to him that he would be given this privilege. After years of waiting, at last the moment came and hope arrived in the form of a baby. Simeon, in his sheer exuberance offered up a prayer of thanksgiving to God and a prophecy concerning the child and his mother. In so doing, he directed our attention to three main ideas:
First, To see Christ is to see God’s promises fulfilled. God is the ultimate promise keeper. He always does what He says. As a matter of fact, it is impossible for God to make a promise and not fulfill it for that would constitute lying. So here Simeon acknowledges that God has in fact kept His word, first To Simeon and second, to mankind.
God had promised Simeon that he would not die until He had seen the Lord’s Christ.
Immediately after the fall of man, God promised to destroy the works of the Devil through the seed of the woman. The salvation that was promised long ago arrived, we are told by Simeon, in full view of all people. In other words, this didn’t happen in a vacuum, but in plain sight of all who were willing to see the birth of Christ for what it was, the fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem mankind.
Journalist Charles Moore wrote: Two thousand years ago God gave his Son to the world. But Mary was afraid, Joseph worried, and Herod became so incensed he was determined to destroy the child. The Apostle Paul writes that the Greeks thought God’s gift was foolishness, and the Jews an obstacle to their liberation. And in John’s Gospel we read that the light shone in the darkness, but the darkness had not understood it; God’s Word had come to his own but he was not welcomed.
And yet some did receive him. Those who believed became children of God. They saw first-hand God’s glory, full of grace and truth, and henceforth they received one blessing after another: Freedom from sin, peace on earth, goodwill toward all people.
Christmas is not about getting what we want or even giving what we think others want. Christmas is about letting God enter our world so that he can transform and free it. His gift was small, it came in a feeding trough, unexpectedly – barely recognizable. That’s how God’s gift is. His gifts may assault our desires, confound our feelings, insult our thinking, threaten our sense of control, but they always come to us from his very heart. For God is love; he always wants to give. Not as we want him to give, not as the world gives, but in a way that transcends the imagination and brings true healing and redemption to our world.
A promise is a declaration that something specified will or will not happen. People make promises all the time, but often they amount to empty words. But we must remember that when God makes a promise, He keeps it! This was true when God promised Abraham that through Him all the peoples of the earth would be blessed; This was true when God promised David that one of his descendants would sit on the throne forever; This was true when God promised, through Isaiah, that Israel would be given a sign that that their deliverance had arrived. God always keeps His promises. Simeon waited patiently for God’s word to come true and then praised Him for it.
Second, to see Christ is to see God’s salvation presented. Luke informs us that Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel. The word means “comfort by way of encouragement.” What was it that brought such comfort and encouragement so that he could say, “Now dismiss your servant in peace?” It was the message that salvation had come in Jesus. Simeon was quick to recognize that the baby boy being presented in the temple by his parents was no ordinary child. He was the Christ of God who had come as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Simeon recognized that Jesus came for everyone.
The great comfort of the Gospel is that in our present distress over the consequences of sin, Christ has come to rescue us, all of us, Jews and Gentiles alike.
Third, To see Christ is to see God’s offer rejected. Simeon transitions from a prayer of blessing to a prophetic message to Mary. In so doing, he acknowledges that while God’s mighty work of salvation exalts some, it humbles others. Christ’s story will be one of conflict. His ultimate sacrifice, though effective for canceling the debt of sin, will become a stumbling block to Jews and nonsense to Gentiles. It will be by their response to God’s offer in His son that the true motives of their hearts will be laid bare for all to see. This conflict will even reach as far as the experience of Mary, herself.
The conflict incited by God’s offer of salvation in Christ has never really ended. To this day, we find people who have accepted it and others who have rejected it. Please don’t be so smart that you miss the wonderful simplicity of the Gospel and reject God’s offer.
In 1996 OklahomaStateUniversity’s quarterback was President Lyndon Johnson’s nephew, Randy Johnson. He proved to be a mediocre quarterback for a mediocre team. But mediocre or not, he and his teammates could be lifted to legendary greatness if they managed to beat their arch rival, the University of Oklahoma, in the season-ending game. In that final game of 1996, OklahomaState trailed late by six points. Little hope remained that they would score with almost 80 yards between them and their goal line, with only minutes left on the clock, and in a steady downpour of rain. But their mud-covered suits didn’t look half as pitiful as the battered, despairing faces of the State players. As a gesture of goodwill, the OklahomaState coach put in all the seniors for the last play of the game, and told Randy to call whatever play he wanted. The team huddled, and to the surprise of his teammates, Randy called play 13—a trick play they’d never used, for the good reason that it had never worked in practice. Well, the impossible happened! Play 13 worked! OklahomaState scored! Randy Johnson’s team won the game by one point! The fans went wild! As they carried Randy, the hero of the game, off the field, his coach called out to him, “Why in the world did you ever call play 13?” “Well, we were in the huddle,” Randy answered, “and I looked over and saw old Harry with tears running down his cheeks. It was his last college game and we were losing. And I saw that big 8 on his chest. Then I look over and saw Ralph. And tears were running down his cheeks, too. And I saw that big 7 on his jersey. So in honor of those two heartbroken seniors, I added eight and seven together and called play 13!” “But Randy,” the coach shouted back. “Eight and seven don’t add up to 13!” Randy reflected for a moment and answered back, “You’re right, coach! And if I’d been as smart as you are, we would have lost the game!”
Some people are too smart for their own good. They over-think things and therefore can’t grasp the idea that God came to earth and became flesh to provide salvation for all people.
In closing, I’d like to go back to Charles Moore:
The Christmas story tells us that God chose the way of descent and emptied himself of his divine prerogatives in order to indwell our nothingness, our darkness. Mary’s womb, barren, lacking Joseph’s potency, becomes home for the naked God. Christmas is thus the story of the God who is conceived in barren space, who is born in the unwelcome place of an empty manger.
Christmas is not just the message of light breaking into darkness but a humiliating fact: foolishness to the “wise” and a stumbling block to the “righteous.” The God who saves is beggarly; he exists in weakness and comes to those who reach up to him with empty hands. Such a God is an embarrassment, not just to the Herods of this world, but to all who are enamored with themselves and with their own achievements.
If we’re honest, we don’t want this God. We prefer the glorious deity of splendor who dazzles our eyes but also blinds us from seeing our lives for what they are. We don’t want the bloody babe who later is condemned to die, defamed and disfigured, for the reason that we don’t want to come to terms with the stable of our own existence. We have an inn to offer, decorated for Christmas, not a stinking stall. We have cathedrals to worship in, not barns.
And so, we too easily let Christmas move on by. In so doing, we fail to experience how God in Christ wants to enter time and space today. We miss the power that turns our worlds upside down and inside out, where “valleys are made high, and mountains are laid low.” We rob ourselves of God’s gift!