A sermon preached by Bob Keller on December 28, 2008 based on Luke 2: 22 – 40.
If you listen, and you don’t have to be listening that carefully, you’ll hear it. FWUMP! That’s the sound of the big after Christmas letdown. We’ve all seen it and maybe some of us have felt it. All the anticipation that builds and builds through the days and weeks of preparation and then, then it’s all over.
Anticipation? Christmas is something that the retail industry tells us that we should start preparing for before Halloween is in full swing. The common refrain is, “It seems to start earlier every year!” And what happens to all that anticipation? It’s over in a day or two? Or maybe you have a week of celebration with family and friends? Then that inevitable FWUMP comes! And trust me, that FWUMP may come even sooner if Christmas wishes were not fulfilled exactly as anticipated.
What of the anticipation of the two characters we met in the scriptures that David read for us this morning? This reading is sandwiched in between Luke’s very familiar story of the birth of Christ and picks up again when Jesus is 12 years old’
First we learn that Mary and Joseph were followers of the Law. They went to the temple in Jerusalem, a journey of about five miles from their temporary home in Bethlehem, for Mary’s purification after childbirth and to consecrate their first-born son to the Lord.
So Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus are in the temple courts and we meet Simeon. This is the only place in the Bible where Simeon is mentioned. However, he must have been someone special. In the reading we learned that the Holy Spirit was upon him, the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die before seeing the Lord’s Christ, and the Holy Spirit moved him to go in to the temple courts. There Simeon saw the parents bring in the child.
Now I wonder what Simeon may have been anticipating. We have no idea how old Simeon was, nor do we know how long he had the promise from God that he would not die before seeing the Christ. Some scholars suggest that he must have been an old man. But what was he expecting? A king? A warrior? A liberator that would free his people from Roman rule? Surely this new leader of the nations would not be a mere baby!
But remember, Simeon was a man full of, and led by, the Holy Spirit. He went right to the baby and took him in his arms and he praised God for fulfilling His promise of salvation in sight of all people for both revelation to the Gentiles and the children of Israel. In other words, to everyone.
Mary and Joseph marveled at what was said about their son. Then Simeon blessed them both, but spoke to Mary. He gave Mary a warning that her son would cause rising and falling in Israel. If you think of Jesus as a rock, he can be the rock on which you build your life or he can be the rock that you stumble over.
Now something else that Simeon said while praising God deserves separate attention. Simeon says “dismiss your servant in peace.” In other words – “Lord I can die now – I’ve seen your promise fulfilled. I’ve held the Messiah in my arms.” Wow! What more of a thrill could a human ask for?
This time of year – this upcoming FWUMP time – is a time when depression and suicides typically rise. It’s because what was anticipated wasn’t fulfilled. There is an emptiness, but note that Simeon is ready “to go” because all HAS been fulfilled. He is full of hope and joy at knowing that God’s promise has been fulfilled. He has seen and held the Christ.
Now we meet Anna, a prophetess. Anna was an 84 year old widowed woman. She had been married for seven years, but since losing her husband, she’s dedicated herself to living in the temple, worshipping night and day, praying and fasting. The assumption is made that Anna, too, was anticipating the Christ child. At the moment she saw the holy family, she came up to them, gave thanks to God, and then spoke of the child to everyone that was anticipating the redemption of Jerusalem. Was Anna expecting the Redeemer to be a baby?
Simeon and Anna are seldom seen as characters in Christmas plays. Never seen on Christmas cards, nor are there any carols about Simeon and Anna. But let me suggest to you that these two are just important to the Christmas story as the shepherds or the wise men. Why, because of their anticipation. They were relying on God’s promise that his Christ would come. They were waiting. They may not have known what to expect, but they knew Him when they saw Him. Their anticipations were met.
Anticipation can lead to two things – and these are the words I’d like you to take with you today – FRUSTRATION or FASCINATION.
Let me illustrate by telling you a story that appeared in “Bit & Pieces” magazine. The author is Rob Gilbert who is editor of that magazine.
Last spring I was walking in a park. A short distance ahead of me was a Mom and her three-year-old daughter. The little girl was holding on to a string that was attached to a beautiful heart shaped balloon.
All of a sudden, a sharp gust of wind took the balloon from the little girl. I braced myself for some screaming and crying. But, no! As the little girl turned to watch her balloon go skyward, she gleefully shouted out,
“Wow!” as it played with the (unseen) winds and bounced its way into the clouds. (And I’m positive that she made sure that her mother saw it, too. I can see the little girl tugging on her mother’s hand and then pointing to the ever smaller dancing balloon. She wasn’t unhappy about losing her balloon – she was happy that it was going someplace. Then saying, Wow!)
I didn’t realize it at that moment, but that little girl taught me something.
Later that day, I received a phone call from a person with news of an unexpected problem. I felt like responding with
“Oh no, that is terrible.” But remembering that little girl, I found myself saying,
“Wow, that is interesting! How can I help?”
One thing is for sure – life’s always going to keep us off balance with its unexpected problems. That’s a given. What’s not preordained is our response. We can choose to be frustrated or fascinated.
No matter what the situation, a fascinated “Wow!” will always beat a frustrated “Oh, no.”
I’m sure that both Simeon and Anna were frustrated. After all, they had been waiting for quite some time for God the Father to fulfill his promise of delivering his Christ. But then they saw Him. Simeon actually held him. I’m sure that, if in the first century when Luke wrote his Gospel, if the word “Wow” existed, that would have been the first word out of the mouths of both Simeon and Anna. The word “Wow” not at their disposal, they praised God and gave thanks.
Now to our anticipation. We know that inevitable “FWUMP” is coming. It’s not one of life’s unexpected problems. How do we deal with it? Are we frustrated or fascinated? Let me suggest the latter, and here’s why: God gave the gift of his only son some two thousand years ago. He gave that gift to everyone. Remember, just as Simeon said, For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
He gave His Son that we might have life and have it more abundantly.
And he still gives His Son today. Through this Christmas season we were reminded of that most precious gift that we received 2,000 years ago, but it’s a gift that we can still receive today. When that FWUMP hits, don’t be frustrated. Remember God’s gift. Remember that anticipation and be fascinated by it!
And be moved by it. Remember that Joseph moved. Mary moved. The shepherds and the angels moved. Even the wise men moved. And lastly Simeon was moved, moved by the Spirit. Trust your fascination at God’s gift to move you past the FWUMP and into a closer walk with Jesus. It will be a fascinating journey.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>Please pray with me>>>>>>>>>>
Heavenly Father, we confess our frailties. We set our expectations so high and then try to reach them ourselves only to allow the same inevitable “let downs” into our lives. Help us to be tired of hearing the “FWUMPS”
Please teach us that all we need comes from you and comes abundantly from you. Help us to learn to be fascinated by the wonderful things you have provided for us, most of all, that precious gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen