Pastor Jim Kniseley prepared this sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas, January 1, 2006. The text is Luke 2:21-40, Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple.
Today, you and I risk being labeled “odd and eccentric.” On a day when we could have stayed home or we could be taking down our Christmas decorations, we are not only at church, we are singing Christmas carols. What our relatives and neighbors want to know today is this: why are we here and not out there with them? Are we expecting something special to happen here today?
You and I are still in the Season of Christmas, and singing Christmas carols is perfectly natural for Christians. Do you remember back to advent when some people complained that we weren’t yet singing Christmas carols? Now some folks are probably complaining that we are singing Christmas carols when they have already put away their decorations. So, which calendar do we follow, that of the Church or that of Central Park?
I have given this sermon a title: “Great Expectations.” I believe that the attitude we bring to worship will greatly influence our experience of worship. One who comes through the door with no expectation of meeting the Lord and hearing a message from the Lord, most likely will have their expectation met. They will receive nothing. On the other hand, one who comes in expecting to be in the presence of the Lord with a group of fellow believers, and who expects that God wants to give a blessing or a message or a word of forgiveness, will receive all that and more. What attitude did you bring with you to worship, this day?
St. Luke tells us the experience of two faith-filled people who came to the Temple in Jerusalem with great expectation for receiving a blessing from the Lord. They had been coming for years and years and they trusted that the promises of the Lord through the prophets were true and were for them too. I suppose it is interesting that Simeon and Anna were both elderly, near the end of their earthly lives. For me, it is not their age that makes them so special in this story. What makes them special is that they were “forward-looking people.” They were people who radiated “hope” for the future. Luke tells us that Anna looked forward to the “redemption of Jerusalem” and Simeon looked forward to the “consolation of Israel.”
In the cast of characters that Luke includes in the aftermath of the Christmas Story, I appreciate how ordinary Simeon and Anna are, and yet God uses them to tell the story of His Son. They are not spectacular figures like the singing angels; they are not royalty like the Wisemen. Instead, they are everyday people like you and me. They have experienced obvious hardships in their life. They have to exercise great patience in all this waiting they are forced to endure in waiting for the Messiah. They don’t have a crystal ball image of the future, only great hope inspired by trust in God’s promises.
Then it is that the day finally arrives when Jesus is brought to the temple. The Holy Spirit had promised Simeon that he would not die before seeing the Lord’s Messiah. About a month after his birth, Jesus is brought to the Temple in Jerusalem by Mary and Joseph to fulfill the ritual laws according the Mosaic Law.
The picture we have is Simeon being allowed to actually hold this tiny baby in his arms as he praises God. And Simeon is allowed to say aloud a truth that even Gabriel and the singing angels at Bethlehem didn’t share. This baby came to save all people, not just the people of Israel.
Simeon also was allowed to foretell the truth that Jesus’ message and ministry would be opposed by many and that Mary would experience deep sorrow.
Then there is Anna, about 84 years old. Do you notice that Luke does not record any of her actual words? What he does say about her is pretty significant. She was present in the Temple at the time Simeon was doing his dance, and “she began to praise God and to speak about the child to all that were looking for the redemption of Israel.”
Anna presents a wonderful example to us of one that didn’t refrain from telling the good news of Jesus. Next week we begin the Season of Epiphany in the Church. The Season of Light when we remember the Star of Bethlehem and the Journey of the Wisemen. The Church through the ages has lifted up the theme of evangelism (telling the good news of Jesus) during Epiphany. Let me suggest to us today that these two hope-filled octogenarians deserve a greater place in the listing of evangelists. They have beaten out the Star and the Wisemen, they have been given a message bigger than that of the angels, and they have been given the honor of holding the Son of God.
People of God, what is promised to us today at worship? What can be our expectation of the Lord? Jesus promises that wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in your midst. Jesus further promises the gift of the Holy Spirit to us in his church, to help us understand. Jesus promises that he will come to us in the reading of his holy word, in the preaching, and in the sacraments. Today Jesus is present in the bread and the wine, a sign of his love and forgiveness of our sins.
Thanks be to God!