Old Testament Reading 1 Samuel 1:24-28; 2:11, 18–20, 26
Epistle Reading: Colossians 3:12–17
Gospel Reading: Luke 2:21-40
Sermon: “What Are You Waiting For?”
As most of you know, my Dad lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico and that means that I have spent a lot of time on I-40 over the years. Various landmarks dot the wide open spaces on the route like familiar friends, the strange sight of the Cadillac ranch just west of Amarillo for instance where a guy commissioned an art group who partially buried ten old Cadillac sedans at an angle out in a field. Heading on west, the two level buttes announce that your getting close to Tucumcari and long, long before you get there, there are a series of signs advising that Clines Corners is ahead with the tag line that it’s “Worth Waiting For”. Now Clines Corners has changed a bit over the years, but it’s still mostly what it always was, a place to eat, fill up the car and buy cheap souvenirs and junk food for the trip. I was reminded of that thinking about our Gospel reading this morning and it’s theme of fulfilled waiting.
It’s one thing to wait a few more miles to pause on a trip, skipping other competing tourist traps, but imagine waiting your whole life to witness an event. That is the case for two aging saints in today’s readings: Simeon and Anna. It had been years and years since God had promised David that his kingdom would be everlasting, but then came the Assyrians, and even worse, the Babylonians, bringing complete defeat and exile. The kingdom seemed to have ended, promise or no promise. Still the prophets claimed that a shoot would spring up from the stump of David’s line that had been cut off. New life and hope where much had been lost. This expectation had grown that soon Messiah was to come. He would be the one who would fulfill the prophesies and reign in David’s line forever. Isaiah had marvelous names for this one to come, we heard them several times in the last few weeks, including Christmas Eve: Wonderful Councilor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. This is the one for whom Anna and Simeon were waiting along with many in the land. There was a sense that it was time. Perhaps they knew of the prophesies of Daniel which laid out the timeline after the return from exile. Nevertheless, it seems that the Holy Spirit had been at work in them.
We have heard the announcements of Gabriel to Mary and Zechariah, we have witnessed the Holy Spirit filling Elizabeth with the Spirit of prophesy in the presence of Mary, but we are not quite done yet. The Holy Spirit has one more set of revelations to make and it will be through these two saints. They wait in expectation for the arrival of the Messiah. They wait not in Bethlehem, not in the shepherds fields, but in the house of God – the temple in Jerusalem for the child to be dedicated to the Lord according to the Law of Moses. They wait eagerly for the child to appear, confident that God will give them this sign that the promise was coming true, while they were yet living. They would add their testimony and then pass on into blessed rest with God.
But for Mary and Joseph, who were faithful Jews, getting to Bethlehem and giving birth was just the beginning of the story. After the birth of a first born male child in Israel, the law requires a number of things to be done. We read about those in todays Gosple reading. The first event was celebrated when Jesus was eight days old – the Rite of Circumcision. This was part of the covenant that God made with Abraham way back in Genesis. It was the essential sign of a Jewish male belonging to the covenant and this was done for Jesus, by tradition, it was also the time when the male child was formally named.
The second and third events were celebrated together: Purification for Mary after the bleeding following child birth and dedication of Jesus as a first born Jewish male. Also, ever since the plague of the first born in Egypt leading up to the Exodus, all first born males were to be ceremonially presented to God as an act of Thanksgiving to God for their redemption from captivity. So it was that Mary and Joseph came up to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer the sacrifices required after 40 days for a male child as specified in Lev 12:1-8. Here we note that Mary and Joseph gave the poor persons offering, two doves instead of the lamb as was permitted.
That is why they had come, but once they were there, events unfolded to their amazement. The aging Simeon who has been led by the Holy Spirit to the temple that day, takes the infant Jesus in his arms and proclaims the final of the Christmas songs that Luke records for us: (Luke 2:29-32 NLT) “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
I rather imagine that turned heads in the temple that day! It is from Simeon that we hear the world wide mission of Christ – a light to reveal God to all the nations! As well as give glory to Israel. It is enough for Simeon to have seen and held the child. He trusts God completely that all will be accomplished as promised and he was privileged to be there at the beginning of this great new chapter in God’s plan of salvation. Like many places in scripture, we wish that we could end the story right there and say that they all went home in great joy. But Simeon now turns to Jesus’ mother and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, warns her of what is to come. Simeon warns that many will not be able to accept Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. Jesus will cause some to fall, yet others to rise. He also warned her of the grief to come, seeming to already know of his crucifixion to come.
Simeon had been led to the temple that day, but Anna was already there. Luke tells us that she was always there – praying and worshipping God. As Simeon was still speaking, Anna begins to tell everyone who would listen about the child. Luke does not give us her exact words, but tells us that she too was a prophet. I imagine that her words were similar to those of Zachariah and of Simeon and even Gabriel. Telling the people in the temple court that day that the long awaited Messiah had come, that God was faithful to his promises and had sent them a savior just has had been foretold.
So what about us? Are we still waiting? Advent was a whole season of waiting and a time to prepare. And now what we waited for has come! What will we do with what we have seen and heard? Christmas has come, but that doesn’t mean we are done for the year, in fact we’ve barely started. These Sundays of the Christmas season are not an end to themselves, but only the beginning of the events of Christ”s life. Yes, the angel choir has gone away, the shepherds have also come, worshipped and gone, but so much more is to be revealed.
“What are we waiting for?” How you say it changes what it means. Spoken as a quiet question, it leads us to ponder and weigh our own hopes and dreams. Are we focused on the things of God as were Anna and Simeon? Or have we settled for lesser things, goals and dreams of perhaps earthly significance, but of little heavenly consequence. God is still at work, unfolding opportunities and signs of grace everyday. We look forward to the day of Christ’s return, just as Anna and Simeon looked forward to his first coming. While we hope, there is work to be done and good news to share. Which brings us to the second way to say it: “What are you waiting for!?!” Said that way it is an exclamation of excitement and joy! We have been redeemed and adopted as members of the household of God through the grace of Immanuel, God with us! Go and share the good news – what are you waiting for?