Luke 2:22-40:† The 8th Day of Christmas
Sunday morning worship, December 16, 2018
Picture a nice traditional Norman Rockwell family scene on Christmas morning.† Everyone is still in their pajamas. Everyoneís hair is still a little disheveled. Mom and Dad have a cup of coffee in their hands.† Baby is sort of awake, sort of asleep.† The rest of the kids are bouncing off the walls. And over in the corner quietly, patiently watching are grandma and grandpa.† Now as those presents are being unwrapped, what do we picture each person getting? It seems that babies get the most presents even though they donít even know itís Christmas and couldnít unwrap their presents even if they did know it was Christmas.† Why do we like buying presents for babies so much?† Somewhere between not knowing itís Christmas and getting a driverís license, kids develop the shake-a-box-and-know-whatís-in-it skill so they can open the gift they really want first and quickly disappear to put it to good use. Moms and dads get special gifts from the kids, a few necessities, and maybe a heartís desire from each other. But what do we get grandma and grandpa?† What do we get the person in our lives who has already purchased everything they really want?
Well, in the first Christmas story as told by Matthew and Luke, Jesus gets a bedtime story told by shepherds, Mary and Joseph open Jesusí gifts to find gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the gifts given the newborn king, and Jesusí fellow toddlers in Bethlehem and the surrounding area get a visit from Herodís soldiers. Grandma and grandpa, however, donít get their gifts until the 8th day of Christmas. Read along or listen (Luke 2:22f): †
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ďEvery firstborn male is to be consecrated to the LordĒ), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ďa pair of doves or two young pigeons.Ē
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lordís Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 ďSovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.Ē 33 The childís father and mother marveled at what was said about him.34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ďThis child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.Ē
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
In this season of new births and new beginnings, one of my greatest joys in life is to know that a person has lived their life well all the way to the end. Here are two wonderful examples for everyone whose life seems filled with days without meaning or purpose.† Letís look at grandma first.† Anna, letís guess, was probably somewhere around 16-21 when she got married. Seven years later, or somewhere around 23-28, she was widowed. Luke doesnít say, but from her activities, it might be fair to guess she was also childless. Her life probably seemed so full of promise and hope when she got married.† I can picture her, like Iíve witnessed a good number of brides, full of excitement as she and her husband shared their dreams for a wonderful future together. But life was to be cruel to her. She woke one morning to find herself a widow and childless, two of the worst ways for a young woman to be in the Jewish culture of her day. But Anna chose to be an example to women in difficult situations everywhere.† She followed what would be Paulís advice to an unmarried woman: ďbe devoted to the Lord in both body and spiritĒ (1 Corinthians 7:34). Instead of moping, or complaining, or any other negative choice, Anna for about 60 years ďnever left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.Ē† Think about that.† Instead of spending her days focused on herself and her plight, she gave herself totally to the Lord.† Maybe her choice is a little unrealistic in our day and age.† I donít know how she lived, where she slept, or how she found sustenance. I wouldnít advise anyone to live in this building without any other source of income. But even the hardest workers among us have some time we can give to God during our 24 hours.† And for those whose lives are filled with many hours that might for some seem lonely, or endless, or even threaten to fill us with bitterness, any of us can choose to spend those moments or hours in the presence of the Lord.†† Who knows how we might change our worlds, maybe even worlds unknown to us, if we choose to spend our hours with the Lord.† Somewhere in one of those prayer sessions, Anna, whose heart had grown so close to the heart of God, was given enough information that she was able to recognized in a pauperís baby, ďthe redemption of Jerusalem.Ē† Reading the Bible and going to church are good things, but seeking the heart of our Father God in prayer and learning to truly worship God offers us untold benefits. Sixty years of faithful praying resulted in her being in the Temple on the day that helped change the world.† God gave grandma a wonderful gift, a gift no one else could ever give her.
Then there is Grandpa Simeon.† Simeon was also a prayer.† And one day, in one of his prayers, God gave Simeon the answer to the prayer of Simeonís heart: ďIt had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lordís Messiah.Ē Simeon had a bucket list with one item on it. Simeonís Christmas present was to see the Lordís Messiah. Simeon wanted to see God and God said yes.† Simeon had grown so close to God in prayer that even before Pentecost Simeon knew the voice of God. Simeon responded to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit: ďMoved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.Ē† And there in the temple courts, God put Godís words in Simeonís mouth. Simeon told all who would listen that this baby would be the Savior of everyoneóJewish and otherwise. Simeon told anyone who would listen that who and what they decided Jesus was would ultimately determine their fate.† Simeon also told Mary and Joseph that Jesus was both a blessing a sword.
But really, isnít that what weíve all learned?† Our relationship with Jesus cuts both ways. †There are things we have because of our relationship with Jesus and there are things give up or are taken from us because evil still reigns in this world despite the Easter and Passover stories. All we know about Grandpa Simeon is that he was righteous and devout and the Holy Spirit was on him. Maybe he had a wife, a big family, and lots of money.† Maybe he had none of that. But we know Simeonís heartís desire was to see the Messiah before he died. And then there is Grandma Anna who we can surmise had a rougher life. But what was taken or withheld from her only drove her closer to the Lord.† Her heartís desire was to worship the Lord and be in His presence.
A life filled with true intercessory prayer, I believe, is the best way to the heart of God.† God doesnít promise to give us special gifts for praying. Whether God seems to withhold or send His blessings upon us remains Godís choice alone and lifeís greatest mystery.† But there is, in the Christmas story, the strong hint that if we continue, with due diligence and godly character, to seek the heart of God, gifts that fulfill and sometimes even supersede our dreams and imagination can come true.† Zachariah and Elizabeth wanted a son.† God gave them John the Baptist.† Joseph and Mary wanted a big family and life together in Nazareth.† They got all that and Jesus, too.† The seeking wise men knew only to follow a star and they still found Jesus.† The lonely shepherds were visited by God and His angelic warrior choir.† Simeon and Anna saw the Messiah.
I donít know whatís under your tree this Christmas.† I donít know who will be around it, either.† I donít know what visions of sugar-plums will dance in your head. But I do know that a life devoted to seeking the heart of God in prayer can have a wonderful ending if we remain true to the end. Simeon wasnít too tired to go to the Temple that day.† Anna didnít skip a day and miss Joseph and Mary.† The shepherds didnít leave the sheep unattended and go to the local bar for a nightcap. All of our work and worship needs to be characterized by faithfulness and diligence. We need to listen for the voice of God and be willing to follow where He leads us. Thatís what I suggest should be on our bucket list.† Thatís what I suggest should be our grown-up Christmas wish for each other no matter what our present state of health and our current circumstances might be. I pray we all learn to hear the voice of God as He speaks to us and that our heartís desire is to do what He commands.