Unfolding

A sermon based on Luke 2:22-38

Sermon audio

Simeon opened his eyes and all he saw was darkness. He woke up every morning at the same time for as long as he could remember.

He unfolded his blanket away from his frail body and slowly made his way out of bed. Every morning, it took him longer to get to his feet than the one before. He wondered how many more mornings he had in left him. Simeon was now an old man who long ago made peace with God and with death. He had lived a long and full life, and now he was ready for it to come to an end.

Simeon was a patient man; faithful too. God’s Spirit had come to him and told him that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah. God had told Simeon that the one who would come to redeem Israel was on the way. God would send a savior to the world who would deliver the people from their hardship and comfort their restlessness. But God had told him this a while ago. Simeon had been waiting years.

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Simeon wondered, just like he did every day, whether today would be the day. God’s window of opportunity was, frankly, getting smaller. Simeon was somewhere in his eighties, and his body never let him forget that. He slipped on his robes and stepped outside. It was morning in Jerusalem, but the sun’s rays had not yet stretched over the hills.

Simeon breathed in deeply. Mornings were his favorite part of the day. He wrapped the scarf around his head just a little tighter, and he began his daily journey to the Temple. There was a chill in the air that Simeon loved. The cool air invigorated him and helped him forget his own weariness—this day-after-day vigilance. God had blessed Simeon with a great promise, one he was humbled to receive, but, to be honest, waiting this long for God to deliver on this promise was stressful for him. Plus, he wondered how he would know what to look for. Simeon had no idea what a messiah looked like. He had a hard time trusting that one day he would just stumble upon a messiah unwittingly.

How would this unfold? What if he missed it? What if he already had?

Simeon had decided that God uses us in ways that surpass even our own understanding, but still God needs us to pay attention.

“Simeon” was an old name that means “he who hears”. He was a vigilant man. His eyes and ears were wide open, so that he was better able to see and hear what God was doing right in front of him.

Simeon listened closely, he looked around.

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Mary and Joseph had been to the Temple before, but only as infants as young as the one cradled against Mary’s chest. Growing up, they had heard many wondrous things about the Temple. They heard it was made of gold and marble and that it stretched higher and farther than any building anyone had ever seen.

As the young couple made their way into the heart of the city, there was no mistaking it. The Temple in Jerusalem was an imposing structure that gleamed under the sun. It was built to catch everyone’s eye. The Temple was the middle of the world, the center of everything. The corridors, terraces, courtyards, porticos, and gardens unfolded across 37 acres. This was Israel’s very heart. Every day, faithful Jews just like Mary and Joseph came from every direction, and from days away to observe ancient practices.

The Temple was here to display the magnificence of God to the people, and the sight of it took Mary’s breath away.

Mary and Joseph knew what was required of them. They were here to follow the laws of Moses. Mary needed to be purified after childbirth, and Jesus, as their first born son, needed to be dedicated to God.

Mary and Joseph breathed deep as they ascended the stone stairs up the North side of the Temple. They listened closely, they looked around. Through them, God was doing wonderful things.

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Anna spent every day of her life in the Temple. She knew who came and who went, and her eyes were peeled. She too was looking for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Anna spent her days speaking the words of the prophet Isaiah:

A voice cries out in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God…The glory of the Lord will one day be revealed…

But as Anna looked around, she mourned the direction that things were moving in. The Caesars and the Herods ruled Jerusalem with an iron fist. Rome occupied the Holy city of Jerusalem. Even the King of the Jews, Herod, did everything Caesar wanted him to do. There were no princes, or kings, or rulers who had any concern for the well-being of the common people, and as long these cruel leaders were in control, there was no consolation for Israel and no redemption for Jerusalem.

Anna mourned what was happening in the Temple, too. Moneychangers overcrowded its corridors, each of them profiting off of every transaction. Exploiting poor peasants was one of their everyday practices. Merchants were selling animals for sacrifice at unfair prices. Anna spoke against this type of sin. This was God’s Temple and God was never interested in these kinds of riches. Anna was concerned that wealth was becoming the peoples’ new salvation and greed their new God. But Anna knew that real salvation never involved collecting more and more. Salvation was about how God’s love frees us to give more and more of ourselves to one another.

Anna hoped for a new type of power, one that changed people’s hearts—one that brought princes to their knees and made the rulers of the earth into nothing. And the only kind of power mighty enough to bring down princes, kings, and occupying Rome would have to come from God. What Anna hoped for was a Messiah.

The Messiah would be someone who would come from among the people and he would give us all new voices to speak with, and a new way to see how God is here with and for us all. The Messiah, Anna hoped, would usher in a new Kingdom. One stronger and more meaningful than any that had ever existed before. One built on the cornerstones of justice, kindness, and righteousness.

Anna listened closely, she looked around. The promises of God were about to unfold before her.

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Simeon’s smile was huge, and his eyes as bright as Anna had ever seen them. Mary and Joseph had made their way up the stairs of the Temple, and Simeon was drawn straight to the child wrapped in torn cloth.

There was no mistaking this child.

For some reason that Mary could not explain, she felt comfortable handing her child to this old man. There was something trustworthy and familiar in Simeon’s eyes. Mary told Simeon that her child’s name was Jesus, which means “God saves”. This surely was the one he had been waiting for.

Here was an 80 year-old man ready to die, holding a two month-old infant in his arms. Simeon unfolded the baby’s blanket away from his face and he saw in the face of this child the long-awaited promises of God. This weary man was holding new and vital life in his arms. In that moment it was hard not to see how new life was always being remade from the ashes of old life.

As much as Simeon tried to prepare himself for this moment, there was no way to meet the very embodiment of God’s love for God’s people, without being overwhelmed by how wonderfully it had come. Simeon began to weep. And as these tears streamed down his face, he felt all the years of anxious waiting falling away. Simeon listened closely to the sounds of this infant in his arms; he looked across the Temple grounds. The promises of God were unfolding before him.

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But all was not good news. God’s Spirit had told Simeon that not all would go well for this Jesus. Simeon found it hard to share what he knew with Mary. There were consequences to being this important to God. Simeon swallowed hard and turned to the young mother. No one who has something as important to say to God’s people, as Jesus will, could ever do so without creating division and controversy. There would be confrontation and trouble-making. Simeon held this child only imagining what truth might one day come out of the mouth of this Jesus, but Simeon knew that whatever this truth was, that it was going to be sharp enough to divide the whole region.

Jesus’s fate would unfold in front of an entire people, and his life would be put into the hands of those who would not understand his message. This was not anything that any mother wants to hear, and Simeon’s words chiseled away the smile from Mary’s face.

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Simeon and Anna were never sure how this child would redeem the world. The world needed a lot of redeeming. Would corrupt power ever be dismantled? How would this messiah teach the world to put compassion and justice first?

Would the people recognize that their real salvation resided in the living God and not in the hollow promises of all the Caesars and all the Herods of the world? How would this vulnerable baby, now cradled to his chest, one day become the King of all kings? Seemed like a tall order, even for God.

Neither Simeon nor Anna would live to see how any of this would unfold. But they were alright with that. They had seen enough.

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The weary Simeon stood there in the middle of the Temple courtyard. And as he held the redemption of an entire people in his hands, he uttered what may have been his last words:

O Master, you may dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.

What had just unfolded before Simeon’s eyes was enough. God’s strong promise of salvation has made itself known to us in the form of weakness. The power of God has entered the world in the ultimate form of vulnerability: a child cradled in his mother’s arms.

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God is finally here, among us, closer to the world than God has ever been. God has come to console and redeem us. God is now inside, among us. And with this Jesus, God’s redemptive project will now unfold for all the world to see. And now that he knew this, old Simeon could shut his eyes and finally rest.

 

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