December 30, 2018
The Advent season officially ends with the birth of Jesus on Christmas day. But I would like to extend this time of advent for at least another week or so. Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for the birth of Jesus. We celebrate his coming or advent into this world. After Jesus was born and the shepherds returned to their fields, life for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus began. As far as we know they took up temporary residence in Bethlehem. That’s about all we know.
Today we want to consider the story of Simeon and Anna and how they met Jesus. Their experience sheds light on our experience of living in this world as we wait for the second advent of Jesus. So let me say that the advent of Jesus shapes the believer’s daily life.
I. WE ARE WAITING WITH ANTICIPATION. Lk.2:22-32
Mary and Joseph were devout worshipers of God, and sought to live in obedience to the Law of God. According to Lev.12:2-4 if a woman gave birth to a son, she was to stay at home for 33 days. After that time she would go to the sanctuary to make an offering for her purification. A burnt offering and a sin offering were brought to the sanctuary. If the family could not afford a lamb they could bring two turtledoves or pigeons. We see from v.24 that Mary and Joseph were of humble means and brought two birds to the temple in Jerusalem. And this is where we are introduced to Simeon. From every indication Simeon was an old man.
In v.25-32 we read, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel."
We don’t know much about Simeon, but what we know is significant. He was a righteous and devout man who lived in Jerusalem. And he was waiting in anticipation. Waiting is not something most people do very well. You know how it can be in the grocery store when the lines are long and the cashier has a problem. We must wait and it’s not uncommon for people to express their impatience in various ways. There’s the shifting from one leg to the other, the rolling eyes and heavy sighing. Younger people in particular struggle to wait. It’s not much easier for older people, but older people have had plenty of opportunity to learn how to deal with waiting.
Simeon was waiting. What was he waiting for? It says he was waiting for the consolation of Israel. What is the consolation of Israel? Was Israel is distress? Indeed! Israel had been in distress for many years. As you remember in 586 BC, Babylon destroyed the first temple built by Solomon and many Jews were exiled to Babylon. When the exiles returned they rebuilt the temple. The rebuilding of the temple began what is known as the second temple period. This period runs from 516 BC until 70 AD when Rome again destroyed the temple. During the second temple period a number of Jewish writings expressed much concern about the fact that Israel had turned away from God and his Law. Because of this, Israel was in distress. Israel was ruled by foreign powers. This distress is referred to in Is.9:2, where we read about “the people walking in darkness.” But the prophet, Isaiah, also speaks of a time when God would bring consolation. In Is.40:1-2 we read, “Comfort, comfort [or console] my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.” These verses speak of a time when God would bring consolation. In Luke’s gospel, the consolation is found in the person of Jesus. Simeon was waiting for the Messiah, the consolation of Israel. And the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die until he actually saw the consolation of Israel.
One day, Simeon had an urging to get to the temple. He went and it was the very same day that Mary and Joseph brought one month old Jesus to the temple. He met them and took Jesus in his arms. He recognized that Jesus is the consolation of Israel and he breaks out into a hymn of blessing to God. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” It’s as if Simeon had been standing watch for the entire nation, looking for the Messiah. It was as if this was his role, to wait and watch. And now he was holding Jesus. His work was finished. He could die in peace.
In the season of Advent we don’t just look at the first coming of Jesus. We are mindful of the fact that there is going to be a second coming of Jesus. Jesus is the consolation of the world. But who is watching? Who is waiting today for his coming? In Lk.21 Jesus speaks about how things will be just before his second coming. He says in v.28, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Peter also writes of this time. In 2Pt.3:13-14, it says, “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” We have a number of senior saints with us this morning and as they have grown older, like Simeon, they find themselves waiting, anticipating the coming of the Lord. Actually it is a ministry of waiting. It is a ministry that calls all of us to look up, to wait with great anticipation. The senior saints know what is important. It is Jesus. Are you waiting with anticipation for Jesus?
II. WE ARE FACING AN ONGOING STRUGGLE. Lk.2:34-35
In v.34-35 we read, “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."
I guarantee that this scripture was not part of your Christmas celebration last Tuesday. I mean, what is Simeon even thinking here? He just finished calling Jesus the consolation of Israel, the light of revelation to the Gentiles and glory for Israel, and now he is talking about rising and falling and a sword piecing the heart of the virgin mother. Really? What is that all about?
Clearly, Simeon is giving a prophecy concerning the future ministry of Jesus. Truth be told, the ministry of Jesus would bring division in Israel. Not everyone would embrace his claim to be the Messiah, the Son of God. Not everyone would embrace his message of salvation. When Jesus began his public ministry, he was well received by the people. But as he called people to follow him and as his teachings became more difficult, many could not abide his teaching, especially the Jewish religious leaders. There was increasing conflict until the Jewish leaders decided that Jesus had to go. The life and ministry of Jesus brought division because people were forced to make some kind of decision about Jesus.
It was even difficult for Mary. In Lk.2:41 we read about 12 year old Jesus in the temple and that incident caused great anxiety and fear for Joseph and Mary. They had lost Jesus because Jesus was busy being about his Father’s business. And then you remember the time when Jesus’ mother and brothers came to get him because they thought he was out of his mind.
Of course many of us think that this verse is a reference to the cross. At the cross Mary saw her son, Jesus, crucified. Talk about a sword piercing your heart!
Do you remember what Jesus said to his disciples in Jn.15:20-21? Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.”
Those of us who are living between the first and second advents of Jesus experience the ongoing struggle that this world has with Jesus because we are Jesus’ ambassadors. Jesus is called the light of the world, and Jesus called his followers the light of the world. The world does not welcome the particular glow of this gospel light. Those of us who are Christians living in the United States have enjoyed many years of being welcomed, largely because Protestantism was influential when this country was started. But those days are passing as secularism continues to win the day and Christianity is pushed out onto the fringes of society. The political power and influence that we once enjoyed is waning.
Our goal as Christians, is not to hold onto political power. Our goal is to live like Jesus and graciously proclaim the gospel, that Christ is Lord and Savior. As we do this, we will enter into this struggle between light and darkness. The devil, the god of this world seeks to thwart the gospel at all costs. This means that followers of Christ will also experience various kinds of persecution as we represent and serve Jesus in this world.
III. WE ARE REJOICING IN KNOWING CHRIST. Lk.2:36-38
In v.36-38 we read, “And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Here is another senior saint. Anna was quite old. We don’t know exactly how old she was, but she was at least 84. Some of you here today might be around that age. Anna was quite a woman. She is called a prophetess. After seven years of marriage her husband died and she chose to not remarry. Instead she devoted herself to the Lord. She was daily at the temple worshiping, fasting, and praying.
Seeing Mary, Joseph and Jesus, she immediately recognized and embraced Jesus as her Messiah and Lord. It doesn’t say that, but I am surmising this because she began to tell others who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Jesus was the one who would make everything right. One gets the impression that Anna’s joy was not just for a moment. This was a lasting joy and thanksgiving because Jesus is the Savior. Once you have met the Savior, in many ways, you have all that you need.
Now most of us know each other and while I may not know everyone here equally well, I believe that most of us have entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and the receiving of his resurrection life. Like Anna, we have come to realize that Jesus is the source of our salvation. He is the Lord and King of heaven and earth. Jesus is the one who gives his life for us and to us as we are trusting in him.
Anna could not contain her joy. Her joy was contagious. But contagious joy only lasts for so long. Eventually such joy settles deep into our hearts because our joy comes as a result of knowing Jesus. At 84 years old, I imagine that Anna had a few aches and pains. Aches and pains can dampen our joyful expressions. But the joy is still there.
As we wait for the second coming of Jesus, we have joy. And that joy is opportunity for ministry with the people of God. When I see that you have the joy of the Lord, I am encouraged. When you see that I have the joy of the Lord, hopefully that encourages you. We encourage each other. The time between the first and second comings of Jesus is lengthy. We grow weary. But Jesus has put his joy in us and we need to “encourage one another as long as it is called today, so that none of us may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” We are rejoicing in knowing Christ.
How is it that Anna and Simeon could come into old age filled with peace and joy? Well, my hunch is that they had peace and joy because they had practiced living a life with God for many years. When they saw the Savior, Jesus Christ, their joy was fulfilled. Maybe you have known Christ for many years, but your joy has grown a little stale. Well, do not despair. Quiet yourself in the presence of the Lord and ask him to lead you into a deeper life with him. Let your heart be filled with anticipation as we wait for the second coming of Jesus. Amen