December 11, 2016
In Big Ten College football the big game is Michigan verses Ohio State. There is no love lost between these two teams. In Ohio on the day of the game, by decree of the governor, the letter “M” is not used throughout the state.
This year, on Nov.26, the game was filled with tension. At one point there was an important play. The ref could have given Michigan a 1st down or not. The ref placed the ball short of the 1st down. Michigan lost. There was much gnashing of teeth. Upon further review some felt it should have been a first down, while others thought not. Perspective is very important.
All of us have a perspective on life and living. Our perspective comes from experience and knowledge. As we learn more or have significant experiences our perspective can change. Today we are looking at the shepherds, Simeon and Anna. The birth of Jesus Christ changes everything. And the birth of Jesus Christ brings new perspective to life.
I. ROUTINE LIVING IS FILLED WITH HOPE. Lk.2:8-21
We are all familiar with the story of the shepherds. Over the years I have read differing perspectives on these shepherds. Some say that shepherds were looked down upon in the society and that they were unsavory, untrustworthy men. But others point out that in the Old Testament shepherds generally are viewed in a positive way. What is most likely is that the shepherds were lowly and probably poorer than most. Day after day, night after night they had to care for the flock. It was their job.
This morning I want to just note the fact of the daily routine of these shepherds. There was nothing glamorous about their lives. The pay wasn’t great. As you know sheep are basically dumb animals, requiring a lot of care. The shepherd spent long hours with the sheep. He had to lead the sheep to pasture and water. He had to protect the sheep from other animals. He had to keep the sheep from straying and if a sheep did stray from the flock the shepherd had to go out and search for the lost sheep. In Jn.10 Jesus spoke about shepherds who are merely hirelings and have no personal investment in the sheep. Jesus says that when the wolf comes, those shepherds abandon the sheep. Well, I’m sure there were shepherds like that.
Many of us know what it is to live a routine life. Maybe your job is routine with little variation. You go to work and you know exactly what to expect. Maybe your home life is a bit boring. Every day is more of the same. Life can be that way. And even if there is variety in your life, it can often feel unproductive, stagnant and boring. You might find yourself asking the question, “What difference does my life make.” I don’t know if the shepherds had those thoughts, but we sometimes wonder about questions like that. We reach a point where we say, “Surely there has to be more than this.”
Well, on this particular night God was about to shake things up in the lives of these shepherds. The angel appeared and there was the bright light of God’s glory shining in the darkness. And they were afraid. In v.10-12 the angel says, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And then it says, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" Wow! That would shake up your life a little bit.
After hearing the angelic host, the shepherds did what all of us would have done. They decided to go and see for themselves what the Lord had made known to them.
Now, a couple of things. First these shepherds would not have expected to be particularized by God in this way. No one else thought they were of any particular importance. They were just shepherds doing what shepherds do. Someone’s got to do it. Second, one does not get the impression that they had done anything to deserve this special announcement of Christ’s birth. There is no indication that these men were godly or upright. I mean, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph are all identified as being godly people. Not these shepherds! And yet God came to them with a stunning announcement.
They went with haste to find Mary, Joseph and the baby. Why? It is because a Savior had been born to them. “Unto you is born this day, a Savior.” I don’t know how the shepherds interpreted this. The word, “savior” means “deliverer.” It refers to a deliverer from one’s enemies and from peril. Did they think in terms of a spiritual deliverer or did they think in terms of a deliverer from Roman oppression, someone who would make their lives better? We don’t know, but Jesus is all of that. Jesus makes our lives amazingly better. Clearly the angel’s message gave them hope.
And we need hope. The drudgery and routine of life can feel so deadening. Sometimes it seems that life is futile. Notice also that this Savior is Christ the Lord. He is God’s anointed deliver who is the Lord of heaven and earth. Because he is Lord he is able to do what is necessary for our deliverance. The hope that the angel announced is not found in a vague longing. Rather this hope is found in the person of Jesus Christ. The angel did not begin by saying, “You are all sinners.” The angel announced the Savior.
Men and women, we are all sinners. And we need to be saved from our sin and the consequences of our sin. We are broken people, living in a broken world and Jesus is the Savior.
It seems to me that these shepherds submitted to Christ the Savior. They returned glorifying and praising God and they told others about the Savior who is Christ the Lord. Real hope in this world is found in Jesus. Have you submitted to his Lordship, entrusting your life to him in faith?
II. SPIRITUAL LONGING IS FILLED WITH PEACE. Lk.2:22-35
Mary and Joseph were devout in their worship of God and obedience to the law of God. So 40 days after Jesus was born they came to the temple so that Mary could do the purification ceremony and so that they could dedicate Jesus to God. Look at v.25-32.
Many think that Simeon was an old man because he speaks about departing in peace. Actually Luke doesn’t say that Simeon was old. What he does say is that Simeon was righteous and devout. Simeon was a serious believer in God and he was one who sought God in his life. In fact, Simeon was one who was waiting and looking for the coming of Messiah. What is interesting is that the word, “consolation”, is the word paraklatos. It means, “One called alongside.” In John’s gospel this word is applied to the Holy Spirit. But here in Luke, it is applied to Jesus. Jesus is the One who comes alongside and brings rest or peace
Well, where there is futility in life there is a longing for rest and peace. We are all driven deep inside by selfish desires, insecurities, fears, and hurt. I would suggest that most of us do not understand that which drives us deep within. We think things, say things and do things that we wish we did not think, say and do. These realities make us restless. It is part of the sinful brokenness of our lives.
And then there is a longing for rest and peace just because there is an awareness in all of us that there is more to life than what we experience. It is what Augustine called a “God shaped vacuum.” We feel that there must be more to life but we cannot put our finger on what that more is.
For Simeon there was also the understanding from Israel’s scriptures that a Messiah, a Savior had been promised. He was longing for the coming of Messiah who would restore all that is broken.
I don’t know about you, but as I look at the sadness and brokenness of this world, as I feel the sadness and brokenness of my own life, l long for the coming of Jesus the Messiah. Now the wonderful news of Christmas is that Jesus has come and has already provided peace through his death and resurrection. He has defeated the power of sin and darkness. And all who enter into life with Christ by faith, receive the forgiveness of their sins. They enter into a relationship of peace and rest with God. They enter into the eternal kingdom of God because they have received the very life of Jesus.
Simeon entered into the peace that only Jesus can give. He had been waiting and watching. He was given the privilege of seeing and holding the very One who would bring peace. And so, after seeing the Lord’s salvation, he was ready to die. Simeon submitted his heart to Christ the Lord.
We feel the emptiness and brokenness of life in this world. For Christians there is the realization and experience of entering into the peace of knowing Jesus. And yet, there are days when we struggle to live in his peace.
This past week a woman posted on Facebook that she was mad at God because God allowed two of her friends to die from cancer who actually seemed to be getting better. And now a third friend is dying. “It’s not fair,” she writes. She goes on to say that while her husband and son sometimes attend church, she does not, “because I am mad at God,” she writes.
Men and women, the more we fix our heart and mind on Christ, the Lord, the better able we will be to live in his peace. Simeon was looking for Jesus because Jesus is the Prince of peace. We entrust our lives to him and in doing so we learn to be at peace in this dark world.
III. DEEP SORROW IS FILLED WITH JOY.Lk.2:36-38
Here we read about a woman named Anna, and it is clear that Anna was indeed, very old. Verse 37 is a little ambiguous. Some scholars think Luke is saying Anna was 84 years old, while other think Luke is telling us that she was a widow for 84 years. Either way, Anna is old.
We also learn about the kind of woman she was. She is referred to as a prophetess. God would reveal things to Anna. What is more, her daily activity was centered at the temple of God. She lived a life of worship, fasting, and prayer night and day. She was a godly woman. Like Simeon, she was also waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. She was waiting for the Savior.
Anna had been married for seven years and then her husband died. We know nothing about how Anna dealt with her husband’s death. We can assume that she mourned his death. It is possible she was childless. It doesn’t say. My point is that Anna experienced some significant sorrow early in her life. If she was married at 13 or 14 years of age she would have been a widow by the age of 20.
Everybody handles sorrow in different ways. It seems that Anna channeled her grief into a life of worship and prayer. I don’t want to make more of this than is warranted. When a loved dies, healing does come with time, but I have heard it said that one never really forgets the loss, whether it be a spouse, a child, a parent or a close friend.
The same is often true with divorce. Even if the divorce took a spouse out of an abusive marriage relationship, there is loss, grief, guilt, and regret. The reality and feeling of being alone brings sadness.
On the day that Mary and Joseph came to the temple, Anna also arrived at the temple just in time to see baby Jesus. Did she hear the words of Simeon, or did the Lord reveal to her that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah? One way or another Anna came to know that her redemption, the redemption of Israel had come. Her heart was filled with joy and she gave thanks to God.
There is a joy that comes to the person who embraces Jesus as Savior and Lord. Part of that joy is found in knowing that in Christ we are forgiven and have entered into the favor of God. Part of that joy is receiving the Holy Spirit who dwells in us as our comforter, teacher and guide into the way of Jesus. Part of that joy is knowing that a day is coming when we will be with the Lord forever in a new heaven and earth. Anna shared the news about the arrival of the Messiah with all those who were waiting for his coming. “He is here!”
We have this crèche or manger scene on the communion table. I have one that I put up at home every Christmas. This manger scene is fairly old. My manger scene is fairly cheap, but both manger scenes bring me joy. They bring me joy because they picture the coming of true joy into the world in the person of Jesus. He was a man of sorrows, who had deep joy. If you will bring your sorrows to Jesus, he will give you his joy, even in the midst of sorrow.
I had breakfast with a friend this past Tuesday. He was sharing with me the idea that everyone has various access points in their lives in which Christ as Lord can enter into that person’s life. Maybe that access point is a debilitating injury or illness, or perhaps, a feeling of loneliness and emptiness, or a deep loss or great need, or deep guilt. Christ the Lord is Lord of all. He is Lord of every situation and circumstance and knows how to bring hope, peace and joy. For the person who will submit to Christ as Lord in their area of need, Christ will welcome the invitation and begin his work of redemption. Have you welcomed the Savior, Christ the Lord into your life? Amen