Luke 2:21-40 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
So this is it my friends- we've reached the last Sunday of the year- and the last of our last official backyard series. I don't know about you, but spending the last year with all of you has been one of the best experiences of my life. We've shared much of life together this past year- getting to know one another on a more intimate level, and learning to trust one another with some of the things we may have otherwise kept to ourselves. And the most beautiful part? You made it look so easy! What a great honor it has been to witness the intentionality with which this year was undertaken by this congregation.
When we decided to spend a year focused on our community of faith, or our backyard, we had just 2 ideas in mind- 1: we've been so active, and have spread ourselves so thin we've become tired so let's give ourselves a Godly rest; and 2: God has sent so many new people to our congregation, we need to purpose this next year to get to know who we are, what gifts has God provided our church now that our congregation has grown so dramatically. What actually came out of one year in our backyard far exceeded our expectations. SoI thought it might be a good time, on this last week, to look around and take stock- to do a once over, if you will, because as I said last week, 'Mary, the back gate has just swung open, and we need to all be on the same page as we embark on stepping out into the neighborhood."
The scripture for today tells of Mary and Joseph, new parents, feeling everything new parents feel, taking that first step by taking their infant through the rituals of early childhood. On the 8th day of life, the child is named: Jesus. On the 40th day of life he is taken to the temple to be dedicated to God. Mary and Joseph are raising their child to be a person of faith. They are gifting Jesus, through these simple rituals, with a foundation, with a community of believers that will surround and nurture him through his life. Whatever he does and wherever he goes, Jesus will always have his core, a knowledge that he is intrinsically connected to a community of believers that is unbreakable. And if you look at Jesus's life, his commitment and compassion for the community is what spurred him to act in ways that encouraged the people of God to live into their best selves.
It's important, as we go forward and look at the life of this incredible God/Human- to remember that Jesus's plan was to bring healing and wholeness to a God ordained institution- to teach, by example, how we, as God's people, can bring light, love, justice, and healing, to the world. This was, and is, God's plan for the Jewish people, and God's plan for the church. We are a vehicle of God's righteousness- agents of peace. Jesus never lost that connection- he never walked away from that connection- even when it led to threats on his life, he did not denounce the connection- instead he worked and prayed and healed and wept for them... even from the cross.
But go back to the text- Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple to be dedicated and there is a man there- Simeon. Simeon has been yearning, and waiting, for the healing of Israel- for the people of God to be delivered, and has been assured, through a promise of God, that he will someday see the one who will bring this about... so he waits, like a sentinel, to get a glimpse of the Messiah, the Savior.
"Simeon is a man under the influence of the Holy Spirit. He is described as one who the Holy Spirit rests upon, it is the Holy Spirit who gave the promise of revelation to him, and it is the Holy Spirit who brings Simeon to the temple at the right time." If you remember our scriptures from the past few weeks, there has been a "continue[d] an emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit that began in Luke 1. John the Baptist will be filled with the Holy Spirit while in the womb (1:15), Mary will conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit (1:35), Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and enabled to recognize the significance of Mary and her unborn baby (1:41), Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied (1:67). Simeon is part of this unfolding work and direction of the Holy Spirit... It will be the Holy Spirit that rests on Jesus and enables his ministry (4:1-18) and who will give power for witness and growth to the church [in Acts.] (Acts 1:8)." Ruth Ann Reese- https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1551
And when he sees Jesus, the old man takes the six week old baby in his arms, and lifts him up in the way of royalty- I love this part, because once again, we see someone who can not contain the Spirit within him and he begins to sing! He blesses God and affirms Jesus not just as the Messiah, but let's everyone know that when you are looking at Jesus, you are looking at God's salvation, a light to non-Jews, and God's way for the glory/redemption of Israel. If there was a doubt in Mary and Jospehs mind about whether or not this birth was a God event, Simeon's song of affirmation of Jesus's identity and God's plan for his life was made clear in that moment. "Simeon went on to bless them, and said to Mary his mother, This child marks both the failure and the recovery of many in Israel, A figure misunderstood and contradicted— the pain of a sword-thrust through you--But the rejection will force honesty, as God reveals who they really are." Perhaps not the most comforting words to use at a baby dedication, but Simeon spells out the reason for Jesus's ministry- to reconcile, to heal, to put us, the people of God, back on the path of peace.
And if it wasn't enough to have this prophecy, a woman, 84 year old Anna, also a prophet of God, "showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem." (MSG)
My beloved congregation of Christ, we are about to take Jesus to the world... and as we gather here in this holy temple, what is it that we need affirmed in us, in each other, in our community of faith? What song will remind us of our purpose and God's plan for us? Who has to show up to announce Christ's love and healing possible in and through us? Cause no kidding, sometimes, even after a year preparing, the task can seem like it will take more than us! What is it that we are waiting to see or hear or know deep down that will convince us that God has truly called us to this great work- that bringing each of us together for this season of ministry is a God event?
Take a breath. Close your eyes. Take another. Quiet your mind. Think back over the past year... where were you and what were you doing last year at this time? Can you remember your feelings from one year ago, and how those feelings may have developed over this past year? Can you remember what this past year has felt like- what path your spiritual journey took to bring you to this point? Can you see places where God intervened? Can you remember times when you felt God's spirit moving, or speaking, or guiding? Can you identify one moment when you felt God's presence, or saw the HoySpirit at work? Take a moment to do a once over... and when you have, thank God for what you have experienced- for the blessing of spirit- and if you dare, the challenge of call.
(leave time for prayer)
My friends, God has done wonderful things in and through you, even in one year... and like Simeon, you may be feeling right now, that you are under the influence of the Holy Spirit- I pray we all are. So let me challenge us to go one step farther in this last week of the backyard year... in this time of response, will you share one or two things you've reflected on with someone in the room? (acknowledge some of them are not comfortable) Because my friends, it is what God has done in our lives that is the only true word we have to bring to the neighborhood. It is the story of our faith, the story of our journey, the way in which our lives have been changed and shaped and transformed that will be able to point others toward the light of Christ. We've been given a great gift in this community. Like Jesus, we know that wherever we go, whatever we do, we will always have our core, a knowledge that we is intrinsically connected to a community of believers that is unbreakable. It is only through our commitment and compassion for the community that we can act in ways that encourage the people of God- the ones out there- to live into their best selves.
I don't know all that God has in store for us- but I do know that God's will for us, as God's people, to bring light, love, justice, and healing, to the world. As wonderful as this past year has been, my friends, we're not at the end, we are only at the beginning of one of the best experiences of our lives.