Sunday, December 28th, 2014 – Christmas Sunday
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scripture: Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:22-40
Hymns: “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, “Angels from the Realms of Glory”, “The First Noel”, “Go, Tell It On the Mountain”, “Joy to the World”
“After So Many Years”
Imagine, if you will, a young man called by God. Who knows how old exactly he was at the time – we can probably assume that, like most individuals called by God to be the voice of God to the people, he was either in his late teens or early twenties when he first heard the call.
And what a call it would have been, too: “Simeon, before you die, you will meet MY SON. He shall be the salvation of the world, the source of redemption for sins, the bringer of eternal life to all my children.”
Consider the ecstasy, the joy, the boundless wonder you might experience upon hearing those words. You, a young person, called to be a prophet, and told that in the course of your life as a prophet, you would yourself encounter the Son of God. You would come face to face with the one that was sent to bring eternal life to all those who might believe!
With fervor, Simeon must have embraced this calling. As a prophet, he was likely not a man of high means. He would have lived in a small dwelling in the poor part of Jerusalem, a couple of miles away from the Temple. Every morning as the sun appeared above the horizon, he would rise from his rudimentary bed and make himself ready for the day. Perhaps this would be the day that he would gaze upon the Son of God. He must be properly presentable!
Once he was ready for the day, Simeon would leave his house, and make the walk to the Temple. During certain parts of year, it would have been a pleasant walk, but in the winter, it would’ve been bitterly cold, and during the summer, it would’ve been horrifyingly hot and humid – not unlike a Missouri summer. And yet, every day, Simeon would make the trek to the Temple, holding faith in God’s promise for his calling of prophecy.
Simeon would arrive at the Temple as the priests were preparing for the day. Perhaps he was familiar with Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. He surely would have been in the Temple on that fateful day that the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in the Holy of Holies, striking him dumb for his lack of faith. He certainly would’ve gazed on in wonderment as Zechariah was led forth from the Temple that day, unable to say a word, and his wonderment would only have increased when John was born and Zechariah spoke once more. Indeed, perhaps when John was brought to the Temple to be presented before God, Simeon came with anticipation, thinking that this – surely this was the one, announced by Gabriel, conceived through miraculous means –
But no. John, while the great annunciator, the original Baptist, was not the Son of God.
And so, Simeon would have spent each day in the Temple, watching, waiting. He probably spoke with the priests, debated theology with the Levites and Pharisees. As a prophet of God, he was no doubt called upon from time to time to provide a blessing upon a new child dedicated to God’s service. Perhaps young men, considering their own calling to a life of service to God, would seek out Simeon, asking for his advice and his wisdom. After all, this elder prophet, this man who had waited in the temple day after day, for so many years – his faith was so great, surely he MUST be the man to talk to when wondering about a call to ministry!
One can only imagine that Simeon’s faith must have been tested at times. Perhaps as he made the long, cold trek home from the Temple on some January night, or some late evening after he had survived a mugging at the hands of careless Jerusalem youths, he asked the Lord, “How long, O Lord, must your servant persevere?”
To which God would reply, “Wait. Just a little longer.”
And so Simeon would wait. And he would wake each morning, make the journey to the Temple, and spend the day in the Temple courts. He would speak with the priests, debate with the Levites, confer with the young men, and keep careful watch over the young parents coming into the Temple, providing blessings upon their children even as he swallowed the slight tinge of disappointment – no, this one is not the Messiah.
But then… then, one day was different.
Simeon was an old man now. For decades, he had made the journey to the Temple every day, praying that this would be the day. However, for the last couple of weeks, there had been no small amount of hubbub about Jerusalem. Some rough-and-tumble shepherds, from out in the sticks past the small country town of Bethlehem, had been going about the countryside, excitedly declaring that angels had appeared to them in the skies one night, announcing the birth of “a Savior, Christ the Lord.”
Naturally, the rumors had spread, and found their way into the city. Simeon, spending every day in the temple, had heard the rumors, and begun to wonder: is it finally time? Is my work about to be at an end?
And so, on this morning, nearly six weeks after the shepherds had first put forth the rumors of the arrival of the child, Simeon arose as he did every morning. He prepared himself for the day, taking somewhat more special care, as he had for the past few weeks. Perhaps this daily ritual had become somewhat rote over the years, but now – now that the rumors were afoot, Simeon took more care, more time than he had. If today was to be the day that he would see the Son of God, then he would surely be ready!
As he made his way to the Temple that morning, the streets were abuzz with the continued rumors. By now, the rumors had made their way to the ears of King Herod, and to Governor Quirinius, but neither was that terribly concerned – after all, these were mere shepherds. Likely they were using strong drink to keep themselves warm during those chill nights of tending sheep – they could not possibly have been reliable witnesses. Had they been wise men from the east, practitioners of the astronomical and astrological arts, perhaps it would’ve been a different story… but that was yet to come.
But Simeon was not one to doubt. This would have been a truly remarkable story for these shepherds to make up. This was something that he had to believe was true.
And so, he arrived at the Temple that morning. He saw Anna, the widow who had joined him on his daily watch in the Temple years before, after the death of her husband. “Perhaps,” he said to her that morning, “perhaps today is the day we shall see the Son of God.”
And Anna would have smiled and nodded, agreeing that she, too, felt that the time was indeed drawing near.
Simeon waited. He waited through the morning, and as the noon hour approached, he saw a young family enter the Temple whose appearance made him sit up and take notice. Here was a very young woman, carrying a child. Here was her husband, not as young as her, but young still, bearing the rough appearance of one skilled in carpentry. Looking exhausted from the journey into the city from Bethlehem, they headed to the Temple merchants to purchase a pair of turtledoves to offer as sacrifice to God in thanks for their child.
As Simeon looked upon them, he realized that their appearance was just as had been described in the story of the shepherds. Surely, he thought, this is them. This is the family for which I have waited for decades. That boy that they hold is the Son of God!
And so he rose, and approached the couple – and the Spirit of the Lord gripped hold of his heart. THIS IS INDEED THE CHILD, he heard in his head. THIS IS MY SON, WITH WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED.
Trembling with excitement and anticipation, Simeon made his way to the young couple. “Excuse me,” he said to them, “my name is Simeon. I have been instructed by the Lord to wait in the Temple for the arrival of the Messiah – your Son.”
Had this not been the family, the parents likely would have reacted with confusion, even fear, but at this point, Mary was quite used to hearing such words from people and angels. “He is named Jesus,” she replied quietly and calmly.
“And he shall be called Emmanuel, God with us,” Simeon quoted the prophet Isaiah. Reaching out for the boy, he said, “May I hold him?”
Mary handed the child to Simeon. Looking toward the heavens, Simeon held the child to his chest. “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,” he proclaimed to God. “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 with that, Simeon handed the boy back to his mother, blessing the family. His calling was fulfilled. He had seen the face of his God – now, his life could conclude in peace.
In our lives, we have a difficult time waiting. We live in an age of instant satisfaction. You can pick up your phone and find out anything you need to know, through Google, Wikipedia, or a host of other sites. Need something? Amazon can have almost anything to you the next day. You can go to Hy-Vee’s website, order your groceries, and by the time you make the twenty minute drive to St. Joseph, they’ll be ready for you to go. Along the way, you will surely curse the traffic on Belt Highway that is making you WAIT.
We don’t even like to wait for Christmas. The four weeks of Advent seem an almost interminable time as we prepare for the celebration of the birth, and it is made only worse by the appearance of Christmas in stores before Thanksgiving, before Halloween – even before Columbus Day in some places.
Can you even imagine waiting for decades and decades, living to fulfill only one calling?
I consider the impatience I had, during the nine months between my ordination and my calling to this place, demanding to know why God had not yet shown me to the place of my calling. So often, I had to stop and remind myself that it would come in God’s time. But even with that knowledge, I could barely stand having to WAIT. And that was only for nine months.
Had I been in Simeon’s shoes, I likely would’ve gone crazy decades before Jesus arrived.
The story of Simeon provides to us two very important lessons, lessons in patience and in faith. First, our patience: we have none. As a people, we are beyond impatient, demanding instant results. And yet, we must take time. We must slow down. In God’s time, things do not necessarily happen quickly. After all, to God, a thousand years are but a day. What we perceive to be a period of time that is long beyond measure could be but the blink of an eye in God’s time. And so, when we want results – that new job, that first child, that answer to prayers – we must be patient, allowing God to work not in our time, but in God’s time.
Secondly, our faith: we must be strong in it. Simeon could have lost his faith time and time again. He could have given up hope in ever seeing the Son of God, and left the Temple. He could have forsaken his calling as prophet, and moved on in life. But he didn’t. Even after so many years, he kept faith that he would indeed see the face of God, and carried on.
For us, keeping that faith goes hand in hand with having patience. Keeping our faith will allow us to have patience. If we have faith that God will provide all in God’s time, then keeping our patience becomes infinitely easier.
And so, as we walk this road that God has laid out before us, let us remember the lesson of Simeon: be faithful, and be patient. When the time arrives, we will receive God’s blessing. Until then, let us go to the Temple, praising the Lord, and keeping watch for the coming of the Messiah.