A War Cry: Simeon and Anna Luke 2:22-38 (HIUMC)
We’re nearing the end of our journey, as we’ve been considering God’s Christmas declaration of war on evil, sin, and death. Bethlehem indicated that there is no place too small or with too dark a history for God to enter into and redeem. Mary and Joseph’s entry into God’s service showed us what it means to risk everything, family, friends, finances, reputation, and life in order to serve God. The baby Jesus called us to a life of humble service, where we put the needs of others above ourselves, and never consider any area of service beneath us. The shepherds and angels remind us we can have peace in all things because God has come to be among us and that this message is a message to us all…every one of us…regardless of how insignificant others try to make us feel.
Some would think we’re done at this point, others would suggest that we have one more group to cover, namely the wise men. Considering that the wise men did not show up at the manger, but likely at Mary and Joseph’s home when Jesus was a toddler, for reasons we’ll get into next week on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, we have an additional stop to make on our War Cry journey. It is an event that would have taken place between the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the wise men—it is also continues to highlight the darkness we have encountered in our journey of God’s battle plan—today we turn to the presentation of Jesus at the Temple as part of Mary’s purification rites.
Have you ever received a Christmas or maybe birthday present that was what you had always wanted, or at least longed for for a long time? Maybe you received it sometime over the last week. Maybe it was some other time. If we have ever received that gift, and remember the excitement that we felt, then we might understand a slight bit of the excitement that Simeon felt that day.
Simeon was a holy man. He had longed to see Israel relieved from the oppression that the nation had been under for as long as he could remember. God’s people had been under control other than God’s for years. He wanted to see the people of God’s covenant freed. In the midst of his faithful longing, he had received a visit from God’s Spirit and received a promise that he would not die before he saw the One who would bring the salvation of God’s people—the Messiah, God’s Anointed.
One day, prompted by the Holy Spirit, maybe realizing what was about to happen, maybe just having one of those inexplicable urges that he just had to be somewhere, Simeon went to the Temple. That same day, Mary, Joseph, and the infant, Jesus, had made their way from Bethlehem to Jerusalem for the presentation of Jesus, and for the priest to declare that Mary, Jesus, and possibly Joseph to be clean, having waited the appropriate amount of time, and brought the required sacrifice after coming in contact with the blood associated with childbirth.
As they walk in with Mary possibly cradling the baby Jesus, the Spirit prompts Simeon to turn and see them, and opens his eyes to who Jesus is. With that realization, Simeon rushes over and sweeps Jesus from the arms of Mary. In today’s world, Mary and Joseph would have been standing there in shock, terrified about what this lunatic might be getting ready to do to their child, they might even would’ve yelled for someone to call thru police, or whipped out their smartphones and dialed 911 themselves. However, this was a different time, and despite both of them having been visited by angels who had indicated what a special child Jesus would be, and despite the visit from the shepherds, Mary and Joseph stood in quiet amazement at what Simeon was declaring about their son.
Simeon begins to sing praises to God, giving thanks to God for God’s faithfulness in keeping His promise and that the redemption of Israel was at hand. We hear these words: “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.”
Sounds like a great celebration, right? No hint of all the darkness or pain of God’s War here, right? Well, that seems like the direction it's going, until Simeon turns and begins talking to Mary, offering words that would have to haunt her for the next 33 years. There we find the words of God’s battle plan and more sorrow for this young mom, “This child is destined for the falling and 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.”
What is Simeon talking about? Simeon’s words to Mary paint a picture of the counter-cultural ministry of Jesus, and the reaction to it. We see in Jesus’ ministry the raising of many. We see the literal raising of the synagogue leader’s daughter, the widow’s son, and, of course, Lazarus. However we also see many others raised—the quadriplegic that had been lowered by his friends through the roof, the man who had laid by the pool of Bethesda for half a lifetime, and the woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years. We see him lift up the significance of those that society would cast aside, the tax collector, the prostitute, and other sinners, those who had been considered not worthy of becoming a rabbi’s disciple and returned to their family businesses such as fishing, little children who were meant to be not heard and not seen, women who were considered to be of no greater value than an asset of their husbands, lepers, the blind, demoniacs, as well as Samaritans and Gentiles, )people of mixed race and foreigners). It was all of these that society pushed aside or ignored that rose in response to the teaching and touch of Jesus.
Simeon, though, spoke of the falling of many at the words of Jesus. Where are the fallen? We see many who fell as a result of an encounter with Jesus—the pig farmers who watched their herd run off the cliff into the ocean when filled with the demons of the Gadarenes demoniacs brining the whole town to beg Jesus to leave, rather than celebrate the life-changing encounter, there was the rich young ruler who went away sad when told by Jesus to go and sell everything he had, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus, there were the religious elite whose teachings kept themselves lifted up and everyone else in their place found every effort to trap Jesus reversed on themselves, and even found themselves on the receiving end of Jesus’ ridicule as Jesus called those who accused Him of being in league with Beelzebub of being children of Satan themselves, there were the money changers and sacrificial animal sellers in the Temple courts, and even Judas Iscariot who could not accept that Jesus was the Messiah he had been longing for all these years.
Each of these efforts, of lifting the fallen and bringing down those who placed themselves above others, led to the opposition that Jesus faced. From the forgiving sins, to healings on the Sabbath, to the cleansing of the Temple, the religious leaders began plotting to bring the ministry of Jesus to an end. They bribed Judas Iscariot to show them where to find Jesus as Jesus prayed in the Garden. They were so opposed to Jesus that they resulted to seeking out folks to break one of the Ten Commandments as they actively sought out people to bear false witness against Jesus. They used peer pressure to sway the crowd to ask for the release of a murderer over the release of Jesus when given the option by Pilate. All of this was seen by those around Jesus, but Jesus also encountered opposition on a completely different plane as Satan appeared to tempt him in the wilderness, tried to use Peter’s confusion over what the Messiah was to look like to tempt Jesus to take a different route, and at the last tempted Jesus to choose self-preservation over the cup God of self-sacrifice that the Father had set before Him.
What does this mean for all of us, my friends? If it means that if we are followers of Jesus, if we claim to be disciples of Christ, then the words of Simeon will apply to us as well. We will be responsible for the raising and felling of many. Our lives and ministry will be counter-cultural…we will not be satisfied with the status quo. We will seek to raise those who find themselves at the bottom. We will reach out to those who are sick and struggling and seek to lift them up. We will reach out and touch those that society has said are untouchable and worthless—the homeless, the undocumented, the sinners striving for repentant lives, and others. We will expend our energy to counter the “-isms” of our culture—sexism, ageism, racism, classism, or any other effort to categorize a group of people in a way that makes them less, and force the world to recognized the value and significance of each and every life—that all are a precious, valued life before God.
Our following of Jesus will cause many to stumble or fall—as we call for forgiveness in a world where getting even is seen not only as a strength, but a right; as we call for personal responsibility in a culture that is quick to blame someone else for our own mistakes; as we call to place others’ needs and a commitment to God above ourselves in a culture that says, “look out for number one”; and as we confront those who would suggest that following Jesus is only about believing the right thing, not necessarily doing the right thing, or the flipside of that doing the right thing, not believing that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him.
In doing these things, we join the War Cry that rose from the manger, and most likely sounded out through the Temple as He was presented, committing ourselves to the battle plan of God. And as we do, let us all, let the whole Church, join Anna in praising God for this child and pointing others to the One who came not only to redeem Jerusalem but also the whole world.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.