December 30, 2012

December 30, 2012

December 30, 2012 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato

GodStory, part 17 of 37
Text: Luke 2:22-40
Title: “Sing, Pray and Prophecy through Christmas”

What a year for Joseph and Mary! Can you imagine all the months that led to Jesus birth? Over the past couple of weeks we’ve lived into the world of the Christmas story… for Mary & Joseph it all started with the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, a frightened teenager, this “angelic being/messenger” telling her that she would bear a son who “would be great and will be called Son of the Most High…his kingdom will never end” (1:32-33). And for the next year, Joseph and Mary would be putting their energies and resources into this outlandish promise – – that through the faithfulness and humble obedience of this peasant-class couple, “a Saviour would be born in Bethlehem” (2:11).

And in the season of advent, we have been trying to watch and wait and obey alongside characters like Joseph and Mary, or their relatives Elizabeth and Zechariah, welcoming the living Christ into our presence…in this community of faith, in our lives, and joining God in his good and gracious work of hope, mercy, strength and renewal.

So, today, in this one & only Sunday of the Christmas season in the Christian Calendar, we catch up with 2 more faithful, YET poor and humble characters in the Christmas story: Simeon and Anna.

Joseph and Mary, as God-fearing Jews, are presenting their firstborn son to YHWH, according to Jewish laws and traditions. It’s the first month of Jesus’ life and he is being presented to God in the temple in Jerusalem. Imagine the scene:
The temple court neighbourhood is buzzing with noise and movement. Joseph and Mary are exhausted from their 3-4 day trek from Nazareth to Jerusalem. They make their way to the temple courts, carrying with them their offering of two doves because they’re too poor to provide the offering of a lamb. This is NOT a royal entrance into the city…what’s up with that? Is this not the baby that came into the world with a “great company of heavenly hosts singing: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests!”
Couldn’t the celestial beings dropped a few golden coins in Joseph’s tunic?

This is how the peace maker of all the earth comes to the temple! He comes in the hands of exhausted, dirt-poor parents, a 16 year-old girl, a 20 year-old “kid”, who are just doing their best to keep faithful to this remarkable & “out-of-this-world” promise.

That’s the setting for today’s story. . . and as Joseph and Mary carry their four-week-old child into the temple courts they are met by two energetic and “full of the spirit” prophetic senior saints.

Simeon, probably in his late 60’s or early 70’s has been waiting for the one who would be the “consolation of Israel.” He is the picture perfect example of the devout Jew of the 1st century. Believing in and waiting for the one who was promised in the covenants to Moses, Abraham, David, Jacob and Jeremiah. Faithfully proclaiming decade after decade that God will come…God will come and save us…God will provide….God will write his promises of love not just on tablets of stone, but on the tablets of human hearts. God will dwell among us in new and wondrous ways….

And as Simeon lays eyes upon this baby named Jesus, the Holy-Spirit alarm bells go off! This is it! This is the one! Simeon takes the boys in his arms and with a heart overflowing with praises God he sings this first-century-swan-song:
“My eyes have seen your salvation!”
“Now YHWH, you can dismiss your servant in peace!”
“This, this is the one who has been provided for the salvation of ALL peoples – – light and revelation for the outsiders, and glory for the people of God!”

 Remember last week when I said the gospel of Luke was a gospel for misfits and outsiders?  Simeon echoes that truth in his song.  This baby is the one who will fling the doors wide open so that ALL will be welcomed into the dream/kingdom of God!

And in the wake of this song of salvation, INCLUSION and praise, a bleary-eyed Mary and Joseph are once again AMAZED at what is being said about their son.

Simeon goes on to pronounce a prophetic blessing upon Jesus and then pauses and looks into Mary’s eyes to pronounce a prophetic word that would echo her song that she had sung 10 months earlier….what we now call the “magnificat”. . . Remember Mary? Magnifying the Lord but also prophetically pronouncing the great reversal: “The mighty one has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts…he has brought down rulers from their thrones and has LIFTED up the humble” (1:51-52).

Simeon puts it this way: “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel…so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed” and then Simeon throws in a prophetic punch at the end: “And, Mary, a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Ugh. Like a dagger to the heart!

I want us to pause with the story for a couple o’ minutes here and ponder the question:

“Is this the child you encountered over the advent/Christmas season?”

A child who’s destiny defines our own destinies and contributes to the falling & rising of many?

A child who reveals the inner thoughts of humankind?

A child whose words and presence don’t just skip and skuttle across the surface of our lives, but actually has the POWER to move deeper into our lives, even piercing our own souls.
[Reminded me of Hebrews 4:12 – – “12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.”]

This is not the child of Christmas songs of “Holly Jolly Christmas” or even “Away in a Manger” (the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes!?!)

This is the child who empowers us to live through the tension and the drama of our own lives. . . the child we sing of most FULLY in carols like:
“O little town of Bethlehem” (yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light, the hopes and FEARS of all the years are met in thee)


“What child is this” (the silent word is pleading…Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you; hail, hail, the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary!)

Q: What child did you & I encounter over the Advent/Christmas season?

Might I suggest that the depth/substance of the child we encountered, is the depth/substance of the child and the “God with us” that will sustain us and send us in the new year that lays ahead?

In other words: If we are longing for a deep and substantive God to sustain us in life, then we ought to seek out and encounter this God right from the “get-go” in the Jesus story. God spare us from settling for a porcelain, caucasion, cute and quaint Jesus. Instead, let us embrace & start with a Jesus who even in the first month of his life, is shaking up the universe – – destining that things will fall, rise, conflict and pierce…

In the weeks ahead, as we continue to live into and out of the stories of Jesus in the gospel of Luke, this is the kind of Jesus we will meet – –
we will walk with Christ who proclaims an upsidedown economy….the weak and poor will be lifted up, the proud and the haughty will be brought down…
we will meet a Jesus who looks into the inner heart and chastises [rebukes!] those who only want to keep the outside of their cups clean, while the inside is filled with rot and decay…
and we will walk with Jesus through seasons of sorrow and suffering, his mother’s heart will be broken by the suffering of her son….
Jesus own heart will be broken by the failure of his friends and the betrayal of those closest to him….but even in the midst of pain and heartache, Jesus will promise us of his never-ending companionship, his care for those of us who are the lost sheep, the lost coins, lost sons and daughters.

But lest we get too far ahead of ourselves…. We finish today’s story with one more “misfit”…. one more “nobody” in the Christmas story. The prophetess Anna. Here’s a woman who probably lived poor, lived in the margins of society as a widow for 70 years, and goes down in biblical history as a spiritual giant. . . . as one who “never left the temple”….worshipped, fasted and prayed night and day. She proclaims the good news of the baby Jesus to ALL who were looking for redemption.

As we close this morning, I want to invite a little bit of feedback,
Promote a little “Holy-Spirit-inspired” exhortation.

As we go into 2013, what are the prophetic words that need to be shared in the midst of our community of faith?
When we think of Joseph and Mary in this scene, I imagine that the words of these ordinary prophets, were words of consolation and encouragement. It was a reminder that they were not alone with this promised Messiah. They need not be afraid, for the words of their faithful elders would be the words of assurance that would strengthen them and comfort them both now and over the next 3 decades of being Mom and Dad to Jesus….son of the Most High.

And here we are, on the last Sunday of 2012….and I’m hoping that there are some words of encouragement and hope from the Senior Saints in our midst. Because the great thing about the Christian journey is that (as I’ve said before) this is a “we” movement. WE are all in this together. We need every voice, of every generation to keep us faithful to the promises of Jesus. Just like Mary & Joseph, we need to hear some Holy-Spirit-inspired utterances!

So, today, I’d like to make some space for the Simeon’s & the Anna’s in our midst. . .

I want to put this into 2 sections:

60-79 year olds: Righteous and devout. Words of consolation. Revelations from the Holy Spirit. Words of inclusion. Words of Light. Words that reveal God’s glory. Words of our destiny. . . falling and rising. Words that reveal the inner thoughts of God, words that speak truth in love, reminding us of the heartache and challenges of following Jesus for decades.

80-100 year olds: Speak to us as a people who have worshipped and devoted your lives to God for decades….of worship, fasting, prayer, devotion. Words of praise to God, speak to us about Jesus, the one who is for all who are looking for redemption/renewal in these days.

[* a few “guidelines”: words of prophecy are words to build up the body of Christ….as one of my mentors once shared, prophetic words are an encouraging word, borne out of the word of God and affirmed by the community of faith. This is a time to encourage/bless one another! ]

[* sharing amongst the congregation, listening to the sagely voices of wisdom in our midst]

A closing prayer:
[Nunc Dimittis, latin for “Now Dismiss”]

Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see;
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.