Sermon for the Presentation of Christ, 2nd February 2014
“My eyes have seen your salvation” Luke 2:30
The story of Mary and Joseph bringing the forty day old Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem is one which has inspired artists and writers, but in this moment, in which the fulfil the Jewish law, there is inspiration for each one of us, inspiration of which we might think in four words beginning with “l”.
The first word is “long”. The wait for Jesus’ arrival has been a long, long one. Simeon would have known of the centuries of waiting that had passed and would have been delighted at the thought that God’s word was about to be fulfilled. Luke Chapter 2 Verse 26 tells us, “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah”. If Simeon’s wait had been long, so had that of Anna, Saint Luke tells us that she was now eighty-four years of age and never left the Temple, but worshipped there day and night.
It is hard to imagine the thoughts that passed through the minds of Simeon and Anna the moment Jesus was brought in; the sheer joy they must have felt. Their lives had been lived for this single arrival; they had been people of great faith, but it had been a long time before they saw their faith fulfilled.
What do Simeon and Anna say to us about our own faith? Do we expect instant answers or are we prepared to wait years, even decades? Biblical faith is long-term. In times when everyone is looking for instant gratification, accepting that the wait might be long is not easy, but if it is God’s purpose, then the long-term is what we must accept.
The second word is “lonely”. Simeon and Anna seem people who were solitary. Saint Luke tells us, in verse 26 and 27, “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. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple”. There is no mention of Simeon being encouraged by anyone other than the Holy Spirit. Similarly, Anna, as a prophet, seems alone. The only encouragement in her life is that she finds in her prayer and worship.
Being lonely is not easy; being spiritually alone can sometimes make us feel like giving up on our faith. We need encouragement in our loneliness and Simeon and Anna find the encouragement they need to sustain them through the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. When we feel lonely, when we feel like giving up, we should remember the encouragement they found.
“Long”, “lonely”, the third word is “liable”. Being faithful can mean being faced with accusations that God does not keep his word, being held liable for the things people see as wrong. Simeon has possibly faced such complains for he sees Jesus as God being revealed to all people, not just to the faithful. Simeon says in verse 30-32, “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”.
Scripture says we should always be prepared to give an account of the hope that is within us and when we are held liable for the wrongs and shortcomings of our world, we should be prepared to see things as Simeon did, to say that we do not understand our present times, but that we believe that in due course God’s glory will be revealed to all people. Simeon said of Jesus in verses 34-35, “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”. We cannot answer for God, but we can say that we believe that God will, one day, answer for himself.
Faith that is long, faith that is lonely, faith that is liable; our final “l” is the word “lasts”. Faith that lasts is at the heart of the story of Simeon and Anna. Simeon’s faith has lasted until the end of his life.“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word”, says Simeon in verse 29. Simeon can close his days in the knowledge that it has all been worth it. Anna’s faith has brought her to this encounter with Jesus and inspires her to tell those around of this child. Saint Luke writes, in verse 38, “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”.
Is our faith something that lasts? In the long years, in the lonely times, in those moments when we are held liable for things beyond our understanding, does our faith last? Simeon and Anna depended upon the Holy Spirit for their faith; may the Spirit bless us with a lasting faith.
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