I realize that this is a time for lots of celebrations for many of you. Since tonight is New Year’s Eve, many will stay up past midnight to bring in the New Year. Many of you hope to be celebrating victories for your football teams tomorrow, especially those of you whose favorite colors are red, crimson, or orange!
My name is Simeon, and your pastor asked me to come tell my story. A few minutes ago, he read Dr. Luke’s recording about a celebration which was the highlight of my life. In my day, we took every opportunity to celebrate, because times were really tough. I lived in Jerusalem, and it was the capitol city of Judea. This meant a lot to me, but it had different meanings for those in Rome, because Judea was an occupied province, meaning we were ruled and governed by the Romans. Their dutiful soldiers made sure that we were always in line with what the Emperor ultimately wanted, and that the Jewish people didn’t create any trouble. Uprisings were regular occurrences, because the nationalistic zeal of many Jews anticipated a certain kind of Messiah. For centuries, we had been waiting, hoping, wishing for Messiah to come, but many had misinterpreted the role of this Promised One. Some had considered themselves Messiahs and tried to lead political insurrections against the Roman government only to get squashed by the mighty military establishment, which was by far, the strongest in the world.
Prophesies abounded about how life would be different when this Christ entered the world, and many thought he would be a political leader or military conqueror. This understanding stoked the fires of uprising, which made life tougher and tougher on us.
I looked forward to the time when my occupied, weary Jerusalem would receive comfort and relief from the Lord; we expected this to be brought about by the Messiah. There was no Jew who did not regard his own nation as the chosen people. But most Jews didn’t think that supreme world greatness could be attained by mere human power. Most believed that because the Jews were the chosen people, they were bound someday to become masters of the world and lords of all the nations. To bring in that day, many believed that some great, celestial champion would descend upon the earth; some believed that there would arise another king of David’s line and that all the old glories would revive; still others believed that even God would break directly into history by supernatural means.
But in contrast to all that, there was a small band of people who were known as the Quiet in the Land; I was counted among that group. We had no dreams of violence, power, or even armies with banners; we believed in a life of constant prayer and quiet watchfulness until God should come. All our lives, we waited quietly and patiently upon God. In prayer, in worship, in humble and faithful expectation, we waited for the day when God’s people would be comforted.
People called me righteous and devout; I’m not relaying those descriptors in a boastful way. I simply want you to know that I tried to do the right thing. I sought to follow God as closely as I knew how. I listened to the scriptures being read in the Temple; I talked to people about making right decisions. I always remained positive and hopeful that the future was bright, that God’s promises would be fulfilled in my lifetime. I prayed at the Temple but away from the Temple also. I had a connection with God; I could feel God’s presence, and I sometimes felt that God was speaking directly to me. I so longed to see the Messiah that had been promised for centuries.
One day when I was praying, I sensed God telling me that I would see the Messiah before I died. I can’t explain it, but it was real. This understanding had been revealed to me. I was regularly in tune with the Holy Spirit. I would get prompted; it was a gift. I could see ahead; some call it prophesying. I lived in expectant hope; I knew that God would follow through; I believed that God’s promises were true. And God’s Spirit was always with me, prompting me, guiding me. I felt it; I sensed it. I lived with that expectation, that hope, that one day, I would see the Messiah, the One for whom my ancestors had waited.
If folks wanted to find me, they could regularly find me at the Temple. All my life, I had heard the phrase, “when Messiah comes,” as had generations before me. But these words were not just passive pledges to me. I had been promised by the Holy Spirit that I would see this Messiah; I didn’t know exactly how or when, but I had hope that one day it would happen.
And that day came; I felt a distinct urging to be in the Temple. This feeling was familiar; I didn’t question it; I simply followed. So I went to the Temple. There was always activity there with people moving in and out. Rabbis were teaching in multiple areas, and one could regularly find discussions about the finer points of the Law. Animals were being sold just outside the vast Temple courtyards.
You do know that the Temple was enormous and was divided into sections. There was a Courtyard for Gentiles, and if you weren’t Jewish, you could not go past that courtyard. There was the Courtyard for Women, and then finally the Court of Israelites, where Jewish men could gather.
As I said when I started, I am going to tell you about a celebration. Your pastor has told me of the Parent-Child-Church Dedication Services here where there is a personalized litany about the child, a prayer of dedication offered by someone selected by the family, and then your pastor walks the child up and down the aisle. The dedication of a child serves as a witness to the church and community of how serious the parents are in dedicating themselves to the spiritual nurture and shaping of their child. I understand that you currently have a few babies in your church with more babies on the way! The services in the Jewish Temple in the First Century were different from your Baptist observances.
In my day, instead of Dedication Services, we had Presentation Services. But at the root of these old ceremonies was the conviction that a child is a gift of God. There were some of my culture who said that a child was not given, but only lent. Of all God’s gifts, there is none for which we shall be as answerable as the gift of a child.
In the Temple, I noticed some peasants bringing a baby boy; I knew they were poor, not because of their dress, but because they brought two turtle doves for sacrifice. A lamb was the preferred animal for sacrifice, but if a couple couldn’t afford it, they could bring two turtle doves or two young pigeons. On the eighth day of a boy’s life, he finally received a name and was circumcised. The mother was carrying the baby, and the father was carrying the turtledoves. The Spirit prompted me again. The day was finally here!
After their ceremony with the priests, I approached them. I asked them the name of their baby, and the man said, “Jesus.” I remembered that the meaning of the name Jesus was “God saves.” I broke out in a great big smile and told them that I had been expecting them. I shared with them that the Holy Spirit had told me that I wouldn’t see death before seeing the Promised One, the Messiah, and then their countenance changed. They told me about the angelic appearance to Mary and the dream that Joseph had instructing him to marry Mary and name the child Jesus, for he would save his people from their sins. I was overwhelmed by hearing their story of having to travel all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem when Mary was so advanced in her pregnancy. I was taken by the idea that this Messiah used a feeding trough for his first crib and that on the night of his birth that shepherds came to see him. Shepherds? No shepherds were allowed on the very floor where we were standing in the Temple, because they were ceremonially unclean, yet an angel shared the good news of this baby’s birth to shepherds. This baby Messiah had been born for them. God had chosen them to be the first to hear this good news and now God was allowing me to see the Promised One for myself.
I asked them if I could hold their baby. As first-time parents, they were a bit reluctant; they also felt an enormous amount of responsibility in wanting to do the right thing since they had been chosen to parent the Son of God. They had been doing what was asked of them: Joseph took Mary as his wife, and Mary had the baby. And now they had named him Jesus on the eighth day of his life; they had presented their baby to the priests as was the expectation.
Mary allowed me to hold this newborn, and I was immediately overwhelmed with emotion as I looked into his eyes. I realized that I was holding hope in my arms, that the one who had been promised for centuries to be the Messiah was finally here.
With tears in my eyes, I said, “Now I know that I can die in peace; the time of my departure is at hand. God has been faithful; God’s word is true. I was promised to see the Messiah and here he is. I can see with my own eyes what my ancestors hoped to see. The future will be better, because God has not forgotten us. This Messiah will be for everyone. The Gentiles who have lived in darkness for so long will now have a light in this Messiah. This Promised One will show my Israel, those whose covenant goes back to our Father Abraham, how much God does care for us. This babe will be available to all people regardless of where they are born. This child will show that all can be counted as God’s chosen people.”
Joseph and Mary were amazed when hearing what I said. Being guided by Spirit, I simply shared what God was prompting me to say: this salvation will be for all people, including the Gentiles. These were startling words to be spoken in the Jewish Temple, where people were separated by race and gender. Even people who were different could receive salvation. The average Jew never considered that God accepted the Gentiles; we were primarily taught that the Messiah would “ransom captive Israel,” to quote one of your Christmas carols. But this Messiah, this child of promise, was to be for all people.
I gave the baby back to his mother and blessed them for the opportunity to be blessed by them. I looked again in the eyes of the baby Messiah and then the Spirit prompted me again. I said to Mary, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”
As you know, an awful day would come when Mary would stand with a group of women at the foot of a cross where they looked up to see Jesus being crucified. There’s no way that Mary could’ve understood that prophesy—Mary, did you know? I don’t think she did. Mary and Joseph had no way of knowing everything that would happen to Jesus. But they got him off on the right foot by bringing him to the Temple on the eighth day of his life.
As you get ready for a new year, I hope that if you are a parent, that you bring your child to church. I hope you realize how important it is to be in church yourself and when you come that you come with expectant hope that God is going to show up. This Messiah changed the world; he came for Jew and Gentile alike, meaning that he came for you and me. That is the central meaning of our Advent season. Just as the angel stated to some startled shepherds in a pasture outside Bethlehem, “unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Today, be thankful for what you have learned and experienced during this Advent season. Be grateful that your hopes have come true. And join me in being deeply indebted that God’s promises are true and that the Child of Promise, known as Jesus the Christ, has come into our worlds continually giving us hope, despite foreboding circumstances. Thanks be to God for giving us hope.