Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
December 31st, 2017
Luke: 2: 22-40
“The Promise is Presented!”
“Hear now these words from the gospel according to Luke, chapter two, verses twenty-two thru forty.”
22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” 25 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. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 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. 39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
“May our hearts, as-well-as our ears be open to this reading of Jesus’ being presented at the temple, as was the custom.”
Wow! The Christmas celebration is over, the presents are all unwrapped, many of which have already been exchanged for that special something we really wanted, or now we have the right size for that sweater or blouse. Memories of Christmas Eve still linger, yet, we know that tonight is New Year’s Eve. The end of the year has arrived and after tonight and lingering slightly into tomorrow, the holiday season is over! Probably a good thing really. As I don’t think my unrestricted holiday eating habits are something I ought to take into next year! Yup, time to tighten the budget and cut down on candy, pies and cookies for a bit. At least until the next ‘special occasion’ comes up! Yes, it is time to begin thinking about the new year and consider the journey ahead of us. I am assuming you do know, that celebrating Christmas is not the same as living into the full meaning of Christmas. Hum… based on your blank expressions, perhaps you are not ready for that conversation yet. But, I cannot help but believe that some of you folks whom have a year or two on me, may have some clear understandings of that which I am implying.
In fact, our passage of scripture, from the gospel according to Luke, does seem to want us to reflect on the wisdom which comes from leading a long life. Many believe that this is the hidden message for us to consider as we are lead: to acknowledge the wisdom of age. Sure, the scripture passage is about Jesus being presented at the Temple. But isn’t there a lot more said about the old man named “Simeon ‘who’ came into the temple, guided by the Spirit”? /Luke 2:27/ It was Simeon whom was “righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation (the comfort and the relief and the support even) of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested ‘upon’ him.” /Luke 2: 25b/ Clearly, Simeon becomes the center of the reading and the presentation of Jesus becomes the backdrop. “It had been revealed to him (to Simeon) by the Holy Spirit that he (Simeon) would not see death before he (Simeon) had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” /Luke 2:26/ It was Simeon whom we now listen to… and the family and those gathered at the Temple that day… listened to! “Then Simeon blessed them and said to the baby Jesus’ mother Mary, “This child (the baby Jesus) is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed (resisted, and even challenged by some) so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” /Luke 2:34-35/ Surely, we must pause and look to the grace of age and the wisdom of life that Simeon had attained which assisted him as revealed in such a dramatic prophecy to the onlookers that day!
William Loader, from Murdoch University, a part of the Uniting Church in Australia, gives us his scholarly and mystical view on this topic. “Luke reflects the honoring of wise elderly people. Probably frail and able to achieve little that counts on the scale of the economic rationalists, ‘yet’ they are rich sources of wisdom.” Then this theologian goes on to challenge us Americanized Christians, by stating the obvious while then turning it into a question! “Congregations often have Simeon’s and Anna’s; ‘yet’ are they heard?” Let us not forget Anna, this prophet also comes center stage in our reading! “There was also a prophet, Anna… She was of a great age.” /Luke 2:36/ She apparently was living within the Temple and when she saw the baby Jesus she came over to the gathering. “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.” /Luke 2:38/ She in her old age, and with great wisdom and perhaps some Spiritual inspiration, spoke regarding the child Jesus, regarding whom he was to become. Were those gathered around – willing to listen to this frail older woman – as she made such a declaration? Apparently enough remembered her words, to at least have been included in this scripture passage about all which had occurred while the baby Jesus was presented at the Temple.
Perhaps, as a society, we do not honor the collective wisdom of the elderly. “While television, radio, and print media champion the young as models of vision, vigor, and imagination, scripture portrays quite another story.” /Terry Thomas Primer – The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University/ I must agree with the author’s ‘intent’ for having written this statement. Not to say, I disagree with the description of our youth having vision, vigor, and imagination! On the contrary they do, and we need to keep acknowledging this and encouraging its growth within our younger generations. However, could it be… oftentimes, we barely offer tokenism, ‘minimal-effort’ to raising up the ‘wisdom’ of age and the visions of our older generations; visions which helped shape our society and our religious institutions for what they and we are accomplishing! Their vigor and tenacity – tis that which brought a country together – in the midst of several world crisis’ and war. Yes, at times ‘awards’ are presented to such as these. For those of us who were here on Christmas Eve, many of us had the opportunity to greet our own Pastor Emeritus, the Reverend Jim Allen. He is fast approaching the ripe old age of a hundred and two in March of 2018. Pastor Jim is aging rapidly now, and I will be visiting with him on a much-accelerated rate in the coming weeks. A great many of you surely remember when he was awarded the ‘Medal of Honor’ back just a short time ago. Yet, have we given due honor to folks such as this in our day-to-day debates and dialogs about the future of this and that in our culture, and here within our own church? Something for us to consider as this year ends, and we move into our uncharted future.
Let me digress for a bit as I share a memory and perhaps an insight or two about the age of retirement. Five years ago, I took an early retirement. It was quite an experience. I went into that time-period with my eyes closed to its realities. During those ensuing eleven months I lived through a lot of things. From the eyes ‘of my time of retirement’ I learned a lot about my life, and I learned how I would need to adjust my understanding of retirement; as it was not what I expected. The first thing that occurred was a dramatic change in how I saw myself! I no longer saw myself as a pastor, but as a retired man trying to find his way to a radical change in lifestyle. Some of which was very well received. I went to church with my wife; we sat in the third row back from the pulpit and I was not leading worship. That was very special, and I do long for the time when I shall once again assume the role of ‘husband’ rather than ‘pastor’ while worshipping on Sunday mornings.
Yet, there were many other things going on for me that I had to grapple with as a retired pastor.
I cried every Sunday, while listening to the pastor and by singing along with the choir, always conscious of my loving wife at my side. That was how Sunday’s began. During the week I did devote more time to exercise and self-care. Now, I must admit that part of retirement was very rewarding! I strived to read more, and I volunteered in a support activity I truly love and respect. After a bit, I began to find the freedom of choice within each day, to be very gratifying. This got me through the first six months, then it all changed. I began to feel empty and unneeded. I was having an identity crisis. My salvation came from belonging to a support group and a large men’s fellowship group at the church where I was attending. Each had its purpose and thankfully I was still teachable. It was from the men’s group that I got the guidance to grapple with my retirement issue. One man finally said it plainly, clearly summing up what many were trying to pass on to me: “Tim” he said. “You think you have a financial problem. You, do not. You do need to accept the realities within the economic realm you find yourself in. But, your real issue is learning, for yourself, what you will do with your God given talents – which are contained in what is referred to as your ‘intellect’ and ‘brain’. And equally important, you need to find out how to use and express your deep heart felt love of people and God.” “That” he said “is where your identity resides”! Find these things and you will find yourself and your future in this world, as you continue redirecting your energies, in these golden years.”
What wonderful wisdom this older man passed on to me. Clearly, he was telling me the journey, to a fulfilled retirement, comes with some personal struggles and adjustments. Staying with this line of thought for just a moment longer, I came across this writing: Beth Jackson-Jordan wrote these words, while in Texas, at ‘The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University’. “Many older adults find they are as busy in retirement as they were earlier in life. Though their schedules are full, they may struggle to find a satisfying purpose for this stage of life. How can congregations help us, in our later years, hear a special calling from God?”
As we draw ‘to a close’ our discussions for the year 2017, we must again draw from our scripture lesson. We are told how “The child (Jesus) grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” /Luke 2:40/ Maybe this is what we must due as we grow older. “Perhaps the description of Jesus “growing” and “increasing” might encourage us to keep growing and increasing in our wisdom and in divine and human favor.” /Brian Stoffregen/ Where is it written that growing ends at age 21, or 35, or even 50? Better yet, why do we think that our value to society begins to fade after we reach retirement, whether it be at age 65 or 70 or even 80, or 90 or even 101? Consequently, we must consider how the baby Jesus and the elder prophets at the Temple, both Simeon and Anna, came together. The child on the one hand just beginning his early journey, and Anna and Simeon, clearly greeting the knowledge that their lives had come to completion through the presentation of this child of God, the Messiah, the baby born of Mary, named Jesus. The baby Jesus and his family were greeting the future with humility and dignity; the elders were celebrating their end through their witness to Jesus’ identity as the “Son of God!’
Let us humbly let the year 2017 come to rest as we embrace the new opportunities which this new year, the year 2018 shall bring to us, one and all! Amen.