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Ben Fleming: Simeon & Anna, Luke 2:21-38

December 18, 2023

Audio Recording

Simeon and Anna are beautiful examples of waiting in hope. They show us how never to give up even in the face of disappointment, while remaining faithful to God within our community.

Christmas Incarnation Graphic
Christmas Incarnation
Ben Fleming: Simeon & Anna, Luke 2:21-38
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Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

All the themes seem to pop up and they're everywhere, right? You've got joy and peace and we teach ourselves all the time. But of course, we would teach our children as we go that it's better that to give than to receive. Although I would encourage some of you this year to get better at getting okay, maybe you're one of those people that anytime you get something, you're like, oh, this is too much.

Why would you do this? I love the people that get something generous and then they accuse the giver of being a bad person. Right? How dare you?

You think I need something from you? Some of us could get better at getting. And I think about that, especially now that I've been a dad for nine years and I was talking with a friend whose dad was going to give them something really generous and really cool recently. And she was like, I can't receive this. And I was like, man, as a dad, I would want to give that to you. So it would feel so good as a dad to be able to give that and have it received well. So I believe that one of the themes of giving of Christmas, maybe some of us could improve at. And of course there is, or, excuse me, getting, of course there is giving as well. That's the one that I try to teach my kids right now. Right. Nine and six. Yes, receiving is great. They're actually very good at receiving right now, believe it or not. Now we're trying to push the giving a little bit. And I recently encountered one of the themes of Christmas unintentionally.

And I will take a lot of blame for how this went down because I made the decision to talk to my cable provider, customer service people, at 10:00 p.m., okay, I'm having a good night, but I'm at this point where I'm trying to watch some of the local channels and they're coming in all distorted. Something is going wrong. And I'm like, you know what? This has been going on for a couple of days. I got to get a hold of these people. So I get on their website and it says, if you want to talk with somebody about some of the technical issues you might be experiencing, there's now a chat feature available. You. You can chat with somebody. And so I chat with one person and then they send me to another person to chat with and then another person before finally the third person is like, you're actually going to have to call customer service. I say, okay, great, that's fine. I'm a mature person. I can handle this experience and get on. And of course, we've all been through this process before. It's like, hello, and welcome to the greatest cable provider in the entire universe. Now, offering the fastest Internet available on the west coast is 5415. Your phone number attached to the account.

What can I help you with? Say it out loud, but my channels aren't working.

I didn't get that.

Okay, go through that a couple of times. Get on with somebody who says, hi, yeah, I'm here to help you with your problem. Can you first verify your address for me? Yeah, here's my address. What's the problem? Well, my tv channels aren't working. Okay.

This isn't going to be my department. Actually, why don't you. I'm going to send you over to so and know. And I bounce around again to a couple people, all who ask me to read me my address before they can help me. One of them actually goes, hi, this is billing. And I go, hey, I'm not in the right spot.

I don't have a billing. Well, okay. Before anything happens, though, I need to be confident of your address to verify your account.

No, just move me on.

And then I bounce around to enough people. And finally, poor Ian is on the other end of the line, right? And between each of these calls, I've been on hold for about 15 minutes.

And so Ian gets on. Hello, this is Ian with customer service and technical support. How can I help you today? And I go, Ian, you sound lovely.

I am now talking to whoever is monitoring this call for customer assurance. Okay, I'm having the worst night ever. Now, things were fine. I was just watching tv. I wanted one simple thing answered. And then we got to the end of that call, and he was going to charge me $200. And I said, I would like to cancel now my entire television service. And then, of course, five people are all on the phone at once. Speakerphone. Hello, Mr. Fleming. We love you so much. You've been a loyal customer. We're here to offer you $1,500 to save with our program for the next five years.

And I hung up the phone, and I walked into the kitchen after everything was done. And I am breathing heavily, and my wife is like, oh, it's time to go to bed. I'm like, I'm going to need a couple more hours.

This whole experience has changed me.

And what I noticed is that it wasn't even in the middle of the customer service stuff. The talking to the actual people or chatting with the people. Where I changed the most over the course of that night was on the 15 minutes hold sessions, wondering if anybody was ever going to answer the phone again.

As you've had this before, right? You've had it on customer service calls. You've had it in restaurants that four minutes passes, five minutes, eight minutes, and you start going, this waiter does not know we're here.

Now, I've been forgotten. I'm not just delayed or inconvenienced anymore, but now I've been forgotten, and I'm wondering when this whole thing is going to pick up. And now, over the course of 1015 minutes, 20 minutes, right. In a lot of our world today, this is personal for me. We can change a whole lot in the middle of what we're going to talk about today. And that is waiting.

One of the major themes of Christmas is waiting. And not just what we're waiting for, but, of course, how we wait in the middle of process. How do we wait in the middle of these unknown things? And it's not an easy prospect, as we're going to see through the eyes of two people in scripture named Simeon and Anna. Because in the context of Christmas, and I even think of the context of my kids, we're trying to teach them to wait, right? Christmas is coming. We can anticipate. It's exciting. But there is literally a date on the calendar where it says, these presents will be opened and the celebration will be had and there will be a feast. But when you talk about waiting on Christ in the time of scripture, when we talk about waiting on the perfect reconciliation of our world today, we're not exactly sure, just as Simeon and Anna were, when this is going to take place. And we can learn a lot from these two about how to wait in the process. So, Luke, chapter two, verse 21.

Unless you guys want to hear more impressions of DirecTV people. Okay.

Oh, I said the brand name. We won't post that one.

Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived. And then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child. So his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. The law of the Lord says if a woman's first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the Lord. So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord, either a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. So we don't really do this with our kids anymore. But this is part of the ritual of having a child, especially a boy. There's a purification that happens for the mother, and then there's this dedication that happens for the Son eight days after. And not only is there a sacrifice that's made, but there is the naming of the child. Now, Mary and Joseph knew what they were going to name Jesus, but still, technically, he comes to this temple unnamed.

And it's interesting to me that Jesus himself, as the ultimate sacrifice, would do away with this process altogether. And yet Jesus participates in this as a baby.

And it says, continuing on that same section of scripture, at that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. And he was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the messiah to come and to rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him. Now, righteous in this case means he's developed a conformity with God's character, a right with God. He's dedicated his life as a devout person to emulating the nature of God.

Now, devout means that he's holding on to what is good, even when it's tempting to give up. So there's something to longevity in this word devout that Simeon has not given up in the face of an opportunity to give up. Many, many times. He's waiting for the redemption of Israel as a prophet. He's been waiting his entire life to see the Messiah.

And now this is an opportunity when he sees Jesus walk through these doors with his parents, that this is a potential opportunity to be validated for everything that he has done and committed his life to.

And because he's devout and righteous, he's paying attention and waiting for that moment. And he sees it when it happens. And so it goes on. In verse 26, it had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord's messiah. And that day the spirit led him to the temple. And so when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord, as the law required, Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and he praised God, saying, sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace as you've promised. I've seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people, Israel. This is someone who knows at the end of a long time of waiting, knows how to receive well. And I even love this imagery that Simeon takes the Messiah. The direct translation is in the crook of his arm and holds the baby like this.

But for Simeon, he's not just holding a beautiful, sweet baby, he's holding all of his hopes and dreams and anticipation over his entire life in the crook of his arm.

Validation. He even says, God, you can take me now, as I've seen the thing that I've hoped for all my life.

And then Simeon speaks to Mary and Joseph, and it says, jesus'parents were married at what was being said about him. Were amazed. Excuse me, were married? Did I say married? Jesus'parents were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them. He said to Mary, the baby's mother, this child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall and many others to rise. He's been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him, and as a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed, and a sword will pierce your very soul. So the arrival of Jesus causes this interesting dichotomy, especially for Mary and Joseph. So, as Evan talked about a couple weeks ago, the story of Joseph and of course, Mary would have been this really difficult one. I mean, it's not very often in the world that someone says, I am pregnant. Joseph to Mary, or Mary to Joseph, I'm pregnant. And Joseph's like, well, you know, we haven't slept together yet. And Mary's like, no, don't worry, it's God's kid.

Totally. No, this makes sense. This makes sense to me. But then, of course, he believes her, and he walks with her. And now this couple is having to deal with these rumors and these things because they hadn't been married yet. And the whole process of being pregnant and then the child and now walking around, even in public, would have been such a difficult one. And I imagine that one of the jobs for Simeon that is so beautiful would be that he would greet the couple and he would say, I believe you.

I believe that God has spoken to you. I believe that you've heard from the angel. I believe that this is indeed the messiah.

I believe you. What powerful words to hear from a prophet of the Lord and what powerful words that maybe we can bring to people that are broken and hurting in our own context. Sometimes we feel like we need to coach people out of a difficult time, which is great. Sometimes we feel like we need to inspire people out of. But sometimes when people have been through a difficult experience, when maybe the rest of the world has forgotten them, what people need to hear is, hey, I believe you. I know that life's been hard, and it's been difficult. And I'm here even just at the beginning to affirm that this is not the easiest thing. And in affirming and believing and walking with somebody, telling them that we believe them, a powerful thing can happen and God can begin to move in that relationship. And Simeon provides that. But then he provides a difficult statement, a conflicting statement. Now, we don't often think about Christmas as a combative time, right? Tis the season for hurting each other, and that happens accidentally over Christmas dinner, but we don't put that on pillows or anything, right?

And Simeon comes to the mother and father who, again, have been having probably a difficult time, and he celebrates with them. He affirms that God has been speaking to them. And then he says, just so you know, this baby is going to cause so many people to rise and so many people to fall.

Many will oppose him. The deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed, and the sword will pierce your very soul. Simeon introduces to Mary and Joseph in this text what God does not just to people at that time of scripture, but what Jesus does to our hearts and souls right now, if you find yourself in a church context or in a following Jesus context, and you say, man, this thing is hard. And I don't always have the answers to the right questions. And the way of Jesus seems to go against so much of my culture and even the way that I naturally function in my world. I want you to know that Simeon knew that this was going to happen when Jesus was just a child. And because it's happening to us today, that often means that we are walking appropriately down the path of discipleship.

Jesus is combative with our own natural selfishness. Jesus is combative with our own life planning. Jesus is combative with the way that we just naturally walk around our world because we're so hardwired to be self centered and build a life that makes sense and works simply for us. And Jesus comes, and through his sacrifice, his death on the cross, and his resurrection, and he creates a different kind of world. And when we bring heaven to earth, as Jesus did, it creates this conflicting in our own soul. And so I want to encourage you today, if you find yourself often feeling like, man, I'm really working through this situation or this question or this problem that I have, I want you to know that that wrestling is part of that combativeness of the way of Jesus, that seeking, and that praying through things is part of the combativeness of the arrival of Jesus.

And that combativeness also leads us to two of the most beautiful things in our lives, even though they're often painful, and that is the pain of repentance.

And exposure.

C. S. Lewis says it like this. He says the only way for you to get peace is through those things, is to pass through the pain of repentance and exposure.

Christmas is about lights. Yes, I like that. It's about gifts and giving and receiving.

But what we often receive at the end of this waiting is an opportunity to repent of our sin and our own way of living and to be exposed so that we can truly see and experience the grace of Jesus for all that it is, that sword that pierces our soul comes in the form of repentance and exposure.

Now, this was true not just for those who are immediately around Jesus, but think about the rulers and the authorities in the area. We love to sing Handel's Messiah, right? It's this big, beautiful song about the king of kings and the lord of lords. This would be a war song to the other kings and authorities in the area. This is a king that is entering the kingdom to take over. They would have thought of it as a way of war. And while we think of it as a beautiful song that comes on during the Christmas season, this peace on earth that Jesus brings is absolutely true, but it comes through the difficult truth of repentance.

So then we get introduced to Anna, another prophet, in Luke, chapter two, verse 36. And it says this Anna, a prophet, was also there in the temple. And she was the daughter of Fanuel from the tribe of Asher. And she was very old. Her husband died when they'd been married only seven years.

And then she lived as a widow to the age of 84. There's actually a lot of scholars that say 84 is the amount of years after she had been divorced, so she might be actually closer to 100. She never left the temple, but stayed there day and night, worshipping God with fasting and prayer. And she came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph. And she'd been praising. She began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

Then it goes on. It says, when Jesus'parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth and Galilee. There the child grew up healthy and strong, and he was filled with wisdom, and God's favor was with him.

These two are emblematic of what I believe Paul, the apostle Paul, was talking about in Ephesians, chapter five and verse 25, which says, let us keep in step with the spirit. It even says that Simeon was with. He was filled with the Holy Spirit at this time. These two, through this long process of waiting, kept in step with the spirit so that they could see when the messiah had arrived.

Now, this wasn't just a short wait, even just for their own lives, right? These two prophets are very, very old, and they've been expecting the Messiah. But they had been reading the prophet Isaiah, which was words that were spoken 700 years before. And they're right in the middle of what is called the 400 years of silence, where there had been no prophetic word from God. And so these two are at the end of a very, very long string of people that have been waiting and anticipating in the temple, believing and hoping that the messiah would come soon. So it's not just even about their lives, but it's about this long process of waiting. And still somehow, at the end of all of this waiting, they can see that this is Jesus, and they have the ability to celebrate and rejoice that God's savior has come. I waited 15 minutes on hold a couple of times.

I ate food while I was on hold.

I laid down, I watched the other channels that were working, and I spent time with my dogs and I was furious.

So how do they do this? How do they wait so well? Right? And we're generally not very good at this as a culture. We've got all that we need to be distracted and pacified at any moment. Of course we talk. We don't need to belabor the point. We all know we've got technology and phones. And every time we sit in a coffee shop or we stand in line, we can bust these things out, we can send messages, we can work, we can be entertained. It can happen at a moment's notice. And here are these people desperately at the long string of prophets waiting for Jesus. And they wait so well.

I'm sure it wasn't perfect. I'm sure there was a lot of difficult days and wondering and second guessing, but there was something that kept this story alive through those 700 years since Isaiah's prophecy.

There was something meaningful in there.

There was something for Anna and Simeon that kept them at least on the lookout and watching for Jesus and his arrival.

And so what is that thing that kept them alive? Well, it's hope.

Now, Hope has got a fantastic agent, especially around the holidays. Hope goes up on the screens, and it's a big part of, like, the themes of all the hallmark movies that we love to watch, which, by the way, warming up more and more to those movies all the time, okay? They're sweet and they're predictable. And sometimes I could use a little bit of that in my life. Okay? Don't judge me. Well, fine, judge me. That's fine.

I don't care.

I care deeply. Okay.

Hope is like, oh, it's hope. It's a hopeful time. For those of you who have been waiting, you've been waiting to have kids, you've been waiting for contact, and you don't get. You're waiting to get into a program.

You've been waiting to find your wife or your husband, or maybe you are a single person, and you have been waiting for all the married people to shut up and leave you alone because you are just fine as a single person.

We wait for so many things in life. We're waiting on a diagnosis. We're waiting for healing. We're waiting for a better day. We're waiting for a better financial situation. We're waiting and we're waiting and we're waiting. And some of you have been hopeful in that waiting. Now, hope in Christmas is like, yes, it's this beautiful, light filled hope. Hope in waiting for 20 years for a healing is often exhausting and miserable.

And it's tempting to stop hoping because the hope that brings us up also feels like the agent that brings us all the way back down. I'll give you an example. There is one of the greatest movies in the history of cinema is one called Homeward Bound, and it came out in 1992. All right? It was an old live action Disney movie. It featured two dogs and a cat, Chance, sassy and Shadow. Michael J. Fox was the voice of chance, and then Sally Field was the voice of Sassy. And I don't know shadow. But anyway, this movie is about these three animals that they got this loving family. They drop them off because they got to go on a trip. The animals think that they've been left behind and that they got to go help the family. And so they make this homeward bound incredible journey right across states. One of the things I bring up a lot is actually that a lot of this movie was shot in central Oregon. I had no idea until I moved here. The cougar scene, for those of you know, that's Smith Rock. Yeah, this is great Jesus stuff you're learning today.

And so what happens, of course, the animals escape because they think they're going to go help the family. The family learns that they are lost, and they begin to try to find them, right? So they're sending people out into the forests and into the rivers and all that stuff, and they're putting up flyers. And the oldest boy, whose dog is shadow, the old dog, the golden retriever Peter is like, we're going to put up posters, and we're going to call people, and we're going to do everything we can to get these animals back. And he spends the whole movie passionately trying to pursue these animals. And then it gets to the very, very end of the movie. They still don't have the two dogs and the cat. And the family's playing outside at their house. And then they hear a bark, and it's the youngest dog, and it's chance.

And chance runs up, and the smallest boy runs up, and he's going, that is it. We're united. And he gives him a big hug. And then the cat comes up the hill, and her name is Hope. The girl's name is Hope. Grabs the cat and holds Sassy. And then Peter, the boy who has been the most hopeful, who has worked the hardest, who has waited so well all this time, doesn't see his golden retriever.

And he looks at the family, and he says, he's too old.

Couldn't make it. The other two can make it. But Shadow's not there.

And he, before the rest of the family walks off, this hope deferred has destroyed this moment for him. That's such a celebration for everyone else. But just like we were talking about earlier, he feels left out. He feels left behind, forgotten. I know it's good for everyone else, but mine couldn't make it. Some of you are walking into the holidays right now, and you're feeling this exact tension, this. I get that it's good for everyone else. I get that it's working out, but I've got this situation. I've got this cancer. I've got this family issue. I've got this separation, this darkness that's holding itself onto me. And everyone else seems to have gotten this figured out. They're reunited, and they've experienced the presence of the Lord in their lives in this holiday. And b, personally, I am done with hope, because all hope does is drive me absolutely crazy. I don't want to do it anymore. I'm not participating in it. And we walk off like Peter does, but, of course, it's a Disney movie. And not long after, you hear.

And then Shadow comes up, man, all muddy.

And he goes, because there's voices for the dogs. He goes, oh, Peter, I missed you so. And he runs and grabs them, and they embrace. And it's this hope came through for me. Let's remain in this backyard together, waiting for the rest of the animals to show up. Let's remain in the temple, believing that this miracle will happen.

Now, it's difficult in a church context a lot of times because this is an imperfect place with imperfect people.

And it's tough, as we wait for this perfect to come in our lives, right, that we're waiting with all of this imperfection. But I'm inspired today by these people that have held onto this story for 700 years, since Isaiah's prophecy, and they've endured 400 years of silence. They've surrendered themselves.

They've been vulnerable to disappointment again and again. And many died waiting for this promise to happen that never did.

But this is why we show up on Sunday. We have this temple in the middle of this imperfect time. While we wait for this perfect reconciliation.

We can't pull away from each other. We shouldn't pull away from our practices and our liturgy, because these are the things that continue to churn up hope, even in the middle of hopeless times. When we remain together and we stay folded into the people and the place of God, we do find hope again. These waiting times are such an incredible opportunity for bitterness and anger.

And if you feel that way today and you just want somebody to cry with, I'm even willing to do that with you today.

Waiting and wondering is a painful place. But even alongside that, we can hold on to hope.

One of the reasons that we wanted to present this today is that Anna and Simeon were there in the temple while all these other things were going on, while Mary was being spoken to by the angel, while Joseph was being spoken to by Mary, while they were making preparations. And then, of course, as the baby is born, Anna and Simeon are finding themselves in this faithful, faithful place in the temple, in community, in practice, in discipleship, in liturgy, becoming devout and righteous means looking more and more like God all the time and resisting the temptation to leave the temple for the sake of what remains and what is still good.

So my simple imploring to us as we close today is this. Do not give up.

Don't isolate yourself. Because in isolation, we find ourselves more and more willing to quit and to give up on the things that are good in this life.

Instead, let's be faithful to God and to each other. Let us be willing to do that thing that Simeon is telling Mary is going to happen. Let's be willing to have our souls pierced with the sword of Christ.

Let us be willing to repent in this season, even to be exposed and vulnerable to disappointment, because we believe that this waiting will provide good things.