Grace, peace, and joy to you who are the beloved children of God.
We spent the four weeks of Advent waiting, waiting for the return of Jesus Christ, Lord, Judge, and Redeemer of humanity and creation. We waited to retell the story of Jesus’ birth, a story which warms our hearts and brings us joy. We waited to sing the Christmas carols that tell of angelic birth announcements and wondering shepherds and wise men and a Child both holy and human born to a young woman by the power of the Holy Spirit. We waited to see in our mind’s eyes the humble stable in which our Lord would be born, and to hear the lowing of cattle and the quiet clucks of a few chickens. Now, we did not wait for everything. Most of us had put up our Christmas decorations long before the end of Advent, sent out our Christmas cards, purchased and wrapped the gifts to go under the tree, baked a few cookies, made arrangements with family as to where Christmas dinner would be held and who would bring the side dishes. And, then, after all that, we waited some more.
And now the event that we waited upon has come, but has not gone. That 12 Days of Christmas is a thing, a real thing, so what was begun in candlelight and carols continues through January 6. Even then, Christmastide, the season of Christmas, continues through the first part of February, all the way up to Ash Wednesday, when we welcome Lent. During that time, through Scripture, we see that the holy Child laid in a manger to sleep His newborn sleep grows up, takes up His ministry, and calls His first disciples. Day by day we see Him grow in grace and in years, and like proud grandparents or neighbors we rejoice.
But though Christmastide has come and will go, we are not done waiting. We should not be surprised. We read our Bibles; we hear God’s Word in church, and we know that waiting on God is a signal characteristic of those who are God’s people. The waiting began early in the Scriptural record of God’s work among us for our salvation. Elderly Abraham waited for decades for the gift of a son by his just a bit less elderly wife. Israel waited for 400 years to be freed from slavery in Egypt, and another forty years to be allowed into the land long promised to Abraham after they were freed. The prophets long described a Messiah, who would free God’s people from their tyranny to sin and death and Israel’s oppressors, and Israel waited for millennia for the birth of that Messiah.
And now we are introduced to Simeon and to Anna, two devout, elderly Jews, who have spent almost all of their long lives waiting for the long-promised Messiah. Simeon has waited in hope and faith, as it was promised to him in a prayer that he would not die before seeing Israel’s Messiah. Anna received no such promise, yet too, waited faithfully, for seven decades after her widowhood in prayer and service for the same honor promised Simeon. Both Anna and Simeon had a front row seat, then, when Mary and Joseph brought eight-day old Jesus into the Temple. As the firstborn child to “open Mary’s womb,” He was to be “redeemed” in the manner described in our first reading this morning, a reminder more of the grim manner in which Israel was finally liberated from slavery in Egypt by an Egyptian king mourning the loss of his own firstborn son than of circumcision. Here the Child bought back from the Lord by the price of the lives of two turtle doves is the One Who will later in His life pay the purchase price of creation’s redemption in His blood. There will be no more necessary redemption of Israel’s firstborn male children nor sacrifice of the firstborn male of cattle, sheep, or goats, for Christ’s willing death on the cross thirty some years later is the last, perfect sacrifice, the one that forever puts an end to blood sacrifice or even its symbolic remembrance in a ceremony at the Temple.
Jesus’ first trip to the Temple in Jerusalem is a joyous event for a new made mother and her husband. But even in the midst of that joy is the remembrance of grievous events to come. For Simeon, that old Temple servant, turns prophet in his extreme old age, and as he holds our tiny Lord in his arms prophecies, “Behold this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed and a sword will pierce through your own soul also, so that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed.” God’s saving work has always been opposed by those whose spirits are captured more by the dark than the light, and that sadly includes each one of us when we turn from Christ’s light to the darkness of sin.
The Light has come into the world, and we still wait, but now for His return and the perfection of His redeeming work. We are reminded that, for whatever reason, we wait on Jesus Christ’s return and the end to sin and the death of death. We live in the in between time, the time in between Jesus’ first coming and His second, His first Advent and the Last. The Church calendar captures this in between time in the martyrdom of Stephen and the death of the Holy Innocents at Herod’s blood-soaked hands. The not-quite-done aspect of Christ’s redeeming work is spelled out even now in the deaths of Christian martyrs across Nigeria, the Sudan, the Middle East, and even Europe. We see the world’s sin and we await death, and so, still we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
And come He will in the fullness of God’s own sense of time. Note that Luke gave us two stories of aged servants of God, faithfully awaiting the fulfilment of prophecy, certain that God would do as He had promised for generations, one male, and one female. All of us are Anna or Simeon, waiting for God to do as He has promised to do for generations, return the Messiah to our midst and to complete the world’s redemption. There will be an end to sin, just not now. There will be an end to death, just not now. But as God has always kept His Word, so we will wait upon seeing that Word return to us. There will be times when that waiting is hard, so very hard, as we see what man does to man, the sometimes horrible consequences of nature’s workings, and lose those whom we most adore to the grave. But hope is every bit as real as any of that, for our hope is not based on human character or nature’s doings, but on the very will and love of God.
And so, beloved of the Lord, “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…and be thankful. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.