Monday, December 29, 2014

Sermon on Luke 2:22-40, for the 1st Sunday after Christmas, "Waiting for the Lord"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. I hope everyone had a blessed celebration of Christmas, and that you remembered to keep “Christ” in Christmas amidst all the distractions and activities. For families with kids, the waiting is over. Presents have been opened, Christmas plays have been acted out, the stashes of cookies and chocolates have been raided. For all Christians who have kept the season of Advent, the waiting is over, Christmas has come and probably most of the hectic preparations are done, and our carols have been sung (but we’re not quite done yet! Remember there are 12 days from Christmas till Epiphany!). The waiting for Christmas may be over, but we’re not quite done with waiting, are we? Human life is filled with waiting—and there always seems to be something new to wait for. For Christians, the wait goes on for Jesus’ final return. We still wait for Jesus to come in His kingdom, power, and glory. But how do we wait, and what do we do while we’re waiting?
A popular Dr. Seuss book describes how the exciting journeys of life sometimes get sidetracked to a “most useless place: The Waiting Place…for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go,” and…you get the idea. He hopes the reader will escape this dull situation of life, where we are just waiting around and staying, and doing nothing. He hopes they’ll get back to living and to doing. But this is not the way that Christian waiting should look either. For us, waiting for Jesus’ second coming shouldn’t be a matter of twiddling our thumbs and doing nothing—but a life filled with holy activity. What that holy activity will look like for each Christian varies by the vocations that God has given them. A month or so ago we were warned against laziness while waiting for the master’s return, when we saw the example of the wicked servant who buried the one talent his master had given him. The two other faithful servants put those talents the master had entrusted to them to useful and productive purposes. Truly, the Christian life involves a lot of waiting, but that’s no excuse for our time to be spent in idleness and laziness. God has a calling for each of us to live out, and our lives should be lives of fruitful service to God and our neighbor in love.
In our reading from the Gospel of Luke, Simeon and Anna were waiting. They were residents of Jerusalem, and both had been waiting a long time and were very old. Simeon had been waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” Consolation means comfort, and what Simeon was probably waiting for was the answer to the prophecy in Isaiah 40:1-2Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” He also had a personal revelation from the Holy Spirit that he was waiting for: that he would see “the Lord’s Christ” before he died. He wasn’t ready to die till God showed him His salvation. We don’t know what Simeon did while he waited, but we know that he waited in hope and expectation—and that at the calling of the Holy Spirit, he came to the Temple for the fulfillment of his promises. He came to find the consolation of Israel, the Lord’s Christ, and God’s salvation, wrapped up in the tiny package of a baby boy still cradled in mother Mary’s arms. The baby Jesus. Hope marked Simeon’s waiting, and when the waiting was over, his thanksgiving spilled over into praise to God: blessing God for what he had seen, and declaring that his life was now full, and he could die in peace.
Do we wait with hope and expectation, so that we can see God’s promises, and die in peace? Hope comes from knowing the promise, and believing it confidently. For us the promise is that Jesus, the Savior, will return one day, to judge the living and the dead. The promise that while He has gone into heaven to prepare a place for us, He will return one day to bring us where He is. The promise of everlasting life. But while we’re waiting, we don’t have these things in full measure. We do, however, have some great previews and foretastes. We live already with consolation, the comfort of God’s forgiveness. Hearts are set at peace with God when we repent of sin and trust in Jesus to forgive it through His redeeming death. We already begin to experience this peace now. Also, with each celebration of the Lord’s Supper we proclaim that we are waiting—we “proclaim His death until He comes”. We receive Jesus’ body and blood for our forgiveness, and when we go from the table, we sing Simeon’s blessing, saying, “Lord, now let your servant go in peace, according to your word. My own eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of every people…” God’s salvation has come direct to us, as to Simeon, and we’ve seen it with eyes of faith.
What do we need then, to die a blessed, a peaceful death, like Simeon? We need the Lord’s dismissal—His call that our life is now done—and we can go in peace according to His Word. His Word brings us peace; it declares to us the good news of sins forgiven, of God and sinners reconciled. To go in peace, we need to see the Lord’s salvation. Not seeing a photo, or a video, or even a vision, but seeing Him by faith. Hearing the Word of Christ by faith, so we believe in Jesus. The way to die in peace isn’t by ensuring a quick and painless death—which is not ours to control—but by facing our death, however it comes, by facing our Lord Jesus in faith. With eyes focused on Jesus, we can die in peace. He makes us ready, by taking away the fear of death, because He has promised us what is to follow. And we can pray, as Luther explained in the Lord’s Prayer, that God would deliver us from evil—including delivering us from an evil death; but give us a blessed end. Scripture promises, that even if suffering should be our lot, that it will seem light and momentary in comparison to the eternal weight of glory that God has in store for us. The Christian who dies secure in God’s hands, dies in peace, and rests in hope.
Anna is the other “waiter” or “waitress” in our Gospel reading. Actually, she was a “prophetess”, who spoke the word of the Lord. She was among a notable group of women throughout the Bible who had that particular gift. Her waiting was also not in idleness, but in eager expectation. Her waiting revolved around the worship life of the Temple, the House of the Lord. She had the trial of losing her husband only seven years into their marriage. The rest of her long life, till age 84, she spent faithfully worshipping at the Temple with prayer and fasting. What was she waiting for? She and other inhabitants of Jerusalem were waiting for the “redemption of Jerusalem.” Redemption means to “buy back” or deliver. There are many passages in the Bible that promise God’s redemption or deliverance.
One of them is Isaiah 59:20, “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.” Redemption is God’s rescue for those who turn from their sins. And Jesus is that Redeemer who bought us back from sin by the costly price of His own blood, shed on the cross for us. This was what kept faithful Anna waiting, and the holy activity that kept her busy each day was worshipping with prayer and fasting. Her whole attention was turned to God. And her prayers were answered, when she too saw the baby Jesus, and her long wait for the redemption of Jerusalem was over. Her busy activity of worship turned into an eager day of thanking God and spreading the word to others about whom she had seen.
What sort of “holy activity” should occupy our Christian waiting? Our waiting for the Lord, or waiting for redemption? Worshipping by prayer and fasting, like Anna, is certainly good, right, and “salutary”—that is, good for our spiritual health. Worship includes being in God’s presence, receiving His gifts, answering back to Him in thanksgiving and praise. Fasting is a useful spiritual discipline of refraining from eating to devote that time to prayer and reflection on God’s Word. It’s a way of keeping ourselves from becoming so full and satisfied with the material world, that we forget the things spiritual. It’s a way of renewing our focus on God. Prayer should be like breathing for the Christian. We breathe in God’s Word, and breathe out prayers and thanksgiving and praise. We lift up our needs, our worries, and troubles before God, at His bidding and invitation. Worship is the starting point for our Christian life, because its where Jesus delivers His grace to us—the grace of God that was upon Him, that He gives us by faith. Worship is where God serves us so we can go out into life and serve our neighbor. It’s also where we double back in repentance when we’ve failed, turning back to God for redemption.
The rest of our Christian activity while we are waiting for the Lord to return, is defined by our individual vocations. Our callings in life. Mary and Joseph were parents, with a calling to raise a son. They returned from worship in the Temple to a life of carpentry and parenting a child. Parents here in worship, at the Lord’s house, return to your weekly vocations of raising your child in the fear and instruction of the Lord. You return to the jobs and responsibilities you’ve been given. Children, you return to your vocations of studying, learning, obeying your parents. Singles and everyone else, likewise return to your jobs and responsibilities. Retired or working, healthy or frail, old or young, we all have many God-given callings. Talk to your pastor or another mature Christian if you need help discovering them. Everyone has something to do—a place where you are needed, a purpose for which God has called you. Whether it’s as great as being a prayer warrior, or as small as running your business.
But Christian activity isn’t busy-ness for activities’ sake. We’ve not succeeded in God’s purpose for our life if we’ve just filled our calendar to overflowing. One can easily reach the point where activity crowds out worship and prayerful waiting. No, the waiting that marks the Christian’s life is distinctly Christ-focused. It’s a joyful and hopeful waiting, that looks for Jesus. A waiting accompanied by meaningful activity, and sees a purpose and a reason for sharing a cup of cold water with a child in Christ’s name, or caring for the needy; or that sees a purpose in spending time with and caring for the family Christ has given you—both your natural family, and your family of brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, our waiting and our activity are brought together in faith. Whatever we do, we do for God and for the good of our neighbor. Whoever the neighbors are that God has placed in our life. And what makes this “activity” holy, is not that it’s all performed at church, but that it’s done in faith.
And all of our patient waiting has a meaningful end. Waiting for the Lord in hope and faith has a sure reward. As Hebrews 9:28 tells us: “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Christ came first to deal with sin, to bear our sin to His cross. But when He comes a second time, it will be to save those who eagerly wait for Him. The time for peaceful departures in death will be over, and the time for our peaceful and joyful arrival into heaven will have come. And to His faithful servants, the Lord will answer, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your master!” In the Master’s name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

  1. Why was it essential that Jesus fully keep the Law, even from birth? Gal. 4:4-5; Heb. 4:15. What laws of God did Mary and Joseph keep for Him after birth? Genesis 17:9-14; Exodus 13:1-15; Leviticus 12:1-8. How did each law hint at Jesus’ future death?
  2. What was Simeon waiting for at the Temple? Luke 2:25-26. What was Anna (and were others) waiting for? Luke 2:38. How would you describe the way they lived their lives while they waited? Simeon called Jesus “your salvation”, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles”, the “glory for your people Israel”, and that Jesus would be for the the “fall and rising of many” and “a sign that is opposed.” What do each of these titles and descriptions tell us about who Jesus was and what He would do?
  3. What brings you here to worship at the Lord’s House? To gather among His people? What are we waiting for? John 14:3; Heb. 9:28-29; Luke 21:27-28; also Rom. 8:23; Eph. 4:30; Rom. 13:11.
  4. What did Simeon warn Mary would happen when Jesus was an adult? Luke 2:34-35. What events did this point to? How was Jesus prophesied to be a “stone of stumbling”? What does that mean? Isaiah 8:14-15. How do we become those built on the Rock, rather than those who stumble and are broken on it? 1 Peter 2:6-10.
  5. In addition to Anna, who are some other examples of prophetesses in the Bible? Exodus 15:20-21; Judges 5; 2 Kings 22; Acts 21:8-9. What is the most important work of any prophet? Acts 10:43; 1 Peter 1:10-11.
  6. Mary and Joseph marveled at what was said about Jesus. Even as a child, Jesus amazed. Name several amazing things or miracles that surround who Jesus is and what He did.
  7. How can we face our death, our departure, in peace? Luke 2:29-30; 2 Tim. 4:18; Rev. 14:13; 21:4

No comments: