Adventus-Simeon Luke 2:22-35
I’m already getting the sense that this Christmas season is going to be the best one yet. For one, the family and I are starting to create some of our own traditions together—for the past couple of years we have went down to the Yule Tide Gathering in downtown Tipp City and walked around, looked at all of the shops and the kids get to see Santa.
I really am getting the sense that this is going to be the best Christmas yet and that’s because the kids are really starting to get into it. This is my son’s 3rd Christmas—last year was the first time he was actually aware of what was going, which means that this year he knows what to expect and so that whole anticipation piece is coming back—he wants to listen to Christmas music all the time and he knows the words to some of the songs—he couldn’t wait to put up the Christmas tree and the best part is he is trying to teach his sister Gwen everything he knows and so she is getting into it too. She can’t say Christmas or Santa but Rowan taught her that Santa says, “Ho, ho, ho” and so that’s what she says whenever she sees something Christmas-y, but she says it like, “ho-ho-ho”…it’s sort of what it would sound like if Santa were in a Kung-Fu movie.
Seeing them get into it of course is making it so much more fun for me mainly because it’s bringing back that whole anticipation piece that makes this time of the year so great. The build up to Christmas is almost as much fun, if not more, than the actual day. I remember making those red and green paper chains in grade school and we would tear off a link every day in December—that chain seemed like it was a mile long! That anticipation—that expectancy is what made the season so much fun. Remember trying to go to sleep on Christmas Eve? Yeah right. I think my parents had to give me Benadryl to get me to finally pass out. Then Christmas Day night was always such a bummer—it was like the saddest night of the year.
The anticipation—the expectancy really is such a big part of what makes this time of the year so great—in fact it’s really what this season is all about. For followers of Jesus this time of the year isn’t just about celebrating a holiday—it’s about participating in an entire season—the season of Advent. The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “the coming” or the “arrival” and for hundreds of years Christians have been using this time to not only celebrate the birth of Christ but to also anticipate the return of Christ. You see at the heart of our faith is the belief that God has started something new right smack dab in the middle of this world through the birth, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus and that one day Jesus will return to finish what was started.
For followers of Jesus this season is when we take some time to remind ourselves of the greater story that we are apart of and the hope that we have in Jesus because it’s so easy to lose touch with it and so for the weeks leading up to Christmas we enter into a time of longing, expectation and anticipation for that which is yet to come.
This year we are going to engage into the advent season through the eyes of several of the ordinary people that we run into in the story of Jesus. As it unfolds we will no doubt see that this story is indeed about a great big thing that God is doing in the world, but at the same time the hopes and fears of ordinary people like you and me are not forgotten or brushed to the side. As we meet these characters we will find that their stories are also our stories and that like them we will discover that the fulfillment of our deepest longings are found in this God was born in a manger. The goal of this season isn’t to just celebrate what happened 2,000 years ago but to experience Jesus in a fresh new way. Meister Eckhart who was a German theologian and philosopher during the 13th century once said, about the birth of Christ, “We should ask ourselves: If it doesn’t happen in me, what good is that birth after all? What ultimately matters is that God’s birth should happen in me.” So we are going to zero in on the lives of some of the ordinary people who encounter Jesus in order to see how we can make room in our own lives to experience the miracle of Christmas.
If you have your bibles open them up to Luke chapter 2. The first character that we will encounter is a man named Simeon. He shows up a bit later in the Christmas story, but he is a great place for us to start because experiencing the miracle of Christmas begins with expecting the miracle and Simeon is a model of what a posture of expectancy and anticipation looks like. Read Luke 2:22-35
Not long after Jesus was born his parents took him to the temple in Jerusalem in order to participate in some of the traditions and customs of the people—one involved a purification ritual for the mother about 40 days after she gave birth but Mary and Joseph also went there to consecrate Jesus or to dedicate him to the Lord which was customary to do with the first born son. While they were there they ran into this man named Simeon—get the sense that he is pretty old—there’s a tradition that dates back to the 2nd century that he was 112 years old when this took place. According to Luke it had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had laid eyes on the Messiah—the anointed one—and then through the leading of the Holy Spirit Simeon makes his way into the temple at just the right time and as soon as he lays eyes on Jesus he knows immediately who he is—the one he has been waiting for—the one the whole world has been waiting for and he takes him in his arms and he prays this beautiful prayer. Can you imagine what that must have felt like for Simeon? He was old enough to witness some really important and yet very difficult history for his people. He was alive when the Romans conquered his homeland—he saw a bloody civil war not long after that and had witnessed numerous revolutions crushed by the Romans—and yet he held out hope—year after year that God had not quit on them—that the Messiah—the deliverer was still on his way.
Now what makes this so remarkable is that as you read through the gospels the majority of the people who run into Jesus have a hard time recognizing who he is—in fact almost everyone missed him all together. John 1:11 says, “He came to that which was his own but his own did not receive him.” The people who had been waiting for Jesus didn’t recognize him—they missed the miracle, but not Simeon—Simeon was able to see in this 6-week-old baby the fulfillment of his deepest longings.
Simeon lived with this sense of expectancy that was birthed out of a deep longing and desperate need for God’s presence and God’s comfort. Look back at 2:25 with me. Luke says that he was waiting for the consolation of Israel. That word for consolation is the Greek word paraklesis, which some of you have heard before—it means encouragement or comfort. So he was waiting for the comfort of Israel. What is that all about? Well this is a reference to the 2nd part of the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Chapters 40-66 are known as the book of comfort. In Simeon’s day Israel had been kicked around by the world’s superpowers for centuries as a result of their disobedience and rebellion toward God. They had been conquered by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and most recently they had been conquered by the Romans. So they were used to being kicked around and oppressed, but there were these people who they called the prophets who delivered to them these promises of God—promises that it wouldn’t always be like that. At some point God was going to act on their behalf, at some point God was going to do something about all their suffering and oppression, at some point God was going to set everything right. More specifically the prophets said that God would to this through someone who came to be known as the Messiah—this is the one who would bring in what they called the comfort of God.
This is what the second half of Isaiah is about. Listen to how it begins. Isaiah 40:1-2 “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Then in chapter 49:13 it says, “Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.” Then I love this one from chapter 51:3 “The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.” So when Luke says that Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel this is what he is talking about—the day in which God-through the Messiah would set everything right and bring comfort and restoration—healing to the people.
The word that Luke uses for waiting is the Greek word prosdechomai and honestly waiting is kind of a mild and tame way to translate it. It literally means to give access to one’s self—it is often translated as to cherish or to expect eagerly—it is a kind of active waiting that one does with a high level of involvement—it’s the kind of waiting one does from the deepest parts of themselves. You see there is the kind of waiting you do when you are re-heating a cup of coffee in the microwave—that’s sort of casual and half-hearted—I can’t tell you how many times I have done that and totally forgot about it and discovered that cup of coffee still in the microwave later in the day—there’s that kind of waiting and then there is prosdechomai which reminds me of what I am seeing right now in our Children’s Ministry Director Erica Sharp…that’s prosdechomai.
Simeon’s expectancy was birthed from this deep longing and desperate need for God’s comfort—for God’s healing. One of the biggest reasons why we miss out on truly experiencing the miracle of Christmas is because we lose touch with our desperate need for it. My wife is one of those people who absolutely hates to be cold. We will be driving in the car and as soon as it gets below 60 degrees outside she will turn on the heat full blast—I can’t breathe! Or we will be sitting on the couch and her feet will be cold and so she will burry them under my legs…or when she gets cold and gets all close at first I’m like, hey, alright and then I realize…nah…she’s just cold. She is from South Carolina and so our first winter up here was a big time shock for her. Winter down there is like 2-3 weeks of 40 degree weather and then it gets back into the 60’s. For our first Christmas together I bought her a heated blanket—she had never seen such a thing—to this day it is one of her most prized possessions and all time favorite Christmas gifts—as hard as I try and I have never been able to top the electric blanket—during the winter it’s like her 2nd husband—I get a little jealous. Her love and appreciation for that blanket flows out of her deep-seated loathing for the cold and her insatiable need to be warm.
What does this have to do with anything? Well one of the biggest reasons we struggle to experience the miracle of Christmas—to truly experience the comfort and healing of God is because we lose touch with how much we desperately need it. The ancient prayer of Advent is “Come Lord Jesus, Come.” Those are some of the final words of the Bible in the book of Revelation—Come Lord Jesus Come. How badly do you want that? How aware are you of your need for God’s comfort—God’s healing in your life? HOW Dietrich Bonhoffer says of Advent, “The only ones who can celebrate Advent are the people who carry restlessness around with them… whose souls give them no peace, who know that they are poor and incomplete and who sense something of the greatness that is supposed to come.”
Advent is about embracing our need for God’s healing and presence in our lives. You and I, we don’t like to feel that need—that emptiness, and so we try to drown it out with all of these temporary fixes. We try and smother it with all of these things that in the end really don’t satisfy. That’s why we spend way too much money on stuff that we really don’t need, that’s why we go to the computer screen when we are feeling lonely. That’s why we look to food or substances, or stuff to make us feel ok—it’s all just an attempt to drown out our longing and our need for God—but Adventus is our divine invitation to get in touch with our greatest need—our need for God. Advent is about embracing that need and our refusal to settle for artificial—reminding ourselves that the reality of we truly long for can only be found in Jesus.
Some of us its more of a matter of complacency—Jesus has become that cup of coffee that we forgot we left in the microwave. The saying goes familiarity leads to contempt. The more familiar you are with something the less you appreciate it—so when we get complacent or it all becomes familiar than we tend to forget just how good the good news is and then we become blind to all of the places that we haven’t let God’s comfort and heal as deep as he could. So sure God may have rescued us from some of the big things but what about the less obvious things—like how we treat the people closest to us or the people who get under our skin, or what about things like gossip, or the subtle ways we exaggerate the truth to make ourselves appear better than we really are…what about our motives?
At the same time, if we’ve lost sight of our own need we most certainly won’t be able to feel the need of a world gone cold. We’ll forget that what the world needs most is Jesus—that the gospel is the only way out of this mess. It’s like with what is going on in Ferguson—more than anything what has happened and is continuing to happen there should break our heart. Instead of jumping online and adding to all of the nonsense with just more volatile comments we should be on our knees praying Come Lord Jesus Come!
So here’s something I want you to do this week, carve out space to spend time in prayer—pick up a devotional— One great one is Dietrich Bonhoffer’s God in the Manger.
Simeon also teaches us that expectancy is more than just wishful thinking and that Adventus is more than just a countdown to Christmas but it is an invitation to live with a confident certainty in God’s promised future. Simeon held onto hope at a time when it would have been really easy to give into despair. Yeah sure they had the promises of God but they were hundreds of years old and things didn’t seem like they were getting better…things seemed like they were getting worse! It would have been easy to give up but Simeon didn’t—he held onto hope—in fact in his prayer he even says, “For my eyes have seen your salvation” to which I want to be like…they have? You have seen God’s salvation? Are you sure about that because to me it seems like the only thing you have seen is a little baby. Simeon may not have seen the realization of God’s salvation but he held in his arms the one through whom it would come.
This is a picture of what hope really is and what a life of expectancy looks like in practice. You see hope doesn’t take its cue from our past failures, our present frustrations, or our anxieties about the future. No hope is about seeing all of these things through the lens of what God has promised—that no matter how things look or how we may feel about it—one day Jesus will return and set things right.
It’s like with my son Rowan—he’s 3 years old and he still struggles to sleep through the night. He wakes up at least 4-5 nights a week. I am not above bribery so I have made a deal with him that for every night that he sleeps through the night I will give him a quarter. I got him a little mason jar to use as his bank and I went and got a bunch of quarters that I have set aside just for him and I keep them in a jar in my bedroom—I’ve let him see them so that he knows they are there and I’ve explained to him that once he has enough quarters that I will take him to store and let him pick out a toy—he’s really into Transformers right now so he is saving up for Optimus Prime. The first couple of nights he did great—he got a couple of quarters and he put them in his bank but when he saw how empty his bank still looked I think he got a little discouraged and he quit trying and went back to his old ways. So I sat him down and we talked about it—I tried to imagine all of the things that we perhaps going through his little head—at the time he probably wondered if dad really had enough quarters or if I had planned on actually giving them to him in the first place and so I went and got the jar from my room and I showed them to him and reassured them that they were his and that I wanted to give them to him—he just had to trust me. Then I got the sense that he thought because he was having a rough stretch that he was in the hold and that he would have to make up for all of the nights he didn’t sleep before he could start getting quarters again. So then I reassured him that wasn’t the case—that daddy wasn’t keeping track of how many nights he woke up and that the promise was still there—that he could rest assure that I would keep my end of the bargain. As I sat there and watched my son struggle with this—with trusting his father—believing that I would come through on my promise I was reminded of my tendency to do the same thing with God.
Hope—expectancy doesn’t take its cues from our past failures, our present frustrations or our anxieties about the future—how big the jar is or how difficult it is to sleep through the night - but think about how strongly these influence the way we live and what we believe is possible. I have a friend of mine whose greatest fear is turning out like his father. He is a new father himself and he lives with this sort of fear that it is only a matter of time until he makes the same mistakes. I have another ACQUAINTANCE who constantly gives herself to men who don’t love her because she doesn’t feel like she deserves anything better. I have another friend who is really struggling to believe that they will ever know freedom from their addiction. Hope doesn’t take its cue from our fears, frustrations or anxieties—hope is about living out of a concrete certainty—seeing everything in light of God’s promised future. What have you given up on? What is that thing that you say can’t or won’t happen? This advent—ask God to give you the strength to re-imagine these things in light of the hope we have in Christ—that in in Jesus all things are possible to those who believe. ADVENTUS.
Here’s the really amazing thing, when we do this, when we live according to God’s promised future, it moves from being this distant hope to a present reality. You see, circumstances, people, possibilities begin to change when we live and act as if they already have. God’s promises aren’t simply something we are supposed to long for, but they are something we are meant to live into. All of this helps to remind us of why, as a community, as a church, we do some of the things that we do. Why we have made the commitment to live more simply so that others may simply live—why we celebrate Christmas the way that we do by sacrificially giving to our annual Christmas Miracle Offering—it’s one of the ways in which we not only celebrate the birth of Jesus but it’s also how we anticipate the return of Jesus and partner with him in bringing his kingdom here on earth.
See when you give to the Miracle Offering you are doing way more than just dropping a check in the plate—you are making way for the miracle—you are participating in literally saving people’s lives both physically and spiritually—every time an addict is set free from their addiction, every time someone is able to get their GED and receive the necessary life skills to move toward a better future for themselves and their family, every time a child’s life is saved from the monster that is malaria—God’s promised future becomes more and more of a present reality.
“Thou Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, be born again into our world. Wherever there is war in this world, wherever there is pain, wherever there is loneliness, wherever there is no hope, come, thou long-expected one, with healing in thy wings.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come
Holy Child, whom the shepherds and the kings and the dumb beasts adored, be born again. Wherever there is boredom, wherever there is fear of failure, wherever there is temptation to strong to resist, wherever there is bitterness of heart, come, though, blessed one, with healing in thy wings.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come
Savior, be born in each of us who raises their face to thy face, not knowing fully who they are or who thou art, knowing only thy love is beyond his knowing and that no other has the power to make him whole. Come, Lord Jesus, to each who longs for thee even though they have forgotten thy name. Come quickly.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come
Copyright © 2016 Ginghamsburg Church
All rights Reserved.