Years ago as I started taking those first few baby steps into Christianity, I felt myself drawn to Judaism, to this deep, deep history. To the people that were Jesus’ people, to the rituals that shaped and formed him, to the stories that formed the culture in which he lived.
My family was friends with a Jewish family. Spending time with them, learning about their faith was powerful for me. I had the opportunity to share a Sabbath meal with them, to worship with them, to learn from them. I am lucky they are really good teachers and I ask a lot of questions: About their faith, their religion, and how it shapes the Jewish people, about what they thought about Christ and Christianity. One day, I asked about Jesus being the Messiah. Their answer was clear, and to the point. Jesus is could not be the Jewish Messiah because he did not bring 1,000 years of peace.
It was with that simple statement that I understood. I understood the disciple’s consistent confusion over who Jesus was, why they argued over who would sit at his right and who at his left; why they reached for the sword when the romans came to arrest him.
They were expecting a warrior king. They believed that God would send them a king, a Messiah from the line of David. The anointed one would overthrow the Roman rule and save them from oppression. He would usher in a time of peace. There was a list of things they expected of the Messiah, and Jesus seemed to have a hard time convincing them that it was not going to go as they had planned.
The first thing we hear about Simeon, he was righteous and devout. Simeon knew he would get to see the Messiah, the one that would bring restoration to Israel. Simeon was probably keeping his eye out for a warrior King. Instead, God nudged him towards a baby. A little one, probably a little over a month old. And something happened when Simeon took the baby from Mary and held him in his arms.
Have you ever had a moment of clarity? A moment where the world drops away, all distractions vanish, and you see something you have not seen before? Something that had been there the entire time, you just couldn’t see it?
In the touch of the Christ child, Simeon saw for the first time. The Messiah was not a warrior but a baby. And he overflows with joy overflowing and praise, he had hoped for Israel’s salvation but now he says… “I have seen your salvation; I have seen your salvation for all nations.” It was there the whole time. And finally. Simeon saw, and he was at peace.
Salvation not just for Israel but for all. David Watson talks about universal hope in his book, God does not Foreclose. “the appropriate attitude for Christians must be one of universal hope. Although we can in no way predetermine the final outcome of Christ’s saving work, or in any way tell God what to do, we can surely hope that God will manage to bring together the human family in its entirety to celebrate the heavenly feast.
We can find hope in the promise that God desires that every human know that they are beloved children. We should hope that all people would know that there is a table set for all of humanity and that they know they have a place reserved for them, and that they might accept God’s invitation of Love and Grace and take their place and feast at the heavenly banquet.
Overflowing with joy, seeing how much greater God’s plans were than his, Simeon hands the Christ child back to his parents. But he has something more to say, he looks at them and tells them that “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”
One of you shared a video on your Facebook wall. It’s a video from the boys and girls club, maybe you’ve seen it. A voice off camera asks a child sitting in a room a question. “What are you hoping to get this year for Christmas.” They show a variety of kids giving a variety of answers: Xbox 360, a really big Barbie house, a laptop computer. They want big, extravagant gifts! Then the voice asked them another question: “What do you think your mom or dad would want for Christmas?” And their answers are just as big and extravagant: Jewelry, a flat screen T.V. , a new dress.
And one by one you see their eyes grow huge as their gifts are brought into the room. The gift that they most desired…and the extravagant gift their parents would love.
Then the voice off camera informs them, they have to choose. You can have what you were expecting, or you can give to your loved one. They are being asked to sacrifice what they desire for their loved ones… You can see the struggle on their faces. Their hearts are revealed in this difficult choice.
In his book, The Great Divorce, CS Lewis tells a tale of a bus that brings people from hell to heaven. The bus is available for anyone to board. Most don’t. Those that do find themselves uncomfortable in heaven. For a variety of reasons…because they refuse to be there with people they don’t think belong…because they can’t see beyond their own certainty… because they won’t sacrifice what they hold close… most choose to get back on the bus and return to their sorrow.
The Christ child will grow up to challenge his people, to challenge us to sacrifice. He will tell the rich man to sell everything he has and give to the poor. He will teach abundant, extravagant forgiveness; he will teach that whoever tries to keep their life will lose it.
If we were given the choice these kids were given: If we were given the choice between what we most desire and what God most desires, would we choose the Hope of God’s salvation? If we could see as clearly as Simeon, what would our hearts reveal?
Simeon was not done yet. He had one more thing to say before disappearing into history…
I was flipping through books as I prepared this sermon. Looking for images and stories that fit, that would draw you in, explain what I am saying a bit better than I could. One of the books I picked up is a book by David Platt. I don’t remember where I got the book, I’ve never read it, but it was on my book shelf, judging by the outlines and notes in that I am not the first owner of this book. As I looked through it, I ran across a really sad story. A women died at the hands of her parents for converting to Christianity. In the margin next to this story is a note, a question: “Then what will God protect us from?”
And I wonder if the person that wrote that note had ever read Simeon’s final words. If they had seen Simeon look at this baby and his mother and heard him tell her, “he will pierce your soul.”
Last week we heard Elizabeth pour down words of praise and blessing upon her. Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you bear!” Mary, the one who sings praises, “from now on all generations will call me blessed.” Mary, “he will pierce your soul.”
Which was it? Was Mary, the mother of the Messiah, blessed or would she suffer?……… Of course we know, being blessed does not mean we will not suffer. It does not mean we will not have to sacrifice.
Simeon walks away. Leaving the family to their future. He leaves, full of joy, for God’s gift was so much more than he thought it would be, and he understood, that it would cause the rising and falling of many, that hearts would be revealed through him, that souls would be pierced
The kids, sitting in front of two gifts had to choose. The video shows each one choosing the gift for their parents. When asked why, child after child tells of the great things their parents give to them. One child said this: “Because Legos don’t matter…your family matters. Not Legos, not toys. Your family. So, it’s either family or Legos and I choose family.”
What a blessing…