Are you all going to stay up until midnight tonight (New Year’s Eve)? What kinds of things will you do to celebrate when midnight hits? When I was little, we’d have my aunt and uncle and cousins over—the adults would watch movies we kids couldn’t watch while the kids worked to tear up a box of Kleenex to use as confetti when midnight rolled around.
Do you think anything will change with the new year? What do you hope might be different? I think we all hope something will be different next year.
But sometimes, I find it hard to wait, don’t you? I find it hard to stay up all the way until midnight. Maybe that’s because I’m old. Or maybe because I don’t expect much different from a new year.
Today, we got to hear the story of a man named Simeon who knew what it felt like to wait…and wait…and wait. God promised that he would see the Messiah—God’s promised salvation—before he died. When he saw Jesus, he knew God had kept God’s promise. And he expected that things would change for his world—even if he wasn’t around to see the changes. I hope that our new year will bring new and exciting things for all of us—good news of great joy—a light in the darkness.
Let’s pray. Dear God, we thank you for showing us your light in Jesus. Help us reflect the light and live the changes we want to see in our world. Amen.
The story of Simeon and Anna reminds me of a Friends episode in which Phoebe has someone die on her massage table. She’s convinced that the elderly Jewish woman didn’t travel far and is now residing in Phoebe. Throughout the episode, Phoebe says odd things and references people she doesn’t know—clearly channeling the old woman. Desperate, she contacts the woman’s husband, wanting to know what unfinished business she might have had. He told her that she wanted to see everything. So, Phoebe takes her to all of the major tourist sites throughout New York City.
Finally, at the end of the episode, Phoebe is attending the wedding of Ross’ ex-wife and her partner. As the two women begin to exchange vows, the old woman says, “Well, now I’ve seen everything,” and departs.
God promised Simeon that he would see ‘everything’ before he died—everything, in this case, meaning the most important thing to any Jewish person: the promised Messiah. By the time Jesus is brought to the Temple, it appears that Simeon is quite old. In my hometown, there was a woman who lived to be 112 years old. She was in the nursing home. Her mind was sharp, but her body was not—she was nearly deaf and couldn’t see anymore. She was ready to die. Each birthday felt like a betrayal.
I wonder if that is how Simeon felt—waiting to be released, but knowing that he was supposed to be part of something bigger first—unfinished business.
The day Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, there would have been a lot of things going on—babies being dedicated, people offering sacrifices, money changers in front of the temple, people milling, praying. But the Spirit guided Simeon to the temple that day and took him straight to Jesus. He knew immediately what this meant. He took the child from his parents—imagine what that scene must have been like—and held him close, praising God.
“Lord, now let you servant go in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared for all people—a light to the Gentiles and glory for Israel.” His song says so much. He is praising God for the opportunity to die, as well as the opportunity to know that God has fulfilled God’s promise. He recognizes that Jesus isn’t just fulfillment for Israel but for the whole world—something that even the Temple authorities weren’t expecting. Simeon was the first to see Jesus for what he truly was—a light for all nations.
But then, he turns to Mary and says the most ominous thing: “Your son is destined to tear people down and build people up. He will be opposed in order to reveal the true hearts of those in power. And his life will break your heart.” Not exactly the blessing a mom wants to hear.
And then along comes Anna—an old woman who had lived at the Temple in poverty, being widowed without sons to provide for her. As soon as she saw Joseph carry Jesus into the Temple—women weren’t allowed inside—Anna began telling everyone she saw about the child who would redeem Israel. I can’t imagine the scene she was causing among everything else going on around her.
For Anna and Simeon, the wait was over. The promised Messiah had arrived. They saw the truth being revealed to the world and shouted it from the rooftops. And I doubt anyone listened. I can imagine the scene—people making a wide circle around the old beggar who talked excitedly about a baby being brought for dedication. Babies are brought to the Temple every day. Crazy old lady. Maybe they felt sorry for her and gave her a coin as they passed.
A little further in, the old man is going on about getting to finally die. And he’s ignored by everyone except the parents of this child who are probably scared witless by his words. Why is it, when you experience the most amazing thing in your life, there is no way to share it completely with others?
Last spring, as we were discerning the direction of music ministry here, we talked quite a bit about what connects people in worship. Some people really connect with certain hymns. Others with certain praise songs. Some love having choir leadership. Others, a band with drums and a good beat. And I remember thinking how impossible it is to fully share your experience with someone else—for me, what it’s like to sing in an incredible choir surrounded by accomplished musicians; how I felt in worship with other college students singing certain praise songs at the top of our lungs; singing hymns in harmony with my colleagues who all loved to sing hymns in harmony. Just being a part of something massive and knowing that others feel the same way.
There are no words to let someone else into that experience. And yet, we have to try. The same goes for the gospel and just how important and meaningful the good news is for me and you and the world. As someone who deals with words everyday, there are no words to encompass the power of the Word made flesh and what that means. And yet, we must try. Like Simeon and Anna, we can’t just let it be a private reality—something we hold onto for ourselves. Like Jeremiah, if we don’t say something, we will burst.
That is the good news. It is meant for the world. It is a light to the Gentiles and glory to Israel. It has the power to tear down the systems of power, corruption, and injustice. It has the grace to restore life to the dead and hope to the hopeless. The good news of Jesus the Messiah cannot be hidden or privatized or assigned only to a certain denomination or race or even religion. Because the good news of God incarnate, as Paul tells the Galatians, has redeemed not only Israel but all nations and all people.
What does that mean for you and me? It’s more than the fact that our sins are forgiven and we can be with Jesus when we die. It means that Jesus is with us now; that life is ours now; that the struggles we face are not ours alone; that our failures do not define us; that the insanity of this world and its powers aren’t the final word but the final act of a defeated enemy. The good news is that the wait is over–our eyes have seen the salvation prepared for all people in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The good news means that, no matter what the new year brings, we have seen everything in the eyes of the newborn Christ.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church