After the Manger: Hope in Sight (11am)
Topic: Waiting Scripture: Luke 2:22–2:40
Have you ever started something that you knew would be a long process? I’m talking about something that begins as the spark of an idea and then eventually becomes the focal point of your energy or expectation. Recently, I've been following a friend’s Facebook page because her and her husband have been going through the process of having their own custom-built dream house constructed. And over the course of a year, my friend and her family just moved in this past weekend. But she shared posts and pictures throughout the whole process. She wrote about their dream to live in a certain area and the hopes they had for their daughters. She shared the zip code from the perfect plot of land they found. And then it was picture after picture of the construction process. When I went back through and scrolled through the pictures all at one time - it was actually really impressive. Their new home had become the central focus of their time and energy. But I remember specifically when the foundation had been laid that my friend posted a picture of the concrete slab and talked about how she and her husband finally had Hope in Sight.
Now, I know most of us have never built our own homes but we can all relate to that feeling of having Hope in Sight, can’t we? Maybe it was a personal fitness goal or the completion of an academic program. It could have been landing a job that you love or saving up for a trip to somewhere special. We can likely recall moments where we started thinking to ourselves, “wow, this is actually going to happen.” I’ve had a few of those moments in my own life. When Caitlin and I set the date for our wedding. When I got the call from Caitlin that it was time to go to the hospital to bring our first child into this world. When I finished seminary and knew I was soon going to be moving to a town that was actually called Normal. I’m certain that each of you had moments like this in your life. But what if the focus and culmination of all your expectations and all your hopes didn’t come after a few weeks…or a few months…or a few years? What if it got to a point where you grew old and your once luminous and steady sense of hope had been whittled down to barely an ember? It is precisely that sort of scenario that we encounter in our text. We’re in Luke 2:22-40.
Now, I have to confess to a little bit of a bait and switch. We’re in this message series called After the Manger and the whole focus is on the time recorded in Scripture that gives us a glimpse at the time of Jesus’ life After the Manger, but before he became the renowned teacher and miracle worker we’re most familiar with. Our text this morning does, indeed, fit within the time frame we’re looking for, but as you probably noticed, until the last verse, we honestly get very little information about Jesus - the child. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t gain an incredible wealth of insight into the person of Jesus.
We begin at the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is brought for his presentation and consecration before the Lord. We could liken this to what some churches call a child dedication. The Jewish rite in our text is different in substance and reach from what we might see from other churches, but there is a common thread: the desire to put a child before God, to praise God for the life of the child, and it is a time where parents and church alike declare their intention for that child to live a life of faithfulness and service to the Lord. And it’s during this meaningful, even ceremonial moment that we are introduced to someone who has been waiting for Jesus for a very, very long time.
It’s kind of funny. There are so many people who want to know what the adolescent years of Christ were like, myself included. But here, in one of the only accounts about Jesus before the days of His ministry, we are instead shown what someone else thinks of Jesus. But it’s a powerful display that we witness from the righteous and devout man named Simeon. I can’t help but see the familiar tones of a meaningful memorial service.
Yesterday we celebrated the life of Jim Zimmerman, a remarkable man and a beloved member of our church family. And I can tell you this: I don’t need to watch old tapes or see old pictures of Jim as a boy. There were countless people who told me all I need to know about that sweet man yesterday. Sometimes the testimony of others speaks the greatest and most lasting truth about a person. Simeon does that for Jesus here, before Jesus could even likely stand.
Simeon comes into the temple courts and the reason why is absolutely crucial. The Holy Spirit was not only in this man, we’re told, but the Spirit also moves Simeon to go to the temple to bear witness to this man’s most desperate desire: to see the Messiah. I can picture it in my mind. Simeon, an old man, slowly walks into the temple courts with a slow but absolutely determined gait. I can almost see the longingly hopeful and almost frantic look in his gentle but aged eyes as he finally sees the infant, Jesus. He knew right then. Simeon knew. He didn’t need to be told. No angel revealed it to him. Mary and Joseph didn’t say a word. The Spirit of God had prepared Simeon for this sight for decades and now, after all those long years, he could see Hope in Sight.
As Simeon has the infant Messiah placed in his arms, you can imagine the gentle and almost clumsy care he takes at cradling this little boy. Not all that uncommon to how we ourselves might hold a baby. And with Christ held tight in his arms and close to his heart, Simeon speaks some of the most moving words of joy and thankfulness to God. “My eyes have seen your salvation.”
Decades of this man’s life have been spent in waiting. In holding to a promise. Days, weeks, months, even years spent with no Hope in Sight but still possessing a certainty in the promise and presence of God. Friends, how many of us can relate to and find a personal connection to Simeon’s experience? How many of you are in that place where you have a goal before you or a long-sought-after dream in your heart, and you know, maybe even without reason, that it is not only possible but that it can come to pass? This room is undoubtedly filled with the testimony of those who, like Simeon, have seen and celebrated the moment when hopes have been realized and dreams become reality. But I know that there are some of us who are just longing for and even begging to see some Hope in Sight.
I cannot stand here and promise you that the realization of your hope will come at this time or that. Simeon’s account, as moving as it is, is still only the final page of a very, very long story. A story that began even before him. The promise of the Messiah had been on the hearts of God’s people for centuries. Our reading from the Old Testament book of Numbers is only one of many examples of that truth. Generations of waiting and hoping. But God was faithful. It took longer than many had expected and it certainly didn’t come to pass in the manner anyone anticipated. But the Messiah had come. For all of you that are in that space of waiting, I say this - hold on. Simeon’s heart was focused on the promise and the goodness of God but it is foolish to believe that there were not days where he felt weary and tired and lost. That there were not days where he wrestled with doubt and likely begged God to make good on His word. We all, every human being, have moments and days like that. But God is faithful. In ways we can sometimes not understand and certainly in ways we cannot anticipate…but God is faithful.
And speaking of the unanticipated, the role of Anna the prophet is compelling as well. Simeon had waited decades on the promise and leading of the Holy Spirit for the Messiah. Anna, having experienced her own trials and pains of life, encounters the infant Savior the same day as Simeon does, but without any of the forethought or hopeful planning that he had been carrying. And still, her life was changed by seeing with her own eyes the baby brought to the temple that day. She was able to see the salvation of humanity in the face of that infant and it leads to her sharing that truth with every person she knew who was looking and waiting for something, for someone, to hope in.
Anna’s life was changed without her own expectation. Simeon’s life was fulfilled after a lifetime of existing within a single hope. We can be either of these stories and we can be both of them. The arrival of the Messiah in the form of an infant dramatically impacted the lives of so many that day in the temple. Simeon and Anna, for sure. But Mary and Joseph as well. They witnessed the fulfillment of prophecy and the realization of hope on what would have been a special but also standard day for them. Mary even heard the first whisper of what fate was to befall her beloved baby boy, and what pain would come to her own soul. And then there were those who had just happened to be around the temple that day and saw all of these events unfold, and then those who Anna went out and spoke to of the redemption that had come in the form of an infant.
We would be sorely mistaken if we said this text doesn’t tell us much about the infant Messiah. We learn a great deal from the accounts of Simeon, Anna, Mary, and Joseph, and others. Yes, we are told that Jesus grew and became strong and wise and filled with the grace of God. We are also told not only of how Jesus grew himself but how, because of Christ, hope and inspiration were grown in the hearts of so many. Of those waiting, of those going about their routines, of those who could only guess what was in store.
This text serves as a powerful reminder to us. As a reminder to hold on. A reminder to remember the faithfulness of God even when it seems so far away. A reminder to be on the lookout for the moments where God crashes into our story without our own expectation, or even permission, and leaves us with the opportunity to be changed. But perhaps the most powerful reminder is this: that in the person of Jesus Christ, we can finally look out into this life and see Hope in Sight.