So Mary and Joseph are keeping the Jewish law and doing what is right in their community - they are taking their newborn son to the temple when he is just eight days old to be circumcised and dedicated to God, and I bet that they had no idea what was going to happen when they arrived at the temple. They were just doing what they had been doing up to now - following God directions, by faith. The faith of Mary and Joseph is an example to us all. They had already named Jesus, but this was like registering his name at the temple. For Jewish people even today this is a very important event.
In our Gospel passage today we also meet two elderly people who before they die, Simeon and Anna, want to meet their Messiah. Before they die they want to see God’s promised Saviour – and in today’s passage from Luke’s Gospel their prayers are answered.
As the family come into the Temple, a man called Simeon is moved by the Holy Spirit, our reading tells us that Simeon is a faithful believer, who for his whole life had been waiting for “the consolation of Israel” (v.25). The relief of Israel. For centuries the people of Israel had been waiting for God to send them a Saviour. The people had been waiting over a 1000 years and Simeon had been waiting all his life and many would have doubted whether the Christ would ever come.
But faithful believers, like Simeon and Anna, were still confidently waiting for God to come good on his promises. They were still praying for God to console and rescue his people from all that oppressed them. They were still trusting that God would send his long-awaited Messiah.
So it’s no surprise that Simeon and Anna when convicted by the Holy Spirit were both so happy when they set eyes on Jesus. Seeing Jesus they saw their salvation. Seeing Jesus brought them the comfort and hope that they had been waiting for. The birth of Christ meant that their dogged faith and belief had brought its promised benefits. That’s why Simeon took baby Jesus “in his arms and praised God” (v.28). He now knew that he could now die “in peace” and with great hope for the future of God’s people (v.29).
In his song, Simeon quotes Isaiah 42 and 49, and uses two words that sum up what Jesus had come to bring – namely ‘salvation’ and ‘revelation’. The salvation Jesus brought was forgiveness from sin and hope beyond the grave. And the revelation Jesus brought was a revelation of God. Of God’s character, of God’s grace, of God’s love for His people. Jesus came to replace speculation about God with precise revelation. Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life No one comes to the Father except through me”.
Perhaps the most surprising and brilliant thing to Simeon and Annie would have been that this revelation and salvation is offered to all people. In verse 31 we are told that Jesus will reveal God in the “sight of all people”, and in verse 32 we learn that Jesus is God’s revelation “to the Gentiles” as well as to Jews.
To every nation, not only Israel. Jesus came to be Saviour of the whole world - from Gidea Park to the ends of the earth Shoeburyness!
No wonder verse 33 tells us that Mary & Joseph “marvelled” at what Simeon said about Jesus. The coming of Christ was great news for Simeon and Anna, and for Christian believers in every generation since. Believing God’s promises does pay-off in the end!
Many of us are looking forward to the coming year, some hoping that Palace escape relegation, some hoping West Ham can get into the top part of the league, some hoping that Arsenal win yet another cup! And many will be hoping and praying that next year is better than the last.
As Christians we also await Christ’s second coming, whenever its going to be. But how should we wait? As individuals and as a Church, what is the right way to wait for Christ’s return? And live our lives as we wait. What lessons can we learn from Simeon and Anna’s example?
The first lesson is the importance of prayer and a close relationship with Jesus. We should commit ourselves to be faithful in prayer and in reading the Bible. The Bible and prayer must be the foundation of our lives as individuals and as a church.
Think about joining one of our Bible study groups or prayer meetings in 2018. The Bible and prayer are essential for our growth in faith, and relationship with God, after all how can you ever have a relationship with someone if you never talk to them.
Simeon and Anna knew this truth well. In our passage we are told that Simeon was a “devout and righteous man”, a man who studied the Scriptures and was prayerfully open to the Holy Spirit’s work in his life. And Anna too spent her time praying and worshipping God. With our busy lives we may not be able to devote all our time to prayer, but Anna’s behaviour challenges us to give it a higher priority in our lives, to make it a part of our daily routine.
Our passage today also tells us that Simeon and Anna did not wait for Christ on their own. Both of them were members of the worshipping community at the Jerusalem Temple. And the Bible tells Christians to keep meeting together. As we meet together, worship together and hear God’s Word preached together, our common faith and hope will grow. As it says in Hebrews “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.”
As well as prayer, Bible reading and mutual encouragement, there is one final way we should await Christ’s return. Verse 27 today says when Simeon saw Christ he immediately praised God in public. Allowing others to overhear him. And verse 38 tells us that when Anna met the baby Jesus she spoke about him to everyone around her.
We should do the same. Whether it’s over coffee with a friend, in the pub with a friend, or simply round the dinner table at home, we can and must share our faith, our Christian hope. Jesus tells us we are to tell others about him.
How great would it be if God used you and me to bring other people to Christ in 2018! How marvellous if our non-Christian family, friends and colleagues this year came to marvel at Jesus like Mary & Joseph did! How wonderful if people we know began to praise Jesus in 2018, like Simeon & Anna did 2000 years ago! An easy way is to invite them is to the Alpha course that we are running starting Sunday evenings at 6.30 on the 21st Jan.
God opened the eyes of Simeon and Anna to recognise Jesus as the baby who brought salvation. In 2018, may God use us to open other people’s eyes to Christ.
Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we praise you for the salvation and revelation that Jesus our marvellous Messiah brings. Lord we pray that you will keep us strong in faith, united in fellowship and intentional in bring other into a relationship with you, so all may know your love and grace. In his name we pray, Amen.