The Beginning? No! The End? Yes! Luke 2:22-40 12-31-17
The wisdom of the old Church calendar keeps our faith journey in perspective. After we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord on Dec. 25th, we commemorate the Martyrdom of Steven, the first to die for his faith on Dec. 26th; and we commemorate the Slaughter of Innocent Children, under 2 years old, killed by Herod for fear of the birth of Jesus, the newborn king on Dec. 28th. So, new birth & nativity, the cross & sacrifice appear to go together in the gospel. Nothing truly new, no large move of God occurs without some pain. Blood & birth go together.
Our gospel reading introduces us to 2 old people who have been waiting a long time for this large move by God, not knowing specifically, but knowing nonetheless that it would happen – Simeon & Anna. These 2 marginalized, fringe characters, “Anawim” in Hebrew, which means “little people”, who emerge from out of nowhere, have their say, then recede again into the darkness, apparently the only people up at the temple who know what is going on. Of course, it’s not so amazing to us. We know who this child is – the Son of God, the savior of the world. But, Simeon & Anna could not have known this like we do.
They did not know in advance what became of Jesus. They did not know about his ministry, death & resurrection. But they did believe it. They did not look at Jesus in terms of the way he appeared in the temple – an ordinary looking baby of peasant parents, who gave a peasant offering of pigeons. Rather, they looked at Jesus in terms of what he would become – in terms of his future. Simeon & Anna looked at the baby Jesus that day through the eyes of faith. That is the way faith works. Simeon & Anna show us that with faith the beginning is nothing; the end is what counts. Faith and hope have allowed them to know the end of the story.
Whatever “salvation” is at work for Israel here, whatever joy exudes from our worship this Sunday, it is no simple joy, no cheap salvation. Simeon’s talk of falling & rising, of opposition & piercing swords invites reflection upon the depth & complexity of god’s ways among us. Simeon offers a helpful corrective against the yuletide tendency to float off into superficial sentimentality, to reduce our testimony to a Christmas card slogan or our hymns to advertising jingles. The Nativity, as Simeon says, is about social dislocation, about confused parents, & dark forebodings.
Herod has an answer for old Jews who get too uppity with their singing: a sword. Yet, maybe, even in the midst of such evil, Herod’s and that acted out by terrorists, both ISIS and nationalistic Whites, the only thing left is what Anna does: sing and praise. Praise of our God whose power is known and experienced in the vulnerability of humanity. Whose love is felt in pain and loss. Whose hope knows no limits. We give praise in the face of perverse and narcissistic power. We give praise so as to offer resistance to that which or those who would seek to instill fear instead of trust and hope. We give praise to shout out an alternate perspective or reality or worldview, which some will call “fake”, a worldview that chooses love and inclusion and compassion over hatred and exclusion and heartlessness. We give praise to affirm our belief that the world can be different, has to be different, and that difference is known in bringing about the kingdom of God here and now.
On the hill way beyond the Bethlehem manger, there is a cross awaiting a suitable victim. The good news is that the hope of Israel & for all did not end on that cross. God raised Jesus, who was born, lived, who ministered, served, loved, & died on the cross. This is the end we trust.
Our faith is future-oriented. I asked Pastor Jon Nelson, who was imprisoned for 90 days in King County, and two weeks in the Coupville jail for his protesting against nuclear proliferation at Bangor sub base, why he keeps on doing this. He takes a step forward & gets pushed back two. And with a belly laugh Jon said, “Because I know the end of the story!” We are encouraged to keep the future-oriented faith like Simeon & Anna’s the next time we face suffering, run across somebody who seems undesirable, or are tempted to think we’ve done enough for God & our fellow human beings. What we are facing now does not ultimately matter. God has other plans – resurrection.
What a good God we have. This is a God who sets us free from anxieties about the present, from our false perceptions about the present that often screw up our lives. We have a God who wipes those mistakes & sins away. It is like Simeon & Anna told us: the beginning? No! The end? Oh yes! Let us praise God for the good & glorious future god has in mind for us. What a good & joyful security we have as we face 2018! Amen.
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 12-31-17” name of the sermon.