Sermon 12-29-13: “My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation”

January 6, 2014

simeon_anna

In today’s scripture, Simeon and Anna have spent their lives waiting for the first Advent: the coming of the Messiah and Savior. We present-day Christians are also waiting—both for the Second Coming and for God to answer our prayers—but we’re probably not nearly as good at it as these two heroes of faith! What else can Anna and Simeon teach us?

Sermon Text: Luke 2:21-40

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

This Christmas, I only had to buy two gifts that I didn’t purchase online. For one of these gifts, I had to drive far from home, and wait in a long, slow line, at a retail establishment that is notoriously bad in customer service. While I waiting in line, I posted on Facebook that I was enduring this long wait all for the sake of my wife, Lisa, who was going to love this gift. Someone said, “Oh, you must be at Jerrod’s, buying your wife fine jewelry.” I was happy to let the world think that’s what I was doing. And then, our church’s very own Gary Chitwood posted this: “I saw you in line. Couldn’t get to you to say hello. Dollar Tree is packed, though.”

You know people say they LOL all the time, and you wonder, “Are they really laughing out loud? Is it really that funny?” That truly made me LOL!

All that to say, I really don’t like waiting! And I even pay that annual fee to Amazon for Prime shipping—and as if that’s not fast enough for me, I will often pay the extra four bucks to get it shipped next day. So you can imagine how excited I was last month, when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told 60 Minutes about a new technology his company would introduce in the next four or five years. It’s called “Amazon Prime Air,” and—I kid you not—it involves delivering packages weighing five pounds or less directly to your house using unmanned helicopter-like drones.

It looks like a miniature barbecue grill with propellers. And it will deliver your package safely to your doorstep. Like, what could possibly go wrong with that? Back in the late-’70s, our space station Skylab was scheduled to burn up in the atmosphere and debris was going to fall to earth. Many people were worried that Skylab would fall on top of them. Remember? Just think: Now we have to worry about being maimed by a box of Season 6 Breaking Bad DVDs falling from the sky! “Oh, no! Amazon boxes are falling from the sky!” We’ll be afraid to venture outside of our homes!

Still, I love the idea of these drones if it means I don’t have to wait as long. Which brings us to the two prophets that Luke describes in today’s scripture: Simeon and Anna. Luke describes them as advanced in years. Simeon is an old man near the end of his life. Anna is 84. Both of them have been waiting their entire lives for the same thing: They’ve been waiting for God to keep the promises he made so long ago to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to save the world through God’s people Israel; and to keep the promises God made to King David and his descendants that the Messiah would usher in God’s kingdom and bring peace.

Simeon says that the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die before he saw this promise is fulfilled, and, finally, on the last page of the last chapter of his life, that promise has come true.

Let’s not forget: we Christians, like Simeon and Anna in today’s scripture, are also waiting for God to fulfill his promises. For them the next major event in God’s plan of salvation was the coming of Christ. For us, the next major event in God’s plan of salvation is… what? The Second Coming of Christ, when God draws history as we know it to a close, and the dead are resurrected, the final judgment occurs, and heaven and earth become one. And some of you are like, “Brent, you’re a scientifically minded person. You were an engineer. You went to Georgia Tech. You really believe in a literal Second Coming?” And the answer is, “Yes, I do.” It’s in the Book. This world as we know it is running out of time. The Bible warns of signs of the end, and Jesus warns us repeatedly to be ready, and many intelligent Christians see signs happening right now.

In a sermon in November, Pope Francis spoke about the intensified persecution of Christians in the world, especially in the Middle East, and he said that this is what we should expect to happen before Christ comes again.

Will it happen in our lifetime? Who knows? But whether it does or doesn’t, we’re supposed to live our lives expecting it to happen soon. Are we waiting faithfully for the Second Coming? Given that Methodist pastors like me never talk about it, I’d forgive you if you’re not waiting. But that needs to change! I need to change! We should be waiting for the Second Coming—just like Simeon and Anna waited for the first.

Heroes in the Bible, unlike us modern-day Americans, knew how to wait. Think about Abraham, for example. God promises him—among other things—that he would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. The only problem was he was 75. His wife Sarah was 65. Both of them were well past the age of having children, and, besides… They weren’t able to have kids when they were young and of childbearing age. But God promises that this is going to happen, and he promises that the whole world would be blessed through Abraham and his descendants—a blessing that comes true ultimately when Jesus is born.

So what happens… The following week Sarah gets pregnant? Nope. The following month? Nope. The following year? Nope. In fact, 25 years pass—25 years!—before they have their promised son, Isaac. How much faith does it take to keep on believing in something when there’s no sign for 25 years that it’s coming true? Would you and I give up on God long before 25 years pass?

How quickly and easily do we give up on God when we pray?

A part of being a faithful follower of Jesus is praying, waiting, praying some more, and then waiting some more. The truth is, just because God doesn’t answer your prayer right away doesn’t mean that God isn’t going to answer your prayer. I usually give God about a week… before I give up! How about you? Obviously, if we’re going to follow the example of faithful heroes from scripture, that, also, needs to change!

When I was teaching in Kenya last year, one of the native Kenyan pastors was telling the class about an experience he recently had with quote—an old man he knew. “He was old!” this pastor said. He kept reminding his audience how old this man was. Old, old, old. I exchanged glances with my fellow American pastor, Susan, as if to say, “He’s not being politically correct. It’s not polite in our American culture to talk about other people being ‘old.’”

Anyway, later in that same class, another pastor described waiting in line for an oil change for his car—when another “old man” walked into the garage. The pastor said, “Of course I gave up my place in line to this old man…” And when he said that, I realized something which blew me away: In the traditional culture of Kenya—as was true in the Bible—being “old” was a compliment; it was considered a good thing, a great blessing, a gift, an honorable achievement. If you were old, you were considered wise. And you were treated with great respect. Needless to say, our church ought to be more like that.

And some of you seniors are like, “Preach it, Brent!”

But seriously… Older Christians, by virtue of their place in life, often have an advantage over us middle-aged or younger Christians when it comes to straightening out our priorities, and making Christ our top priority. The attention of younger believers is often divided: after all, we’re at a place in life where we have to direct a lot of time and energy to school or career, to personal ambition, to financial success, or to dating, or marriage, or the demands of raising families—including hauling kids all over the place to school functions, to sports activities, to piano lessons. I know what it’s like, I promise!

The pace of life for us younger people is often so hectic that we let other priorities, besides Jesus, take precedence in our life. We often don’t pray the way we should. We often don’t study the Bible the way we should. We often don’t make churchgoing and worship the priority it should be. We often don’t make Jesus the priority he should be. We can learn something from old people.

So if you are advanced in years, if you are, dare I say, old, the church needs you to be old the way Simeon and Anna are old. Sometimes I visit shut-ins who are depressed because they’re not as active in church the way they used to be, and they feel useless, and I’m like, “Are you kidding? You have an incredibly important role to play in this church! You can pray!” This church needs all the prayer you can muster! I need all the prayer you can muster! If you still have life and breath, you have important work to do for God’s kingdom. I visited Bill Lively recently, and when he hugged me, as of course he always does, he said, “I love you and pray for you every day.” And I said, “I know you do. Thank you!” He hasn’t been able to set foot in this church at least as long as I’ve been here, and I can sense the power of his prayers for me and this church! He’s like Simeon or Anna! Don’t you want to be a Simeon or an Anna?

Now, for the rest of us—who are middle-aged, or young adults, or youth, or children—can we please not wait until we get older to make Jesus Christ our top priority?

Just in time for New Year’s, we have a list of most popular New Year’s Resolutions, according to a recent Harris Poll: Number one: Lose weight. Number two: Improve your finances. Number three: Exercise. Number four: Get a new job. Number five: Eat healthier. Number six: Manage stress better. Number seven: Stop smoking.

It’s clear from this list that Americans are deeply concerned about being healthy, so that we can live longer. And we’re deeply concerned about making or saving more money, so that we can live better. And that’s all well and good… But as we strive to live longer and better, are we also striving to live more faithfully. Where is that on the list?

What if our number one resolution this next year was to be a more faithful follower of Jesus Christ? What would that look like? What changes would we have to make? How would we have to rearrange our schedules and shift our priorities?

After all, when Simeon met our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple that day, he didn’t need anything else. “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation.” What do we think we need besides Jesus? And we might say, “Well, our health… food, clothing, shelter…” Well, of course. But life, any life—no matter how long that life is, no matter well-lived it may be—is only a tiny blip in light of eternity. We know that, right?

So the most important thing we can do in this life is to prepare for life in the world to come. First, this means making sure that we possess life in the world to come—eternal life. We do this by receiving God’s completely free gift of forgiveness and eternal life that he’s made available through Christ.

Notice in today’s scripture that Jesus’ parents are very scrupulous to follow the law and go to the temple and do what? Offer a sacrifice of an animal—a burnt offering—in order to forgive their sins and reconcile them to God. But think about this… because of what Mary and Joseph’s son would do for the world on the cross about 33 years later, they won’t need to offer sacrifices ever again. Because Jesus Christ became for us our once-and-for-all perfect sacrifice, offered without price for the forgiveness of our sins, in order to bring us into a relationship with God. In order to save us. In order to give us eternal life.

So the Second Coming, therefore, isn’t something that needs to frighten us because we can know that we’re saved when we meet Jesus face to face!

I never get tired of saying that this gift of eternal life is offered completely free, without price. It costs us nothing to be saved. The problem is, most of us don’t have nothing. We have our pride, for instance. We have our own righteousness. We have a sense that we’re “not too bad,” and so long as we’re not-too-bad, so long as we’re “good enough,” surely God will save us. Isn’t that what the Pharisee thought in the parable when he prayed, “I thank you God that I’m not like all those other sinners, like that tax collector over there.” Because that Pharisee, this deeply religious man, thought he had something to show for himself. The tax collector, by contrast, knew better… He knew that he had nothing—no righteousness to call his own, nothing to justify himself, nothing to depend on except his belief that God would be merciful. If God was going to forgive him, he knew it would only be by God’s grace and not because of anything he’d done to earn it.

God’s Son came into this world and lived and suffered and died and rose again for those of us who have nothing to show for ourselves… If you have nothing to show for yourself before God, then the good news is that you have just enough to be saved. Amen?

And for the rest of us… who’ve already accepted this free gift of salvation, we know how important it is to help other people find salvation—to be witnesses, the way Anna and Simeon were. We’re on the clock, and our time is running out. We only have a limited amount of time to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ. Our prayers, our words, and our actions might mean the difference between heaven and hell for someone we know and love. Our responsibility is awesome. Our task is urgent. And all of us have a role to play.

[Close by reciting Wesleyan Covenant Prayer:]

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

Amen.

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