Pastor Kyle Bitter - The First Sunday After Christmas - Sunday, December 27, 2020

Text: Luke 2:25-40

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How do you think people responded to the shepherds? The familiar Christmas story ends with the shepherds going to Bethlehem, seeing the baby Jesus, and then “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Luke 2:17b-18 – NIV84). In their joy, I wonder how far the shepherds ranged? The town of Bethlehem? The surrounding country? Did they go door to door, or just meet people on the streets? Did they make it to nearby Jerusalem? Most of those questions are ones that we can only speculate about, but there were some who shared the shepherds' joy, and perhaps some of them even went to see for themselves. I wonder how many other visitors there were to the stable that night and in the following days, all in response to the shepherds' frantic excitement?

But, as you imagine all this taking place, you can probably envision another reaction that is just as likely to have taken place and very different. If the shepherds went around at night, were there some who didn’t appreciate being awakened no matter what the reason? If they interrupted people during the day, were there some who were too busy with work and other daily activities to pay much attention? It’s not hard to imagine questions that might have been asked. Who’s watching those valuable flocks while you guys are running around the city? A night sky filled with angels? Are you sure you weren’t dreaming? And a child in a manger? That doesn’t sound like the Messiah we’ve been expecting! It’s interesting to think about, but it’s mostly speculation because the Bible doesn’t share details.

But, such thoughts do set the stage for the events recorded in today’s Gospel. These events that took place about a month later in nearby Jerusalem – a relatively short trip from Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph were taking Jesus to Jerusalem to complete the obligatory sacrifices in keeping with Old Testament law. Then they would return home. But how much excitement would early appearance of the young Messiah generate? Who would come to meet him? Luke introduces us to a couple of people. Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Holy Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.” (Luke 2:25-28 – NIV84). We can’t say if the shepherds had made it to Jerusalem on Christmas night, but with a month’s passage of time one would have to imagine word had gotten around. Whatever the details of that were, the Holy Spirit had led this man Simeon to the temple court. But who was he? Other than his famous words enshrined in the songs of the church, we don’t know much about him other than that he was a righteous and devout man who was eagerly waiting for the Messiah. Most scholars envision him as an older man who had been waiting for a long time, although even that can’t be said with complete certainty. Based on what we know, or rather don’t know, Simeon may have been a relatively insignificant figure on the spectrum of Jewish society.

Luke describes one other person who was there. “There was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:36-38 – NIV84). A widow – tragic on a personal level, and even more tragic on a cultural level. Lacking the social safety nets our society has today, people like Anna were almost entirely dependent on the generosity of others to survive. Like Simeon, a pious, devout child of God who was eagerly waiting for the Messiah but was also a relatively insignificant figure on the spectrum of Jewish society.

And so, the question has to be asked. Where were all the important people? Where were the experts in Old Testament prophecy that was now being fulfilled? Where were the leaders of Jewish religion and society? After all, this was the temple – a structure built entirely for the purpose of facilitating the worship lives of God’s people as they waited for this very day! This was the single most important event that had happened at the temple to date, so where was everyone? It’s a simple question with a sad and simple answer. It seems they were busy with other things that seemed more important than this.

Does the same thing happen with Christmas today? Perhaps that seems like a foolish question at first – Christmas is probably the most celebrated holiday in our country, and I’d venture to say that even people who have no interest in Christianity probably at the very least know why Christians celebrate Christmas. But think about our own celebration. Was what happened two days ago for us the best news we could possibly hear? Or was it just the same story that we hear every year? Was the good news of Christmas the focus of everything, or did we find ourselves distracted with trying to figure out how to do our favorite traditions in new and creative ways in an unusual year? Now that a couple of days have passed, is the excitement and joy of Christmas still present? Or has it already been eclipsed by the other urgent and pressing priorities we find on the other 364 days of the year? I’m not sure I like my answers to those questions, and I would guess that you don’t like your answers either. But none of that should be a surprise.

Good News For You!

You see, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Simeon himself prophesied that this would happen. The sinfulness that is embedded in every human heart, including you and me, has no interest in Jesus, and sees everything as a higher priority than him. Simeon prophesied that this would be the case. “Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35a – NIV84). Some would rise, to use Simeon’s term, and experience the wonderful blessings of knowing and trusting Jesus as their Savior. But others would “fall,” and miss out entirely, going down to their own spiritual destruction, sadly distracted by so many other priorities.

But that’s exactly why the arrival of Jesus is such good news and why Simeon found such reason to rejoice. Unlike any person who has ever lived, Jesus would never waver in his priorities. Everything he would do would display God’s perfect love for imperfect people, saving people who often seem as though they don’t even want to be saved! As that all unfolded, Jesus would be rejected, not just by the people he came to save but also by God himself as he suffered the punishment sin deserves. It would be horrible to watch! Simeon told Mary: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35b – NIV84). But horrible though it would be, this is the best of news. The rejection Jesus would suffer was in place of you and me. He would live the life we can’t and would dying the death we rightly deserve, so that our relationship with God might be restored and the gates of God’s kingdom of heaven would be open to us! It was good news for Simeon, and it’s good news for you and me and every single other person who hears it! That’s why Simeon was inspired to burst into familiar poetry when he saw Jesus with his own eyes! “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people!” (Luke 2:29-31 – NIV84). Good news for Simeon, and good news for everyone! God’s salvation, right here in plain sight for all to see! Good news indeed, and as the Christmas angels sang, good news that brings about great joy when we see what God accomplishes through such good news.

Great Joy For You!

It’s joy that you can see in the simplest of ways. The fact that we gathered this week, whether physically or online, to celebrate our Savior’s birth is evidence that Simeon’s prophecy has been fulfilled. The fact that we have gathered again today is further evidence of the very same thing! People like you and me never saw the angels. We never heard from the shepherds. We never met Simeon. In fact, I would venture to guess that the vast majority of us have no ancestral connect to anyone who was in the temple court on that day. And yet, God has seen to it that despite the sinfulness that is so deeply embedded into us from birth, our lives would be turned around. He worked things out so that we heard the good news, and the Holy Spirit led us to trust Jesus as our Savior. It’s a joyful fulfillment of what Simeon prophesied when he said this child would be “a light for revelation to the gentiles!” (Luke 2:32a – NIV84). God would take people who had no historic connection to his chosen people of old and by the power of the Holy Spirit, adopt us into his family, making us spiritual descendants of all those Old Testament heroes, spiritual children of Abraham, spiritual relatives of Jesus himself, looking forward to spending eternity with him.

And the joy continues beyond the changes we’ve seen in our lives. God gives us the additional honor of standing alongside Simeon and Anna and the shepherds and all the rest of them. He gives the honor of standing on the pages of the history of God’s people as they are still being written today, watching as he continues to work through the good news of Christmas to bring forgiveness and joy into the lives of others, and he gives us the additional honor of being a part of that, speaking alongside Simeon, Anna, and the shepherds and then watching as the Holy Spirit does his work! That’s what Simeon was talking about in the final words of his song when he said that this child would be the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:32b – NIV84). May God allow us to see that glory today too! May he open our eyes to the chances we have to share the Christmas good news, and may he grant us the additional honor of seeing his Spirit work through that simple message to change hearts and lives and bring great joy to many others! It’s God’s News For You, Good News for You that brings Great Joy to You and others. Amen.