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Christmas brings hope - Luke 2:21-40

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the Riverside Church service on 13th December 2020.

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Advent 3: Luke 2 v 21-40 “Christmas brings Hope”

Intro

As I have got older, one of my favourite times in the day is bedtime – rest after a hard day of effort is very much appreciated (some days I get out of bed and can’t wait to get back there later!). But bedtime is pretty unpopular with most kids – going to sleep marks for them the end of their fun. Our kids love getting to stay up a bit later and would happily choose to do that in 363 days of the year. The only 2 nights they are really happy to go to bed are the night before their birthday, and Christmas eve – both times because they know there is something brilliant coming the next day, something even better than whatever fun today offered. In the weeks leading up to Christmas my kids are so excited and when Christmas eve finally comes they are delighted when bedtime comes because of what is coming next.

There is a day coming for every child of God when they will close their eyes for the last time and when they wake up it will be all their Christmases rolled into one. Most people in the world fear the day of their death, but Christians don’t need to and indeed believers like Simeon in our passage today can welcome that day with the joy that Jesus’ certain salvation brings. Christmas brings hope even in the face of death, especially in the face of death, and my prayer is that this morning the Christians amongst us will once more be filled with joy and expectation because of that hope and that any here that don’t yet know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour can come and taste that certain hope for the first time.

  • Faith-filled eyes see this hope (v21-35)

In verses 21-35 it is Faith-filled eyes that see this hope. Mary and Joseph are faithful Jews and so they go to the Temple in Jerusalem with Jesus to present him to God. You can read more about the specific regulations they were following in Exodus 13 and Leviticus 12 but the most important thing to know about here is that they are obeying laws that point them back to God’s greatest rescue of his people so far – these laws point back to the exodus from Egypt when God spared the firstborn males of Israel where blood had been painted over the doorposts. But that rescue was way more than 1000 years before this and ever since then God’s people have been waiting for something even better.

In fact, at this point it has been 400 years since God even last spoke to His people through a prophet, and so whilst many still believe he is a God who rescues, and whilst the law that they stick to reminds them of that, the situation they are in is pretty grim. The Romans are in charge and the nation of Israel mourns; when a child falls over and scrapes their knee what they want most is to be hugged and told that it will get better. Israel desperately needs what God has been promising them, she needs to be consoled, she needs to be rescued. But there is no sign of that happening.

So as this humble little family go to offer the sacrifice in the Temple the visit should be pretty quiet and unremarkable - the sacrifice they can afford is the one for poorer people, “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” Nothing about them should cause any real excitement.

But in the Temple is this man Simeon and what a wonderful description Luke gives us of him; “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 on him.” By the Holy Spirit, God has made Simeon understand that he isn’t going to die until he has seen the promised rescuer arrive. So Simeon is waiting, waiting, waiting for the Messiah, the one who would comfort the people of Israel, the one who would fulfil God’s gracious promises. And as he walked into the Temple that morning he wouldn’t have known it, but his Christmas Eve had arrived. Soon, he was going to be able to finally close his eyes and go to sleep really excited about what he would see when he opened them again.     

 

V27 “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 saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss[d] your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’

Everyone else in the Temple would not have given this baby a second look but Simeon’s eyes saw something more because he trusted God. He looked with the faith that God had given to him and he saw consolation, and salvation and revelation and glory. All in this little baby from this humble family. He saw God’s plan continuing to be worked out.

What do you see when you look at Jesus? A baby that adds to the festivity at this time of year? A good teacher wrongly understood? Or are you seeing clearly like Simeon, are you looking with faith and so recognise this baby as the climax and fulfilment of the God of love’s promises to humanity? Because that is exactly who he is. And that is such wonderful news for us because in the face of our biggest problems, those of our own sin and death, we don’t just need cheering up a bit for one month in the year, and we don’t just need a good religious leader to follow. Only offering us that would be a bit like a fireman giving us the number for a good restaurant while our house was burning down. Forget that, put the fire out!

 

What we need is for God to do something that we couldn’t – we need God to make a way for us to be comforted and consoled, to be forgiven from our sin, to be brought close to him, to be given life that will last far longer than our earthly bodies will. And in Jesus God has done just that. That’s what Simeon sees when he sings “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” We need to think about this so much more, we need to allow our hearts to respond as they should, with gratitude and joy as we are comforted and consoled by this wonderful truth. And when I say “we”, I mean those of us who have come to Jesus already. Our God has rescued His people and we are privileged and secure forever.

You See, if you aren’t a Christian yet, what is it that is holding you back? You need the hope that Jesus offers just as much as anyone else. Could it be that you are offended because you think that those people here who are already Christians imagine that they are better than you because they know Jesus as their saviour? That just isn’t true - that word revelation that Simeon sings about is such an important one.

 

Jesus reveals God to us – He takes the initiative, he opens our eyes to reality. It was God’s work in Simeon that allowed him to see Jesus clearly. We are helpless. Everyone here, including you, whether they realise it or not, is blind when it comes to Jesus. But when we are honoured enough to have the news of Jesus spoken to us, God is willing to give us faith and let us see clearly. So this morning as you have the incredible privilege of looking over Simeon’s shoulder at the Saviour of the world, don’t reject him and walk off looking for something else.   

 

This is so so serious as verses 34&35 show. Simeon blesses the family and then says to Mary; “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. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” With eyes of faith Simeon does what we as a church try to do as well –that is, he looks at Christmas and immediately fast-forwards to Easter. That sword that will pierce Mary’s soul is the cross of Jesus Christ and it is absolutely necessary for the rescue of God’s people.

As this little baby, who is the promised salvation of God, as he reveals God to us He will also reveal the reality of our hearts. It is hard to be against a little baby but the baby grew into a man and that man has divided people ever since. And the division is a simple one – there are people who will accept Jesus as their saviour, and there are people who will reject him. We will either have humble hearts that admit our sin and brokenness and need of the salvation Jesus accomplishes, or else we will have proud hearts that show we don’t think we need Jesus (even if our voices never say those exact words).

 

But the wonder of the Christmas message is this; no matter how hard your heart has been, no matter how many years you have rejected Jesus, no matter where your sin and rejection of him has taken you, you are once more offered the chance to come to him in faith, like Simeon, and be filled with joy as you realise that he is what you have been waiting for all this time. Waste no more years of your life in darkness, come into the light of a real and eternal relationship with God through Jesus our saviour. It is Faith-filled eyes see this certain hope.

  • Faith-filled hearts enjoy this hope (v36-40)

And it is faith-filled hearts that enjoy this certain hope. When the world around us thinks of heaven they picture clouds and harps and religious duty and it is all so very boring and sterile. But they are totally and utterly wrong. It is impossible to really imagine the sheer joy and excitement that is waiting for God’s people but we get little tastes of it now.

And Anna, at the end of this passage, tasted more of it that most of us have. She only got to enjoy married life for 7 years before her husband died and then spent the next 50 or sixty years ‘never leaving the temple but worshipping night and day, fasting and praying.’ Without the eyes of faith this sounds like such a waste – after all, if there is heaven, it has plenty of worship and religious duty so why spend your whole life on it as well?  I can imagine this godly 84 year old lady, with a tear in her eye, laughing quietly as this idea was put to her, and then replying with a simple, “God has satisfied me with His joy for the 8 short decades that I have lived to this point, and I cannot wait for the next million years in his very presence.”  

“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 Israel.” Redemption is a business word, a money word and it should help us to see what is actually worth spending our lives on. Every week we try to remind each other from God’s word that His ways are best and that trying to live our own way doesn’t lead to lasting joy but leads instead to death. How is that going for you right now? If you are living, like Anna, all out for God’s glory you aren’t missing out on anything because of that great redemption that Jesus has paid on our behalf. He has paid for your sin, he is with you now and what he has prepared for you in the future is incredible, listen to this quote from theologian Loraine Boettner, a quote that Simeon and Anna I am sure would have loved;

“If our vision could penetrate the veil that separates this world from the next, so that we could really comprehend the beauty and glory of that realm, we may be sure that we would be far less given to tears, that we would rejoice greatly when our loved ones are called home.”

Having seen Jesus, the prophesised, promised salvation of the earth, both Simeon and Anna are now ready to close their eyes on this world, fall asleep to the limits and problems of this sin-bound existence, and to open their eyes again in the direct presence of their God and Saviour where they will be able to carry on enjoying him, a bit like they were before, in the Shadowlands as CS Lewis calls this world, but also in a completely new and different way that we can’t fully grasp now but that those of us who belong to Jesus will one day experience as well.

 

It’s Christmas eve every day for people who have seen Jesus for who he is, for Christians; we can get on with living confident lives in a difficult world and we can be delighted when the time comes for us to go to sleep, because something even better is on its way.  Christmas brings Hope and that hope is Jesus Christ.   

Luke 2 v 21-40 “Christmas brings Hope” Home Group Questions

 

  • How good are you at waiting? How should the great things Christians are looking forward to help us to wait with expectation and excitement rather than impatience and frustration?

 

 

  • Why could Simeon recognise who Jesus was (verse 25-27)? How does this help and instruct us when we see so many people we love living without hope in Jesus?

 

 

 

  • What comfort and consolations (verse 25 and 29-32) does Jesus bring to those who put their faith in him? Which of these do you need to spend more time thinking about and praying for?

 

 

  • Why does Simeon moves from Christmas in verses 28-32 to Easter in verses 34-35. Why is this so important for us to do as well and how can we go about this in the lead up to Christmas?

 

 

  •  How attractive is Anna’s life to you (verse 36-38)? Considering the reality of God’s promises, why has Anna’s life not been a wasted one?  

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