First Sunday of Christmas 28 December 2014
(Isaiah 61:10-62:3 Psalm 148 Galatians 4:4-7 Luke 2:22-40)
“The Power of a Promise!”
Today we hear the story of two elders, two grandparent-like individuals who have been waiting a lifetime to see the Messiah. They know the promises of old that God will send a messiah! They know the passages from the prophets how God desires to be with God’s people in a new way. They trust in the promises from ancient times that a savior will come.
Simeon has waited all his life for this child. Simeon is an old man carrying a vast hope.
Anna, too, the only woman in the Gospel who is called a prophetess, has fasted and prayed in the temple night and day during her long widowhood. Anna is 84 years old, and now she can sing praises to God as she finally meets the One who will redeem Israel. This is an amazing story as to how believing a promise keeps hope alive for two people!
I have a more current and personal story of another individual who also knows the power of believing a promise. This is my six-year-old grandson, Austin.
A few months ago our family was together for several days at National Harbor, near Washington, DC. We had planned that, one evening Austin and I would spend some time together playing in the sand down by the river. That day I received an emergency call, so I came back to Gettysburg unexpectedly earlier in the day; but I promised Austin that I would be back by 10:00pm that evening so we could still go play by the river.
So, although I was not there to see this, my wife tells the story that throughout the entire day, Austin kept mentioning my promise that I’d be back by 10:00.
As often happens with these things, I was later than I had expected in getting back, so, as 10:00 approached, they went to the room to wait. 10:00pm came and went, but Austin refused to go to bed. He refused even to take off his shoes. He refused to take off his jacket. And even as he began falling asleep on the couch, he refused to lie down.
He continued to believe in my promise that I would return! And, of course, when I finally walked through the door closer to 11:00pm, there he was wide awake, ready to play!
How many of us—parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents–have had similar experiences?
“Auntie, remember yesterday you promised we will build a sand castle today?”
“Mommy, remember you promised we can ride bikes this morning!”
“Daddy, you did promise we would throw the football when you got home from work this evening.”
A promise is a powerful thing!
And so, after all those years of believing the promise for the Messiah, both Simeon and Anna sing a song of gratitude once they meet this baby whom they believe will change the world.
And so the story of these two grandparent figures, waiting, and hoping, and trusting, seemingly out of place and forgotten in the corners of the temple, remind us that ours is a God who keeps promises.
The Gospel writer Luke doesn’t want his readers to miss the prophecy so many ancient promises of what this child will eventually accomplish, even as he describes the earliest days of this tiny baby.
But one important point I’d like to make. Contrary to what most of us have heard most of our lives, Luke’s reference to, “… sword piercing Mary’s soul…” probably has very little to do with Mary’s anguish at witnessing Jesus’ death. You may recall, in Luke’s Gospel, Mary is not present at Golgotha when Jesus dies—only the Gospel writer John places her there.
What seems much more in line with Luke’s theology of discerning God’s Spirit in daily life, “a sword piercing someone’s soul,” the fact that Luke puts that in this story, may be about discerning what God is doing in someone’s life, especially when there are painful consequences.
How often does it not feel that our souls are being pierced as we declare our faith in Jesus, seeking to find God in the struggles of a darkened world, seemingly gone mad with greed and war and violence?
At Christmas, I believe there is a time when we all step back and pause, and maybe we do it better in these few days immediately following December 25, looking deeper for meaning in our lives, wondering yet again, how Christmas, how Jesus, and how faith fits into all we do.
And to discover such meaning and purpose, I believe, we need to begin with the promise from ancient times, come true on that sacred night at Bethlehem, when God in Jesus said to our world: “see, I have kept my promise and I have come in a very human way to live with you and to love you, even when there is a sword piercing your soul, even when it is most difficult to believe.” And the power that came with the fulfillment of that promise in Bethlehem determines how we live today.
I believe this, and if I ever begin to doubt it, I simply remember another true story, but this is a story of a six-year-old boy I know very well, waiting, fighting off sleep, refusing to believe anything other than that the one who made the promise will surely show up.
There is magnificent power in God’s promise come true at Christmas in the birth of the Christ Child! Simeon and Anna never gave up believing! May we, also, never give up believing this magnificent promise come true of God’s love in our lives! Amen.