1st Sunday after Christmas
First Sunday of Christmas (Series B) Vicar Stoppenhagen
Text: Luke 2:22-40
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh
December 27, 2020
One of the many flaws of my generation is our strong disdain for our elders. Now, in every generation there’s always going to be a certain level of rebellion against mom and dad—but none of you would know anything about that. For people my age, however, the usual agitation has become outright contempt. Let’s be real. Don’t you see how you’re destroying the earth with your fabric softener? How you’re killing the economy with your scorn for our avocado toast? Didn’t think so. Thankfully, I’ll be able to save the world by shopping online for a new vintage herdsman cashmere sweater on my new iPhone 12, which I’m certain was made with responsibly sourced rare-earth minerals. You old folks just don’t get it.
Of course, such generational conflict would have been inconceivable in first century Judea. The nuclear family living in a house of its own was a foreign concept. Odds are, you would have shared your home not only with parents and siblings, but also with a set of grandparents, an unmarried great aunt, and maybe even a couple cousins. In other words, you spent a lot of time with the oldsters—learning from them, caring for them, and tolerating their fabric softener habit. You either all got along, or you were in for a pretty miserable existence.
So when Mary and Joseph came into the temple for the purification after Jesus’ birth, they would have known how to interact respectfully with the friendly geriatrics they encountered (—a skill my generation will probably never master). When Simeon and Anna walked up to them and started singing Jesus’ praises, the first words out of Mary’s mouth would not have been, “OK, boomer.” Instead, she and Joseph would have listened patiently and intently to what they said. All of us today—young and old alike—have a few things we can learn from Anna and Simeon, too. I’ve found about three to share with you today.
The first one is (mostly) for the youngsters: Church is a good place to be. It seems simple, I know. But your parents and grandparents are right. Church is a good place to be. In fact, it is such a good place to be that Anna never left! She did not depart from the temple, Luke tells us, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And she had been doing this for decades! Twenty-four hours a day, words of prayer and thanksgiving were on her lips as she awaited the redemption of Jerusalem. And finally, that day had come. Finally, he who would redeem Israel from all their sins was brought into the temple, like a lamb prepared for sacrifice.
Had Anna been out at the market, she might have missed Jesus. Had she been out late partying the night before, she might have missed Jesus. Had she taken her kids to their ever-important soccer game that morning, they all would have missed Jesus coming to them. Despite what most of the world might think, you can’t commune with Jesus in nature. Sure, he certainly dwells in and enlivens his creation, but you can only meet him where he says—and that’s in his house, at his table. Here he gives you forgiveness. Here he gives you life. Here he strengthens you in love for him and your neighbor. Here, you commune with him face to face.
And you not only commune with Jesus, you commune with the whole body of believers. Granted, they’re not a very glamorous bunch. Yeah, it might include your parents and a healthy number of old folks. But these people sitting with you here today care for your earthly and eternal life more than any soccer teammates or old college friends ever will. So don’t be mad when they call you and up and ask why they haven’t seen you at church in a while. They’re doing it because they love you, and they know you need Jesus. And when you know times are tough for them and they might be a little lonely, call them up. Take them to lunch. Let the love of Christ leak out of your punkish heart just a little bit, and you might learn that old people can be pretty cool.
The second lesson is (mostly) for the oldsters: Be patient with the youngsters. Be patient when they leave. Be patient when they ignore you. Be patient even after many years and they still haven’t come back. Be patient. This is Simeon’s lesson for us. He was a righteous and devout man, waiting for the consolation of Israel. And as far as we can tell, he had been waiting for a long time. But God promised that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. There was no promise when the Christ would appear. Only that he would show up at some point. Simeon simply had to be patient.
Of course, God makes no such promises when it comes to our own children. There’s no guarantee that they’ll come back. That’s why Simeon’s example is so important to follow. He knows that the Messiah wouldn’t wait to appear until Israel got good with God. God works on his own time and calls his people to himself at exactly the right moment. So like Simeon, we don’t wait on others. We wait for the Lord, the Psalmist says, and in his word we hope. Sometimes a seed remains dormant for many years before it finally sprouts up. So we remain persistent in prayer for those who have strayed. But in the end, our eyes remain fixed on Jesus, because in him is our redemption.
The third and final lesson from Simeon and Anna is for all of us. It’s not easy to follow Jesus. Simeon makes this clear to Mary before they leave (and this is where I think the NIV gets an A for clarity—gasp!). Simeon says: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against.” In other words, Jesus is a stumbling block, and it’ll be hard to follow him faithfully. That’s why some people are so quick to leave. His wacky ways are too radical for the faint of heart: welcoming the outsider, surviving on the hospitality of strangers, suffering immense pain for the sake of others, and dying an inglorious death by crucifixion.
When faced with its true radicality, many people, young and old alike, will say “no thanks” to Christianity. They will say that your Christianity is nothing but weakness; it’s nothing but political defiance; it’s nothing but child’s play, and you’re taking it too seriously. But that’s what God in the flesh, Jesus in the manger, calls us to be—weaklings, deviants, children who take their play a little too seriously—all for his sake. The world doesn’t understand why we would skip the soccer game to go God’s house. It can’t comprehend why we would bear patiently with any form of suffering.
But when we embrace the presence of God and the patience of the Christian life, we receive a third and final gift in the face of our tribulations: peace. God’s presence in Word and Sacrament continually strengthen our patience to bear the crosses he has given us so that we’re finally able to join Simeon in his song: Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace, according to your Word. In the end, that’s all that matters—being ready to hit the heavenly highway and depart this life in peace. The fabric softener and avocado toast? Not so important in the long run. Not worth the fight. Being in God’s presence eternally? That’s something worth waiting (and fighting) for.
In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.