God With Us
First Sunday after Christmas
December 30 and 31, 2017
In Old Testament days, it was easy to believe that God was with you if your children were healthy, your reputation was solid, your land was paid for, and your nation were free and prosperous.
In these days, it’s easy to believe that God is with us when we get to tuck our children and grandchildren in their beds at night, warm and safe as they can be. It’s easy to believe that God is with us and is providing for us when our cars start right up on the coldest of morning, when our family holiday meals are festive and pleasant. It’s easy to believe that God is with us and smiling on us when we’re on our way to getting our houses paid for, our benefit plans are in order, and our vacations are planned and paid for in advance.
Our sermon theme today is “God With Us,” and for many of us, including my family, that’s a pretty easy proposition to believe. For many of us, if you were to put blessings on one side of the scale and troubles on the other, it wouldn’t even be close.
But if you’re one of 34 million children worldwide who are suffering from severe and acute malnutrition, you’d have to wonder about this faraway father in heaven who has supposedly redeemed and adopted you as sons and daughters. And if you’re one of over 600,000 homeless on any given night in the United States, you’d have to wonder about that Christmas joy the angels were singing about and that good news the shepherds couldn’t stop talking about.
And just to make it personal, if your name is Maria and you and your ten year old daughter are walking the cold streets of Minneapolis this afternoon, your story includes all kinds of addiction, all kinds of domestic abuse, all kinds of mental illness, you just finished eating a meal provided at a soup kitchen, and you know it will be three hours yet before you can check into a shelter for the night, you have to be wondering if God really is with you, and if he is, is this the best He can do?
To our text we go this morning, where we find that God was in fact with Mary and Joseph, He was with Simeon, and He was with Anna.
God was with Mary and Joseph in the prescribed (rituals). One advantage of belonging to the Jewish faith was that your days, weeks, months, and years were structured. There were the daily major feasts, including the Feast of Unleavened Bread / Passover, the Feast of Weeks / Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths. There were minor feasts, including the Feast of Trumpets, The Date of Atonement, and the Day of Assembly. Jewish believers knew where to go for the forgiveness of their sins, they knew where to take their stained and soiled hearts, they knew what sacrifices needed to be offered, they knew that God was with them in the prescribed rituals of their faith.
Mary and Joseph knew that God was with them, as Jesus first sheds blood on the (eighth day). Keep in mind that everything that happened to Jesus all that that He did was in fulfillment of OT prophecy and for the salvation of the world. Mary and Joseph knew exactly what to do on the 8th day. This ritual would take place in their home, and at the when his blood is first shed he receives the name given by the angel, Jesus. Paul teaches us in Colossians 2 that for New Testament Christians, to be uncircumcised is to be sinful and in rebellion against God. The benefits of Jesus’ circumcision are received by us in Baptism, where our hearts and minds are circumcised or changed. New Testament believers know where to go for the forgiveness of sins and to be incorporated into the family of God – we go to the waters of Baptism.
Mary and Joseph knew that God was with them, As they fulfill the law on the (40th day). Keep in mind that Jewish firstborn sons and animals had been spared and passed over by the angel of death in the Exodus from Egypt. At every Passover meal, the son would ask what was meant by all of these detailed rituals in the Passover, and the father would teach the family the story of the Exodus. For this reason, firstborn sons and animals belonged to God, and needed to be bought back or redeemed with a sacrifice of animal blood. Families who could afford it would sacrifice a lamb, poor families like Mary and Joseph could offer two turtle doves or pigeons. On the 40th day, Mary and Joseph knew that God was with them, as they brought the baby Jesus to the temple, rituals were followed as prescribed.
Mary and Joseph knew that God would be with them as Jesus would grow and fulfill his mission in life. Simeon reminded them that this child was appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, that he would meet up with all kinds of opposition, and that as Jesus taught and made his way to the cross, the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed. They knew that God was with them As the sword pierced their hearts (from that day forward). One can only wonder how the Spirit guided them through the ups and the downs of God’s story unfolding in and through them, but we of this we are certain, when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.
Application #1 today is to rejoice in the presence of God as often as we meet up with God in those places he has promised to be found, in the preaching and teaching of His Word, in the waters of His baptism, in the bread and the wine of His Supper.
God was with Simeon in the (fullness of time). (Story of roommate in college who would eat a wonderful meal and then would say, “I can die and go to heaven now.” Or he would look out our dorm window with his binoculars and see a beautiful girl walking by and would say, “I can die and go to heaven now.” A bit of exaggeration there, to be sure.
It was no exaggeration for Simeon, after he held the baby Jesus in his arms, to say, “I can die and go to heaven now.” Luke makes it clear in our text that Simeon was connected in a strong way with the Spirit of God. One pastor writes it this way, “Simeon didn’t have the Holy Spirit because he was righteous and devout. Simeon was righteous and devout because he had the Holy Spirit.” Three indications we have in our text that God was with Simeon, as He is with us in a perfectly timed kind of a way.
First, God’s Spirit was with Simeon as he received direct (revelation). Like Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph, Simeon was a righteous member of Israel. Like all of them, the Spirit of God was leading and speaking to him in a direct fashion.
Second, God’s Spirit was with Simeon As he predicted nation-wide (conflict). Simeon prophecies that the word of revelation brought by Jesus would pass through Israel like a sword. The ministry of Jesus would compel men to reveal their secret thoughts. For those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, Jesus would be received as Savior and Lord. For those who were blind and deaf to what God was trying to give them, Jesus would produce misunderstanding and ignorance. Many would be scandalized and crushed by Jesus, only a few would be lifted up and rescued.
Third, God’s was with Simeon, As he departed in (peace). Once he held the infant Jesus in his own arms, he could die and go to heaven. His bucket list was complete. Check list completed. The peace the angels had promised, the peace the world had no idea of how to give, the peace that Jesus gives was his. All was well with his soul.
If application #1 was to rejoice in the presence of God as often as He meets up with us in Word and Sacrament, application #2 is to rejoice in knowing that God keeps every one of His promises and that He does so with perfect timing.
If part #1 was that God was with Mary and Joseph in prescribed rituals, and if part #2 was that God was with Simeon in the fullness of time, then part #3 is that God was with Anna in all the (chapters of life). Anna had lived through all three vocations a woman can live. Until she was married, she was a virgin and cared for by her parents. For seven years she was married and protected and provided for by her husband. From the time her husband died and until she was 84 she lived as a widow and was cared for by other family and her local church.
Luke records that coming up at that very hour Anna began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. In other words, she was famous for spending her days in the temple worshiping and fasting and praying. She may very well have irritated the highly educated priests and scribes and Pharisees who wanted nothing to do with this old foolish woman. But that didn’t seem to matter to Anna. What mattered is that the Lord God of Israel was her God, what mattered is that He was with her and could be trusted. Two observations come to mind regarding Anna.
Observation #1is that She found what she was (looking for). As often as she went looking for the presence of God in the temple, she found the presence of God. As often as she went looking for the forgiveness of sins in the prescribed rituals of her day, she found the forgiveness of sins. The Spirit of God had worked inside of her a confidence that the Messiah was on his way, and when He came her way, she recognized him. To this very day, dear friends in Christ, the gifts of God are received only by those who are looking for them.
Observation #2 regarding Anna the prophetess is that Like the shepherds, she couldn’t keep good news (to herself) In our text for today, Simeon is like the angels, he is the herald of Good News. Anna is like the shepherds, she responds to the good news by spreading the message of the Nunc Dimittis. Whereas the shepherds couldn’t stop talking about the birth of Jesus, Anna couldn’t stop talking about the death of Jesus and the redemption of souls it would bring.
Application #3 is to recommit ourselves to living every chapter of life to the glory of God and for the spreading of the Good News especially to those who are having a hard time believing that God is with them.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who like Mary and Joseph wake up every morning comforted by the presence of God but at the same time uncomfortable with the reality that so many are waking up without a roof over their heads and even worse, these folks are convinced that if there is a loving God, He is far away. Like Simeon, they rejoice that God’s Spirit is leading them through life, but at the same time they are haunted by the reality that millions are living and dying without the peace that only Jesus Christ can give. And like Anna, they are as grateful as they can be that Christmas joy is ruling in their family, and at the same time they wonder which neighbors most need their help in these days. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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