Luke 2:22-40 (NIV)
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”),
24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
25 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.
26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
27 Moved by the 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,
28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.
34 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,
35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,
37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.
38 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.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.
40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
Upon seeing the boy Jesus, Simeon, a righteous and devout servant of the Lord, had said, “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory of your people Israel.” And the prophet Anna, another servant of the Lord who was present, (the scripture states that she was continually at the Temple, fasting, praying, and worshiping God) had described the child in reference to the redemption of Jerusalem. Jerusalem – this was the holy city of Israel, the Mecca, if you will, of the people of Israel. And despite being God’s chosen people, these were a people who had some good times and some bad times in God’s eyes; they had gotten in trouble on more than a few occasions. But nevertheless, this is the story of Israel, and it was their capital Jerusalem that this boy Jesus would one day redeem.
Let’s set that aside for a moment and come to today. There was a young boy growing up in the city, about six years old, and just starting elementary school. His eyes were bright and full of hope. He was ready to make friends, learn, play, laugh, and run around with the other kids. The boy had a younger sister who was just about a year younger than he was, and he cared about her so deeply. Their mom was single. He never knew his father, and his mom rarely, if ever, talked about him. But in order to take care of her two children that she loved more than anything, she had to work two jobs. As the boy grew up over the school years, he saw his mother less and less; she had to continue working more and more in order to take care of her kids. Eventually, when the boy was in middle school, she got sick and had to go the hospital; she didn’t have the health insurance to pay for her medical bills. The boy now had to take care of his younger sister. The boy had to find money to get them both the food and clothing that they needed.
Though through some of the friends he had made at school, the boy learned that he could sell drugs in order to make the money he needed to take care of his sister. But through selling drugs he became more and more familiar with the violence of the world through the beatings, fights, and shootings that he witnessed; he didn’t like it, but he realized it was the way his world worked. It was therefore the way he would have to operate. Eventually, as the years slowly passed and he was a student in the high school, his mother died. It was now only the boy and his sister in this world, alone. He began to drink alcohol and use the drugs he was supposed to sell in order to deal with all the pain and hurt that he felt on a daily basis. There was the pain of abandonment, the pain of the violence he witnessed too often, the pain of losing his mom, and the pain of worrying that he wouldn’t be able to provide for his sister. When the boy was in high school, he was arrested on drug charges and thrown in prison. This boy, who so many years ago had eyes that were bright and filled with the hope and the love and the joy of life, had become jaded by the dark realities of the world he had become accustomed to. He saw no hope.
But in this scripture we have Simeon and the prophet Anna, at the temple of Jerusalem, speaking of the young boy Jesus as a light of revelation for the gentiles, a hope of salvation for all nations, and the coming redemption of Israel. And here, separated by oceans, continents, and thousands of years of history, was another boy who had grown up in poverty without a father, who had lost his mother, and was forced to resort to selling drugs, violence, and alcoholism. Where was the light of revelation for him? Where was the salvation and the hope of redemption? On the one hand we have this boy, a gentile by every definition of the Jewish term, and on the other hand we have this boy Jesus at a temple in Jerusalem, who was supposed to represent the hope, redemption, and salvation in the midst of a painful and suffering world.
Anna saw the boy Jesus and referred to him as the redemption of Israel. Let’s take a quick look at the story of Israel. It is one characterized by a cycle of obedience, disobedience, violence, but yet one that is characterized by a hope for the future with the redemption of a promised Messiah. Abraham, so long ago, was told that his descendents would be as numerous as the stars; yet he was forced to sacrifice his only son only to have God stop him at the last minute and enter into a covenant with him. Generations later we have the beginnings of the twelve tribes of Israel, again marked by distrust, violence, and a brother sold into slavery by none other than his own family in a fit of jealousy. Generations later and the Israelites, God’s chosen people, are oppressed as slaves by the Egyptian Pharaoh, subject to beatings and even more violence. Leaders arise like Moses and Joshua, who led them through the desert. Meanwhile many wonder what hope they have for a future; many of them even give up. Finally they are brought to a new bountiful land, but yet again it is a process marked by war and blood as they take control of their new land. The Israelites beg God for leaders, only to have kings mistreat and abuse them. They start to worship foreign idols instead of the one true God. They even kill God’s prophets among them. They are forced into exile in Babylon, and years later are allowed to return, a broken people who have lost their identity in God. More religious leaders rise up, some bad, some good. Legalism abounds, and finally the birth of this boy Jesus happens. It is a moment that changed history, but the Jewish people didn’t know that at the time. Here was the one who was supposed to be a Messiah, a savior for the people who would rescue them out of this cycle. When some Jews began to recognize who he was, they thought he would lead them into victory over the Roman empire, but that’s not how the story goes.
Christ came and told them he was the fulfillment of the law. Christ demonstrated the redemption that God promises – he gave it to the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, and to the people who were tormented by demons over and over again in life, and to the man who was blind, who could finally see when Jesus rubbed mud in his eyes. He gave redemption when he brought Lazarus back from the dead. He gave hope when he healed sick sons and daughters and performed countless other miracles. This boy Jesus grew up into the Christ who gave hope to those who thought they had none. Christ demonstrated love to the poor and the outcast of society who thought they had nothing in life.
Christ was killed, crucified on a cross, but not just for the redemption of Israel, but for all of humanity and for the hope of all nations and gentiles. All people would one day have a hope of hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. And even through death, perhaps the worst you and I can imagine, and death where surely it is the very end, and there is without a doubt, absolutely, positively, and most certainly no returning from, Jesus Christ came back. Christ rose again to demonstrate to all the hope of a risen Lord and Savior, to give hope that even the worst in this world can be overcome, and to give hope that the evil in this world can be conquered after all. On every level, this is the message of Christ. This is a good news message that has persisted through persecution, doubt and critics. It is a gospel message that is alive today through a risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and a living God. This is a gospel message that proclaims the renewal of life and the renewal of hope. It is the renewal of the Jerusalem story that we, through Christ, are now a part of. And it is a gospel message that simply will not go away until all things are renewed through Christ.
This is even a gospel message that brings hope to that boy who grew up in the city, who was once hopeful with bright eyes looking for joy and happiness. It is a message that can even overcome the pain, despair, and hurt that boy has faced in this world; it is the good news of a very real Jesus Christ that will even offer that young man the redemption, hope, and love that he desires. It is a chance to receive the father that he never knew growing up. It is a chance to be an entirely new person in Jesus Christ and change the very fabric of a life to live in the faith of Jesus Christ. It is an opportunity to once again show his sister the love that he tried to show her so many times, but failed. It is a chance to show the people around him the the light of a revelation to the gentiles, the glory of God’s people, salvation from the evil of this world, and participate in the redemption of Jerusalem.
Christ has come to redeem Israel; the amazing thing is that we, once considered gentiles, are now a part of this people through Christ. God has come to restore each one of us so that we too may be a part of the loving kingdom of God, so that we may know God as our father, Christ as our savior, and the Holy Spirit as working within our lives to continually change us to become more like Christ.
This is our story – a story of people broken through the brokenness of this world, who without the grace of God would continue in our self-destruction through hate, jealousy, disease, drug-use, cancer, alcohol, addictions, wars, fights, and violence. But it is a story that has hope in a Messiah who overcomes all of these things of a selfish and prideful world and mends our own internal struggles, addictions, illnesses, and worries. It is a hope of being a part of a redeemed Jerusalem and being a child of God. God’s grace is there, available to all through the love of a living Christ. And so I finish tonight with this question: How will we respond to the hope that exists in Jesus Christ?