The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
It’s never been odd or alarming to hear an elderly Christian, particularly an elderly Christian who is bearing some exceptional cross of pain/grief, to lament how they’re still here and they wonder why God just doesn’t take them home to heaven already. They’re ready! All they’re waiting on is God! Given all the trials and tribulations of these past many months, this lament has grown very strong, and it’s certainly not limited to only the elderly. It’s become rather popular with Christians of all ages (at least those old enough to understand what’s going on; those who can feel the weight of the crosses they’ve been given to bear this past year).
It’s with this in mind that I direct your attention to the events recorded for us in the Gospel lesson for today. *I will caution you before we jump in. Knowing this story as well as we do, we run the risk of glossing over the text and not really interrogating it and wrestling it. What is God trying to teach us here? Being so familiar with this account, we sometimes let our complacency get in the way. Being as impatient as we are, we tend to gloss over and skip through to the end. We fill any gaps that may exist in our understanding with assumptions. After all, we already know all this, don’t we?
Now, in terms of assumptions, you probably already know where I’m going with this. That’s okay. Let’s go over it again. It’s good for us to be reminded. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that Simeon was an aged, elderly man. We’re told that at the time when Mary and Joseph came to the temple, the prophetess Anna was eighty-four years old. But… we have no idea how old Simeon was. God doesn’t tell us. For all we know, he could’ve been younger than Mary and Joseph! However, it’s far easier to assume that Simeon was old and barely holding onto life until he could get that one fleeting glimpse of the Messiah before being mercifully released in death. We hear Simeon sing out about how he can now finally depart in peace because he’s finally borne witness to God’s promised Messiah in the flesh, and we automatically assume that Simeon was no different than our elderly loved ones who complain that God won’t let them finally depart in peace. However, God doesn’t tell us this. He never tells us how old Simeon is when this takes place. Why? Because a person’s age is not necessarily indicative of or commensurate with their level of faith. An older person doesn’t necessarily possess a more mature faith. In fact, your Lord Himself says that we should have the faith of little children, not of old men and old women, and for good reason. You know as well as I do that the more time you spend in this fallen and sinful world, the more jaded you can become.
Forget about how old (or young) Simeon may have been. That’s not important. Let us focus on his profound expression of faith and trust in God’s almighty Word. That’s what matters. What matters is that Simeon fully believed that God was going to make good on His promise and save His people from all their sins through the Savior He would personally send into this world. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, Simeon was promised by God that he would behold the Messiah with his own eyes in his lifetime, before God would call him home to heaven. Simeon waited. For how long, we don’t know. It doesn’t matter. He waited patiently in faith. He was faithfully patient, trusting that God knew what He was doing and was doing it all according to His divine timeline, working all things for the good of His people. Simeon had faith that God would work this promise and plan when the time was right. Now having personally beheld God’s all-redeeming plan of salvation in the flesh, in his arms, Simeon was joyously relieved.
In fact, it’s here that another assumption creeps into our understanding of the text. We’re told that upon recognizing God’s Gospel Promise in the flesh, Simeon took the Christ child into his arms and blessed/praised God, speaking the now-familiar words of the Nunc Dimittis, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace….” Here’s the thing: We assume that Simeon’s gaze was upward/heavenward… you know… where God is. All the artwork throughout history depicts this heavenward gaze, Jesus down here, while Simeon is focused on God… way out there. What if all those artists got it wrong? What if our assumptions are wrong? Folks: God is right there in his arms! When it says that Simeon praised God, who’s to say that he didn’t look directly into the eyes of God in the flesh—right there in his very arms—and offer up praise to Him? It makes sense, doesn’t it? That’s faith! Just something to think about.
Back to that wonderful confession of faith; that wonderful praise of God. Folks: It doesn’t matter whether Simeon was 25 or 95 years old. He was confessing the fact that he could now die perfectly happy and content, fully knowing and trusting that God was keeping His promise and actively saving His people from all sin, death, and damnation. He knew what was really important in terms of life and salvation, and he knew that he was holding it right there in his very arms. That’s faith! That’s trust!
How many of us can honestly lay claim to such a virtuous faith like that? Good things come to those who wait, right? We say that we believe that God works all things for the good of His people, and yet, unlike Simeon, how many of us will patiently wait for God to work according to His timeline and schedule? How often we jump the gun and try to “help” God out or speed up the process. How often we live our lives like, “my will be done,” fully expecting God to bless us and rubber stamp our selfish, impatient ways. Thank God that He is patient with us; patient and long-suffering and merciful.
My fellow redeemed: Look here. Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Here is your Lord, in His Word and in His sacrament of Body and Blood, in your midst, bringing you His eternal gift of salvation. Like I said before (and I firmly believe), Simeon looked to Christ when he was praising God. Well… here is that same Christ. Here is that same Almighty God, right where He tells you to seek Him and see Him and receive Him… right under your nose… just like with Simeon. Here is that same Almighty God, right where He promises to be, doing exactly what He promises to do: Giving you His free gifts of mercy and grace. Here is God’s Gospel promise for you, in your midst. Where do you look; where does your faith look to and flee to when you’re struggling, when you’re waiting patiently (or impatiently, as is more often the case) on God to act; to “just do something”?
It is my sincere hope and prayer that this Good News that Jesus Christ—the same Jesus Christ who took on your flesh, who was crucified and risen for the complete forgiveness of all your sins, and who is the same Jesus Christ who is here with you today; who is here with you always, even to the end of the age—fills your hearts and minds, filling you with faithful patience, joy, and peace so that you may patiently—even joyfully—endure in faith as you bear your crosses and make your way through this dark and shadowy valley.
Today, when we sing the song of Simeon after communing—the Nunc Dimittis—I hope and pray that these wonderful words of faithful contentedness and patience that we sing as we, like Simeon and Anna, receive, behold and give thanks for the very lamb of God, who takes away all the sin of the world, are not just muddled through or sung half-heartedly, as is sometimes the case, if we’re bold enough to confess the truth. In fact, I hope and pray that these tremendous words of faithful patience and contentedness in our Lord’s rich grace and forgiveness are in your hearts and on your lips every day, for better and for worse, richer/poorer, in sickness, in health… always. May your joy and peace and contentedness in your Lord be witnessed in all that you say and do until that wonderful time when our Lord and Savior mercifully frees you from this veil of tears and calls you home to live with Him in eternal joy and peace. Until then, though, may this same faithfully patient joy and peace, which surpasses all understanding, guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and unto life everlasting.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.
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