Sunday, December 21, 2014

UNFROZEN ~ Love's Open Door

The people in the Christmas story that we seem to know well are those we place in our nativity scenes.  We know Mary and Joseph, the angels and shepherds and even the Magi who didn’t arrive until several months if not years later but we put them in anyway.  We know all of these people well, but there are two people who meet Jesus as an infant that we don’t know well and it might be because they aren’t in our nativity scenes because they didn’t meet Jesus in Bethlehem but in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Luke 2:22-24

After a child was born, there were certain religious ceremonies that were required of all Jewish families.  The first was that every firstborn child was to be presented to God in the Temple.  This practice goes back to the time when God led the people out of Egypt.  Look at Exodus 13:2.  This practice was to remind each new generation that it was God who rescued his people from slavery in Egypt and while the first born in all of Egypt was killed, God rescued his people and set them free.

The other requirement was a ritual of purification for the mother.  For 40 days after childbirth, a woman was considered ceremonially unclean and was not able to enter the Temple.  After 40 days, an offering was made and the priest declared the mother to once again be clean.  Because Mary and Joseph were faithful Jewish parents, they made the 6 mile trip from Bethlehem to Jerusalem when Jesus was just over a month old to fulfill both of these requirements, but the visit to the Temple held much more for them.  Luke 2:25-38

For a moment, put yourself in the place of Mary and Joseph as they make this trip to Jerusalem.  It’s been 40 days since Jesus was born and while on the first night a few shepherds arrived telling them that an angel had said that their son was the Savior, no one else had arrived.  The Wisemen are still months away and so for the past 39 days there has been no fanfare, no visitors and no messages from heaven declaring that their child was in fact the son of God.  There was nothing; it had been 39 ordinary days of taking care of what appeared to be an ordinary child.  If you were Mary and Joseph would you be doubting all that the angel had said a year ago?  Would you be wondering if what the shepherds had told you on the night Jesus was born was true?  I don’t know about you, but I would have expected something more to happen after Jesus’ birth, something powerful and profound and earth shattering, but there was nothing and so this journey to Jerusalem may have been filled with some questions or confusion.

Being faithful people, Mary and Joseph went to the Temple with Jesus to fulfill the requirements of the law.  The Temple was the holiest place on earth.  It was the place where the Jewish people believed God lived and I can tell you that it is still a powerful and holy place today and the presence of God is there and the moment Jesus arrived there, things started to happen.  An old righteous man named Simeon approached Mary and Joseph and took Jesus in his arms and proclaimed that he was the long awaited Savior.  This child was the one who would bring salvation to Israel and be a light to the Gentiles.  Jesus was the hope for the entire world.  Then a woman named Anna came up and started to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the Messiah to come.  For Joseph and Mary, this had to give them hope and encouragement.  Here was another sign that they weren’t crazy and that the last year had not been a dream but that everything the angels and shepherds had told them was true.  Their child was the son God, the savior of the world.

Beyond the assurance given to Mary and Joseph, there is something else profound taking place here.  The moment Simeon took Jesus in his arms the old covenant God made with the people of Israel and the new covenant God was bringing the world through Jesus came together.  Throughout the Old Testament God promised to be with his people and to be their savior.  That promise took many different forms through the centuries.  Sometimes God was there in power like when he parted the Red Sea, and sometimes he was there in victory, like when he tore down the walls of Jericho and sometimes God was with his people leading and speaking through King David and the Prophet Isaiah.  While God was there in each of these situations, there were limitations of God’s promise being fulfilled so the people had to wait - the promise was not yet fulfilled.
Simeon represents all that God has promised to his people and  God told him he would see all that history and promise fulfilled before he died and so he waited in the Temple.  He waited and he waited.  The singer and songwriter Michael Card has said that for all those in the Old Testament, having faith meant waiting for God to keep his promise.   Abraham.  Moses.  The prophets.  All those who trusted God demonstrated their faith by their ability to wait.  It’s true.  Abraham was told he was going to have a child but then he and Sarah had to wait many years for that child to come.  Moses was told he was going to lead God’s people into the Promised Land but he had to wait with the people for 40 years as they wandered in the wilderness and while Moses got to see the land, he never even got to enter into it.  Kings like David ruled with God’s power but they never saw the fulfillment of God’s promise and the prophets like Isaiah talked about the time a savior would come but none of them were alive when Jesus was born.  For all of them and many more, faith meant waiting and it means the same for us today.

While Jesus has come and God is here with us through the power of the Holy Spirit, we also live in this in-between time where just like our ancestors, faith means waiting.  Sometimes we wait for healing or restoration, sometimes we wait for justice and peace and sometimes like Mary and Joseph we wait for some kind of assurance that God is with us and that his plan for us is good.  Having faith today still means waiting.  If you are waiting for God to reveal something to you or to help or lead or care for you in some way, you aren’t alone.  We are all waiting and waiting is what it means to have faith and to trust in God.  So we keep waiting.

For Simeon, the waiting was over when he held a baby in his arms but I’m not sure Simeon was looking for God to fulfill his promise with a baby.  In fact, it makes more sense that Simeon spent his time looking into the clouds while he waited for the Savior because some people thought the Messiah would return the way the prophet Elijah left, in a chariot of fire.  Or maybe Simeon waited by searching the crowds in the Temple looking for a strong leader who had come riding or marching into the city to lead God’s people in a rebellion.  Simeon may have been waiting for some kind of powerful religious leader or an outspoken prophet who would shake things up, but chances are he wasn’t looking for a baby, but when God sent him to a baby – Simeon was willing to go and when he took the child in his arms, he found in Jesus all he had been waiting for.  Sometimes God answers our prayers and comes to us in unexpected ways.  Are we willing to open ourselves up and accept it?  Are we willing to take Jesus in our arms when he comes to us in unusual ways?

Think about that moment.  When Simeon holds Jesus in his arms, all of the waiting of Israel was over.  All the promises God had made to his people were fulfilled and there is a sense of profound completeness as the old and the new are brought together, but it’s not just a profound and powerful moment for Israel, it is a powerful moment for all people because this Savior wasn’t just for Israel, he was for everyone and God has always said that.

When God chose Abraham He said that He would bless all nations and all people through him.  The promise God made was that through Abraham all the people of the world would be blessed which means they would be loved, saved and redeemed by God.  God never went back on that promise and through the prophet Isaiah God said that the Messiah would not just bring back those in Israel but He would be a light to the Gentiles so that He may bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6b)  God’s promise has always been that the Messiah was going to be for all people and when Simeon takes Jesus in his arms and the waiting is over for Israel, Simeon makes sure to state that light and salvation has come through this child for all.  Luke 2:30-32.

It’s a common theme we have heard all through Advent, the love of God and the salvation that God offers through Jesus Christ is for all.  The prophet Isaiah proclaimed it.  That shepherds were the ones to receive the news of Jesus birth and that Jesus was laid in a manger shows us that God came in humility so that all might be able to come to him.  That a star appeared in the sky and spoke to Magi far from Israel and far from God, it tells that God sent Jesus for all.  Simeon and Anna proclaim in the Temple that Jesus has come not just for those who are waiting for the Messiah but for all people.  God’s love has opened the door to all, will we enter in?  Will we take Jesus in our arms and hearts and lives?  

Simeon was willing to embrace Jesus.  It may not have been what he was looking for or expecting and in that moment he didn’t know all of what it all meant to call Jesus the savior of the world, but he reached out and received all that God had promised and all that God had to offer and that moment made Simeon complete.  Simeon shows us in that moment what it looks like for us to accept Jesus.  We have to set aside our preconceived ideas and be willing to set aside our control so that we can draw Jesus close however and wherever he comes.  We have to open our hearts to God and look into the eyes and heart of Jesus and accept the love and forgiveness He has to offer.  God’s love is here.  God’s salvation is here.  God’s promise to us is right here and the door is open to God’s love, will we step in and allow God to make our lives complete.

God’s love is open to us and God’s love is open to all, the door is open to all and so we need to share this love with all.  Simeon and Anna did that, they shared with all around them that God’s love was there for them to receive and that’s the same message we can share today.  God’s love is right here for all who want to receive.  God’s love is right here for us to receive.  We might be discouraged like Mary and Joseph or we might not be expecting God to come to us this way or this day, but God is here for us.  Let us receive God’s love  and let’s share it today.

Next Steps
Love’s Open Door

1.  In his book, Emmanuel, Michael Card says, having faith means waiting for God to keep His promises.
What promise are you waiting for God to fulfill?
How has God shown you that He hasn’t forgotten His promise as you wait?
How has God already fulfilled His promise to you in Jesus?  How does the promise still need to be fulfilled?

2.  While Christmas is the celebration that God has come to us in Jesus, we continue to wait for Jesus to come again.
As we wait we are called to lives of faith and trust.  Name one area of your life where you need to trust God more.  Offer that area to God and ask for His power to help you stand strong.
As we wait we also worship.  Join us on Christmas Eve as we celebrate the birth of Jesus and proclaim once again that God’s love has opened the door for us all.

3.  Anna spoke about Jesus to all who were around her.
Who in your life needs the power of God’s love?
Who needs to hear about the salvation God offers?
How can you share the good news of Jesus with them this week?

4.  Take time on Christmas Day to read the Christmas story found in Luke 2:1-20 and give thanks for the great gift of God’s love given to us ALL in Jesus Christ.