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Worship, Waiting, and Witness

December 31 2023

Book: Luke

Scripture: Luke 2:21-38

A few weeks after the birth of your first child, reality is starting to sink in. You’ve got a baby. You can’t take him back. He’s yours. And you’re starting to get into a rhythm. You have less time for yourself as you care for the baby. Your time gets more valuable as you have less of it to spare. Your life begins to reorient around the baby’s needs. It was no different for Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus. He was a real human baby and that’s where we begin today.

Luke chapter 2 beginning with verse 21.

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”)

24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

Mary and Joseph are a little over a month into parenting and at this point you probably couldn’t tell much of a difference between Jesus and any other baby. They were following the custom of their people and the law in taking him to the temple.

It was a routine event and the temple was likely busy with a lot of people doing similar things. They are probably in the court of women. And they are approached by two people.

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law,

28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;

30 for my eyes have seen your salvation

31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.

34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed

35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

We know very little about Simeon. He’s not a priest or an expert on the law. He’s probably an older gentleman, because we assume he has been waiting a long time for God’s promise to come true. He played a small but special little role in the birth narrative of Jesus. The Holy Spirit informed Simeon that he would see the Savior before he died.

In other words, Simeon’s bucket list had one item on it. His whole life was made complete simply because he sees Jesus. Luke, who wrote this, is telling us that this is a baby who has not only changed the lives of Mary and Joseph, but as Simeon prophesies, a baby that will change the entire world. The whole world will reorient around this child.

Simeon prophesies that he will lead to the rising and falling of many. And that has been true. Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection have had a tremendous impact on history whether you believe it or not!

Now Luke tells us about a second person who approaches the family of Jesus.

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin,

37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.

38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

We don’t know much about Anna either. Her name means grace. She belonged to one of the so-called “lost tribes” of Israel. Her father’s name is similar to the name Jacob gave the place where he wrestled with God and said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life is preserved.”

As a prophet she, like Simeon, receives special revelation from God. Luke says she was very old and the text could either mean she is 84 years old or that it had been 84 years since her husband died, which would make her at least 105. She either lived in the temple or else spent every possible minute there.

But the most important thing we learn from Anna’s brief encounter with Jesus is that this moment also shapes her life. It’s what she has been waiting for her entire life. And she can’t wait to tell other people about it.

Simeon and Anna understand that seeing Jesus is both a special event for them AND a reality being prepared for all people. Jesus came for Gentile and Jew, male and female.

What Luke is saying here at the end of the birth narrative is this – Jesus changed the lives of Mary and Joseph, but He did not belong to Mary and Joseph. He came for all God’s people. Jesus’ birth changed everything for the whole world.

This is not just an old man and an old lady in the temple who walk up to tell Mary what a cute baby she has. This is God keeping his promises to people who were waiting for a Savior – and some of them had been waiting a long time.

Jesus was an answer to a promise. He was an answer to prayer. He was Simeon’s entire bucket list. He was the singular hope of a widow whose husband had died at least 60 years ago. Think about that. Anna would have been still a young woman, probably early 20s, when her husband died and yet she never remarried.

Do you think she wanted to be married? Did she want a family? The pressure at least would have been tremendous, especially in that culture. She was probably extremely poor. But she spent the vast majority of her life worshipping, fasting, and praying for the Savior to come.

All of this serves as a confirmation that Jesus is who He said He was – the Promised Messiah. And it also serves as an example for us because we are also in a period of waiting. We wait for the return of our King, Jesus.

But do we really? Is that what shapes our lives? Most of the time, I tend to be preoccupied with the immediate future and all the things I would like to have or experience. I’m thinking about this coming year – my goals, my plans.

Most of us have a picture in our head of what we want our life to look like before we die. And we are easily disappointed, either because things don’t work out as we expected OR because when we get what we wanted it never satisfies us the way we thought it would.

But Simeon and Anna are a reminder to us that there is one way to never be disappointed. If all I ever hoped for was Jesus, I would never be disappointed again. If all I expected or anticipated was the return of my Savior, I would never be disappointed because He will return. He will fulfill His promises, every one of them, just as He fulfilled His promises to Israel the first time around.

The simplest way to say it is that Jesus is enough. He is enough.

The Christmas season is great at churning up discontentment. For many it is the most depressing time of year because it can be a reminder of all the things you don’t have.

Maybe it’s family. Maybe family relationships are tense and everyone you wish you could see and be on good terms with this year it’s just not happening.

Maybe it’s a spouse. Like Anna, maybe you are a widow or a widower, or maybe your home is broken from divorce. Or maybe you want to be married and it hasn’t happened yet. Or you don’t want to be, but you still feel the pressure.

Maybe it’s children. Maybe you can identify with Anna as day after day she watches other people with their happy families and beautiful babies walk into the temple and pass her by.

Maybe it’s a job. You see other people working and enjoying the fruit of their labors, but nothing seems to be turning up for you or else you don’t like the job you have.

The problem is not that any of these things are bad things to want. Most of the things we want are generally good or at least harmless. But it’s not just that we want them, is it? It’s that we become frustrated by not having them. And that creates jealousy, envy, and discontentment.

But Jesus is enough. Jesus is enough for the person who finds himself in a career they didn’t dream about as a kid. Jesus in enough for the mom who spends countless hours doing underappreciated work for uncooperative children and husbands. Jesus is enough for the children who didn’t get everything they wanted for Christmas this year.

That may sound like I’m over spiritualizing things, but this is actually very practical.

Finding Jesus to be enough helps us in two situations, and we can follow the pattern that Simeon sets up for us. Jesus is responsible for the rising and falling of many. In other words, He humbles the proud and he raises up the fallen.

What is life like for the proud? What’s it like when it seems like you have most everything you want? On the one hand, we may experience greed. We may begin to feel entitled to what we have and even want more because it never feels like enough. It’s like the post-Christmas hangover that a lot of us feel, when we get bored with all the stuff we got two days later!

But sometimes pride looks different. We can also experience a false sense of guilt because we feel unworthy of having the stuff we have. We may even think we are being spiritual by focusing on our unworthiness, but actually in both cases – guilt or greed – we are making it all about us. We are focused on the gifts and not the giver.

Stuff has become more glorious than Jesus, when really all the stuff was supposed to do was remind us that God is good. Everything we have comes from God. Both guilt and greed reveal our hearts. They tell us that Jesus is not enough for us. Contentment, the middle of the road, comes as a response to God’s generosity. We receive his gifts with joy also knowing He is the giver.

But what is it like when we don’t have everything we want? We may begin to resent or even hate the people who have what we want. Our hearts begin to fill with bitterness and anger. When that happens, not only is Jesus not enough for us – He becomes the opposite of what we want. We begin to hate God, because we believe He is the one holding out on us.

There is only one way to attack the root of that bitterness and jealousy. You need something to focus on that will never leave or forsake you. You need something that won’t ever disappoint you. You need a promise to believe in that amounts to every blessing you can imagine for your life and more.

And there’s only one such promise that will do that. It’s the promise of the Gospel. It comes from faith that Jesus really is enough. We need nothing or no one else. Jesus alone can satisfy the deepest desires of your heart.

But I want to be clear about what I mean when I say that Jesus is enough. All of the problems of this world are a result of sin. When I say that Jesus is enough, I mean that He is enough to solve each and every one of the problems our sin creates.

He provides a way for us to be reconciled to God. He offers forgiveness and rest. He promises to renew our minds and hearts and make us holy. He promises to raise us from the dead. He promises that He will return and live with us in peace and prosperity forever. That’s what I mean when I say Jesus is enough.

But what does life look like practically when Jesus is enough for a person? Very briefly, I think from Simeon and Anna we learn that you start to live a life of worship, waiting, and witness.

Both of them demonstrate spirit-filled worship of God in the temple. Both of them offer thanks. Both of them demonstrate dependence on God through prayer. If Jesus is enough, then we will attend worship because our best link to Him until He returns is through the gathered worship of the church. This is where He promises to be. Second:

If Jesus is enough, our lives are also characterized by waiting. Both Simeon and Anna are waiting to meet the promised Messiah. We are also waiting for something. We are waiting for His return, when all the wars and tears and deaths and hurts will end.

Does your life mirror the type of waiting we see the whole New Testament encouraged us to? Are we expectant? Are we anticipating the coming of our King? Can other people tell that it matters to us? If you don’t find in yourself a longing for the return of Jesus, then very likely you are busy insulating yourself from the suffering of this world with temporary pleasures.

And finally, if Jesus is enough then we will bear witness to his sufficiency. We will want others to know that we have found the only thing we really need. Simeon and Anna were witnesses of the Messiah’s birth. It was not given to them just for their own sake. It was given to be shared with all who were looking forward to the redemption that Jesus would bring.

My encouragement to us as a church is that together we make 2024 a year of worship, a year of waiting, and a year of witness. Let’s be the crazy old people who won’t leave the temple until they see Jesus! Who can’t wait to tell people about Jesus!