Summary: Tf what’s happened with his birth we also need God’s word to enlighten us, to fill out for us these events with the rich understanding of God’s plan for the world.
One of the good things about Christmas is catching up with people you haven’t seen for a while, maybe even since last year. Well, this year I’ve had lots of conversations with people who want to know what’s happening about the merger with St Michael’s. They all want to know how things are progressing. When are we likely to merge, when are we likely to move onto the new site? And depending on the mood I’m in and who it is I’m talking to, my answer varies from "In a little while", to "Sometime soon", to "Sometime before I retire". You might gather from the last answer that there are times when I don’t want to think about it because it feels like it’s going to take so long. In this age of instant gratification we don’t like having to wait, do we? We get very impatient with the sort of planning process you have to go through for any large project. We get annoyed when decision makers take longer than we want to make their decisions.
Of course the bigger the project the more important it is that it isn’t rushed. Some of the great planning disasters of the 20th century came about because planners rushed into them before considering all the factors involved. On the other hand if the delay is too long people start to wonder whether it’ll ever happen.
Two weeks ago I talked about how most people in Israel around the time of Jesus’ birth would have been taken by surprise when the prophecies about the Messiah began to be fulfilled. But in fact there were some who hadn’t forgotten and in fact were waiting faithfully for God to fulfill his promises.
In today’s gospel reading we discover a number of people who have been waiting for a very long time for their great hope to arrive. First of all Simeon, who’s described as waiting for the consolation of Israel. Secondly there’s Anna and the people that she speaks to who are looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. All these people are looking for the same thing. They’re looking forward to the fulfilment of prophecies such as Isaiah’s that told of the restoration of Jerusalem, of the coming of the Messiah to restore the fortunes of Israel, and to establish God’s Kingdom here on earth, to bring salvation to all peoples. Interestingly, at the end of Luke’s gospel we’re introduced to another person, Joseph of Arimathea, who was also waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God.
All these people were waiting for God to act. Most of them had been waiting for many years. We’re not told how old Simeon was, but the implication is that he’d lived beyond the normal span of years as he waited to greet the coming Messiah. He’s certainly ready to go once he’s seen Jesus. Anna we’re told, is 84, which we’re told was a great age for the time. But notice that their time hasn’t been wasted. Rather they’ve spent their time in worship of God. Simeon is described as righteous and devout. That is, his life was exemplary. He was a regular worshipper of God. He was open to God speaking to him, and responded when he heard God’s voice. We’re told the Holy Spirit rested on him. Presumably that means that he’s a prophet, like the prophets of old. God, it seemed, had been silent for 400 years. There had been no prophets since Malachi. But now here is Simeon, waiting for the Messiah to be revealed. In fact Luke tells us that it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he wouldn’t see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Similarly there was Anna. She too was a prophet. She never left the temple, but worshipped there with prayer and fasting night and day. What a great example of a godly woman. And what a great example of a woman who acts as a mouthpiece for God. Anna is a great example of a woman whom God uses to teach his people about who Jesus is.
So these people are faithfully waiting for God’s promised Messiah to be revealed when suddenly he appears among them. The thing is, if you look at the account that Luke gives of this event, it’s clear that by itself, no-one would have noticed it. As we saw last week, the event of Jesus’ birth happens in a very unspectacular way, and in fact Luke tells it in a very sparing manner. Only seven verses for the birth of Jesus! But then the rest of chapter 2 is devoted to three separate events, three sayings about this child who has been born. The birth by itself might have been missed, but the events that surround it, the words that accompany it, ensure that we fully understand its significance.