A shopping mall Santa Claus in California had a meltdown after refusing to cuddle a bawling toddler, calling the mother evil and ripping off his beard and costume in front of startled children. Kelly Fornatoro, 33, said she told Santa her 19 month old son, Brian, would stop crying if he put his arm around the child. According to her, he balked and told her, “I will not imprison your child.” He started to rip off his costumes including his beard, wig, coat and belt. Some stunned parents covered their children’s eyes. Santa was then led away by security guards, and a replacement was brought in. That Santa was obviously stressed! Can anyone relate?
Paul Harvey tells of a man in England who had rented an old bomb shelter. His intention was to stay there from the middle of December until sometime in early January. His purpose: to escape Christmas. The sad thing was - there were 49 others in line behind him wanting to do exactly the same thing! Some people will do anything to avoid Christmas! Well today in our Scripture, we have the story of a man who didn’t want to avoid Christmas but instead had been looking and waiting for Christmas all of his life and when it came, he embraced it! Let’s set the scene today. Mary and Joseph brought the Christ child to the temple when they made a sacrifice for the purification of Mary. Jewish law says in Leviticus 12:3-8 when a woman gave birth, she was ritually unclean and 40 days after the birth she was to go to the Temple and make a sacrifice to become ritually clean. So Jesus was 6 weeks old when this occurred. A lamb was the acceptable sacrifice but Leviticus says that if a woman is unable to afford that, she can offer two pigeons or turtledoves in place of the lamb. Matthew records that they brought two doves so that tell us Mary and Joseph were poor. The fact that the day they came to the temple was the 40th day tells us they were devout.
This takes place in the temple courts. The temple was rebuilt and expanded by Herod the Great beginning in 19 BC and was under construction for the next 60 years. He not only refurbished it but he expanded the temple courts by literally leveling the top of a mountain to enlarge the Temple mount to span more than 35 acres. This was to hold the large crowds of pilgrims who came to Jerusalem for one of the three high festivals of the year. This was the center of Jewish life and worship, where people came to pray and make sacrifice to God. The temple mount had several areas. All around the Temple Mount beautiful marble porticos were constructed. This is where many teachers taught the Law and where the early church met. Surrounding the actual Temple itself was the court of the Gentiles where they could watch worship from afar. Inside the Temple was the Holy Place, which contained the Holy of Holies. Then closest to the Holy Place was the portion set aside for the altar of burnt offering and the officiating priests. Next to it was the court for the Israelites who came to watch the service. By the side of that was the court of the women. This is the place where Simeon would have encountered Joseph, Mary and Jesus.
Now thousands of people came to the temple each day to pray and make sacrifice. Among them was an elderly man slowly climbing up the temple steps, pausing occasionally to rest. He felt moved by the spirit to go into the temple courts. This wasn’t his normal time to come to the temple but he felt led to be there, beckoned if you will to be at the temple that day. The temple steps he climbs were a busy place for buyers and sellers of animals and birds for sacrifice. In addition Beggars camped out on the steps, crying out, “Alms for the poor!” The students and scholars scurried to and fro some coming to learn, some coming to teach but all with the harried intellectual look. The sounds of the temple were all around. The sellers crying out they had the purest lambs and doves; the baaing of the lambs, the cooing and startled cries of the doves. The voices of the people arriving for worship. There is movement, activity and a loud bustle everywhere. Can you feel the chaos, can you hear the noise, can you sense it? This elderly man was no stranger to this for he for he went to the temple every day.
Amidst the large crowd were undoubtedly dozens upon dozens of parents coming to make sacrifice for the mother to be purified. They would have been surrounded by others making thanks offerings and guilt offerings. The air would have been filled with the sweet aroma of burnt offerings. As Mary and Joseph walked into this place, there was an elderly man, Simeon, who stopped them, looked at the child and then began to proclaim that this was the child of God.. And Mary and Joseph were astounded by this. What do we know about Simeon and what can we learn from him?
Blank PPT page The elderly man’s name was Simeon. Writings in the second century said that he was 112 years old. At this stage in his life, he had witnessed a lot of important history in Judah. Luke tells us that he was a devout man who was waiting for the consolation of Israel when Israel would be relieved of all of its trials and tribulations. This goes back to the time when Israel was in exile in Babylon when Isaiah says, “Comfort, comfort Israel O my God.” Isaiah then offers the people sure and certain hope that God would deliver his people from Babylon to Israel and their land. In the days leading up to Jesus, the people had turned to these Scriptures and looked with great hope that God would once again deliver his people, this time from the Romans and King Herod the Great. And so this same passage looked forward to the Messiah when God would raise up a new king who would rule justice and righteousness and who would shepherd his people.
Simeon had seen much in his life. He was alive when the Romans took control of Judah in 63 BC. When they did, they not only enforced Roman law and limited the freedom of the Jews but they heavily taxed them, many scholars believe to the tune of 65% of their income. He was also alive to witness the civil war when King Herod took Roman troops and defeated King Antigonus and taking histhrone. And what we learned two weeks ago was how brutal a ruler he was, paranoid that someone was going to overthrow him and take control of the throne, even those closest to him. This whole time Simeon and many other Jews were praying for the deliverance of God and for the ascension of a king who would rule with justice and righteousness and then shepherd them to be a light for the Gentiles calling them to worship the one true God. His prayer is that it would be done in his lifetime and so day after day, Simeon would go to the temple to pray, hoping and longing for God’s deliverance.
And what we know is that prayer was not answered for 57 years and so the first thing we need to learn from Simeon is persistence. Even though his prayer was not answered until the end of his life, he still trusted God and continued to pray. That is called faith. Faith is when we know God will do something and we live with that hope knowing that it may not happen within our lifetime. This is so contrary to many of us who pray for something for a week, a month or even a year and when it doesn’t happen, we give up and get disappointed with God. Simeon prayed 57 years, with no assurance that it would come to pass in his lifetime. Hebrews describes faith this way: Put scripture on screen “Faith is the assurance of things hoped, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 Faith is what sustains you during really dark times. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the very last sermon he preached said, “I have been to the mountain top and I have seen the other side, I have seen the promise land. I may not get there with you but I know one day you will get there. I have seen it.” The next day, he was assassinated. He didn’t get there but he knew it would happen. We call that faith. And for some of you, that’s all that sustains you whether you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death and grief or struggling to find a job after weeks or months or even years of unemployment. It’s faith and that’s what Simeon had.
Now somewhere along the way, God has whispered to him, “Don’t worry Simeon, you will see salvation.” He didn’t know what that meant but now as an old man, one day Mary and Joseph walk into the temple courts and cross paths with Simeon. How did he not just happen to be there that day but in a place the size of three football fields crowded with 1000’s of people, how did he cross paths with Mary and Joseph? And when he saw them amongst all of the other couples, he was led to them and when he saw that baby, he knew he was the waiting for and promised Messiah. How did that happen? Luke tells us that “Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple…” The second thing we learn from Simeon is that he listened for and responded to the nudgings of the Spirit. We believe that God still guides and speaks to us as promised b Jesus through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit speaks to all of us. The problem is that we are all too busy and there is too much noise in our lives that we can’t hear. I hear or feel the nudging of the Spirit several times a week but I wonder how many times I miss it because I wasn’t paying attention or I was too distracted. Simeon may well at his age that day have not felt like going to the temple that day. He had just been there the day before and he could always go tomorrow. Imagine if the man who had been waiting and praying and longing for the coming of the Messiah had decided to sleep in that day when he felt the nudging of the Spirit? Think of what he would have missed out on. The spirit is speaking to you. Are you listening? How many times do we miss when the Spirit says, slow, pay attention? How many lives do we miss God moving in our midst? How many God moments pass us by? God wants to speak to you through every moment, if you just pay attention. That’s what happened to Simeon who paid attention and then responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and as a result, he got to see the answer to his prayers, the Messiah. Think about what he must have felt which was best captured by Ray Dicianni.Take a look. Purse thanksgivng and joy for a child God sends as the consolation of Israel.
Third, he trusts in God and lives by faith. Put Scripture on PPT page as well. Immediately after this he prays, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” This became known as the prayer one prays before death. In other words, “I have seen salvation, take me Lord, I am ready.” Simeon didn’t know that this child would heal lepers, help the blind to see or that he would die on the cross and then be resurrected three days later. He just knew that this was God’s messiah and everything would be OK. Before we die, we are not going to see all of the promises of God, but the Scriptures tell us that the kingdoms of this earth will become the kingdoms of our God and he will reign forever and ever. And there will be no more tears, and no more suffering and no more pain. And the old will have passed away and the new will come. And even though we may not live to see that, we have seen Christ and that is enough. Because we have seen him and experienced these thing in our life, we know these things will happen. And because of that, we can live with trust and thus we can live by faith. And that’s exactly what Simeon did. After Simeon hands the child back to God, he walks off praising God.