Welcome back to Daily Living. Happy ALMOST New Year. Today our Gospel comes from Luke. And it features one of the few stories we have in regards to the life of Jesus BEFORE he begins his public ministry. But it is not just a story about the baby Jesus. But rather it is a story about the REACTION to Jesus from those who are seeking him. In a word it is a story about…illumination.
When the days were completed for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.
You know it is funny, but I think that often times many of us forget the fact that Jesus was in fact Jewish. And I’m not just talking a LITTLE Jewish but REAL Jewish. Which is why the Anti-Semitic Christian makes no sense. How can you love Jesus while hating Jewish people?
That’s crazy. Jesus was very Jewish and his parents Joseph and Mary were quite devout. To what? To JUDIASM. Meaning they observed THE LAW. This, of course, is not lost on Luke. He even ends his Gospel with Jesus saying
These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you that EVERYTHING written about me in the LAW OF MOSES and the PROPHETS and the PSALMS must be fulfilled.
Now this emphasis of the Jewishness of Jesus is particular interesting given the fact that Luke is writing to a Roman official named THEOPOLIS who is obviously a Gentile. So it seem that Luke is addressing the tension, or perhaps even a prejudice, that might exist between GENTILE BELIEVERS and JEWISH BELIEVERS.
Oh yeah. Prejudice. It has been with us since the very beginning. We can read in the Book of Acts that there was also a concern among the Jewish Christians about GENTILE CONVERTS. So it seems that there were SIDES being formed in the Body of Christ BEFORE the Gospels were even written. Sadly, this division remains today in what we refer to as DENOMINATIONALISM.
And I know I have said this a time or two before but did you know that Christianity has 40,000 denominations in this country?
Here in tiny little Nitro WV which is about 6,500 people, we got the Kingdom Life fellowship church, we got the Nitro Church of God, we got the Nitro Church of Christ, we got the Lutheran church, we got the Presbyterians church we got the Methodist Church and of course we have the Catholic Church and it goes on and on and on.
DIVISIONS. FACTIONS. US and THEM. Meanwhile Satan laughs. Divide and Conquer. And boy he’s done a marvelous job.
Now all these denominations come up with their own RITUAL. And in some cases, NO RITUAL at all. But getting back to Jesus and the Jewish faith that Jesus was brought up in was and still is FULL of ritual. The foundation of Judaism is to praise God in ALL of life.
Meaning God was to be PRAISED and HONORED in the morning and throughout the entire day. And this is done through RITUAL. This ritual dictates every aspect of Jewish life including how they dress and how they eat.
Now of course today we live in a world that has LOST any sense of ritual. Why? Cause we are busy. Consequently, that idea of recognizing God in our daily lives has become for many people practically EXTINCT. As a result, God is NOT found in our Daily Living. NOT because he is isn’t there but because NO ONE is SEEKING.
Hence God becomes this vague concept that comes around at Christmas and Easter or when somebody dies. TECHNOLOGY, EFFICIENCY and PRODUCTIVITY come with a cost. And part of that cost in the loss of ritual.
So, let’s talk RITUAL. What is it? Well it is defined as….
A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.
Ok. Well THAT does not tell us much. So what is the PURPOSE of ritual? Well, may I suggest there are TWO reasons we involve ourselves with ritual. Number one would be the idea of community or unity with others. (Horizontal beam of cross)
Number two RITUAL IS HOW WE CONNECT WITH GOD (Vertical beam of cross). So, as we get ready to cross over to a New Year maybe you are thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. And let’s just say, for discussion’s sake, one of those New Year’s resolutions was to grow closer to God.
How do you do that? Well imagine your New Year’s resolution was to grow closer to your wife or your husband.
How would you do that? Maybe you might start with giving them a hug every morning when you wake up.
But how can you HUG God? Well … THAT is where ritual comes in. You join with a COMMUNITY of like-minded believers like yourself and praise your CREATOR. THAT’S ritual.
Now of course our world often says “Well I’m am not into ORGANIZED RELIGION.” I’m not into ritual. I am not really religious but I’m a very SPIRITUAL PERSON. But what does that even mean?
Does that mean they have come up with their own RITUAL that they do alone? Does it mean they are a DEEP THINKER? Does it mean they are exceptionally ETHICAL? What does it really MEAN to be a SPIRITUAL PERSON? Well stick around my friend because THAT’S what we are going to talk about today.
When the days were completed for their purification according to the Law of Moses they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the Law of the Lord.
So, this is the TIME OF THEIR PURIFICATION. So, the word THEIR would seem to suggest TWO people to be purified. And of course, this is true. There actually TWO purifications going on here. The first one is for Mary.
She has just given birth to Jesus. Child birth, of course, involves blood. And contact with blood, according to the Judaic Law, makes one RITUALLY UNCLEAN.
So according to the Law of Moses if a woman gives birth after 40 days she is to appear to a priest with a lamb to be sacrificed as a sin offering. And the priest will make atonement for her sins and she will be cleansed. That is Leviticus Chapter 12.
Now the SECOND purification is what they call The Dedication of the FIRST-BORN male to God. Exodus 13 tells us that the first-born male is given to God. Think of this as Baptism. As Joseph and Mary are holding their first son they are saying “Father he is yours.”
Now there was man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was RIGHTEOUS and DEVOUT awaiting the consolation of Israel and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the spirit into the temple.
Ok so here is this man Simeon. What do we know about him? Not much. Simeon does not get a lot of press in the scriptures. As far as the Christmas story goes the cow and the donkey get more press than Simeon. But don’t let that fool you.
The fact is that a case could be made, and it is a case that I intend to make today, that it is SIMEON is the one who TRULY captures the Christmas Story.
So again, what do we know about him? Well we know that he is RIGHTEOUS. We know that he is DEVOUT. And we know that he is awaiting the CONSOLATION of Israel. So, let’s start with that word RIGHTEOUS.
What does that really mean? I got to say that RIGHTEOUS is one of those dinosaur words. We really don’t use it too much anymore. I suppose it comes up once in a while but it is usually out of context. A surfer might say,
“Dude, those were some RIGHTEOUS WAVES!”
But this reduces the word to mean simply something good. And RIGHTEOUS means a whole lot more than something good. Righteous is a close cousin to one of the four cardinal virtues, FORTITUDE. Which is the idea that no matter what happens. No matter if it is EASY or DIFFICULT. No matter how COMFORTABLE or UNCOMFORTABLE. No matter how POPULAR or UNPOPULAR. A RIGHTEOUS person is fully committed to doing the NEXT RIGHT THING without compromise.
Now, as you might imagine, practicing righteousness is not easy. We also know that he was DEVOUT. What does that mean? Well DEVOUT means that Simeon was committed to RITUAL.
On other words, he took his faith seriously. He adhered to THE LAW prescribed by Moses. So, what else do we know? Well we can INFER that THROUGH this practicing of RIGHTEOUSNESS and DEVOTION to RITUAL that he had ears to hear the QUIET VOICE.
Why? Because we are told the SPIRIT OF THE LORD was upon him. So we know he was a SEEKER and through that seeking he was able to hear from God. Which goes WAY BEYOND pew sitting. This was a praying man who knew how to listen.
So, let’s talk about PRAYER for a moment. Do we take the time to pray? And you might be saying “Well I don’t know what exactly do you mean Father C?”
Well I guess what I am trying to say is “Do you ever talk to God?” And of course many would say “Oh sure. I do.” So I ask “What do you say?”
Understand here are 4 types of prayer. Adoration Contrition Thanksgiving and Petition. As we consider our prayer life if we are being honest most of us live in Petition. God is Santa Claus and we have our list. Lord give me this or give me that. Or help me with this or that. Or maybe it is more noble and we pray for others. Help Dan or help Donna. And these prayers are fine but don’t you see how we are DIRECTING God to do something.
How about NOT MY WILL LORD BUT THY WILL BE DONE. Remember that one? The perfect prayer that comes out of the Garden of Gethsemane.
How about Lord give me eyes to see what you would have me see
Give me ears to hear what you would have me hear.
Show me your WILL and then, and this is REAL important, LISTEN to the answer. Listen for that QUIET VOICE. If there is ONE thing we can learn from Simeon is that he definitely knew how to listen. We know this because the SPIRIT was leading him. He was DEVOUT in ritual. He was RIGHTEOUS and he was ILLUMINATED by the Holy Spirit.
So today we find Simeon in the temple. Just another day. Could have been a Tuesday. And this peasant couple out of Nazareth had just arrived in the Holy City with their new born baby. About a month and ten days old.
Now, understand they were the ONLY couple there with a baby to be purified that day. I am sure there must have been a crowd. MANY babies. But as Simeon looks over the crowd SOMETHING caught his eye. He RECEIVED HIS PROMISE.
Oh my Yahweh, it is Yahweh.
And then here is where we get the famous Simeon Prayer.
Lord now You let your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people A light to revealed upon to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.
In other words, Lord now let thy servant depart in peace. In other words I am at peace now let me come home. In other other words LET ME DIE. In my mind’s eye I can see this old man with sparkling blue eyes full of joy with a long white beard. Maybe like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings.
And of course, we really don’t know what he looked like physically. But we DO know what he looked like spiritually. Righteousness had ILLUMINATED him and consequently he was one of the FIRST people to recognize THE CREATOR entering into human history.
Understand that Caesar with all his power couldn’t recognize Him. The High Priests and Pharisees couldn’t recognize Him. None of the great men of the world could recognize Him. But this old man in the temple saw what nobody else could see. We all know that old saying SEEING is believing. Well for Simeon BELIEVING allowed him to SEE.
And now as he holds this baby in his arms THE SPIRIT allows him to see something else.
Behold this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and a sign to be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
He is clearly seeing the future. Can you imagine? I imagine Mary’s thinking “Give me my baby back.” Because these are very troubling words.
The rise and fall of many.
A sign to be CONTRADICTED. Meaning this child will be LOVED and this child will be HATED. And boy that is true. And if you don’t believe that try bringing up the name of Jesus in the public square. He is either loved or he is hated. Not a whole lot of in between.
So…what have we learned. How can we apply this to our Daily Living? And how is it that Simeon represents the TRUE story of Christmas? Well let me ask you this question. If YOU were to hold the baby Jesus would you recognize him? Or, even more to the point if the QUIET VOICE spoke within you would you recognize it?
My friends, if all this Christmas celebration has left you feeling a little hollow. If the Christmas Train that has just roared through has left you at the station feeling like you missed something.
Consider a New Year’s resolution. Consider Righteousness. The next right thing to do. God is not going to show you the whole thing. But he WILL show you the next right thing to do.
And guess what? When your done doing that He’s going to show you the NEXT right thing to do. You do that and you will be walking in the Spirit just like Simeon. Consider DEVOUT. Find a place to practice RITUAL. If you can get to Nitro we have many seats available.
And finally, and MOST importantly, why not take the time this year learning how to pray. Try to carve out a least a few minutes every day asking God to show you what he would have you do. Just as if you were trying to improve your relationship with your wife or your husband.
Or your family or friends or anybody for that matter what would that require? TIME.
Imagine you had a friend and the ONLY time you heard from them is when they needed something. What kind of friend would that be? You don’t want to be that friend. Why not take some time to check in with God today?
My friends…The story of Simeon is the true story of Christmas. It is the story of illumination. Holding a baby who has the shadow of the cross falling over him. Understand that it was his RIGHTEOUSNESS and his DEVOTION that gave him eyes to see.
This year let us take the child of HOPE into our arms and practice RIGHTEOUSNESS. Let us practice DEVOTION. Let us live a life as if we were righteous and devoted.
And who knows? If we practice RIGHTEOUSNESS long enough, if we practice DEVOTION long enough, we might even become RIGHTEOUS people. We might even become DEVOUT people. And God will give US ears to hear the quiet voice. God will give us EYES to see. And WE will walk in the SPIRIT. And that SPIRIT will guide us home.