Galatians 4:4-7 and Luke 2:21-35
(Quoted scripture us New Revised Standard Version)
It seems strange that New Year’s Eve should fall on a Sunday. Some of you are looking forward to New Year’s Eve parties. When our children were little, we would have a sleigh riding New Year’s Eve party at a nearby sand pit dressed in snow. The neighbors would gather with their children, all about the same age, and we’d build a big bon fire and roast hot dogs, drink hot chocolate and share snacks. The kids could stay up as late as they wanted, and we made great family memories. The children are grown now with children of their own, yet they still talk about the New Year’s Eve parties we celebrated as a neighborhood.
Sunday, New Year’s Eve; what an appropriate time to be in worship to celebrate Emmanuel, God with us in His Son Jesus. What an appropriate time to remember God’s mercy and grace, and to resolve to be better Christians in 2018; to resolve to love and serve God and our neighbor better in this coming year.
Of course, you may be like Lucy in an old Peanuts comic strip. Lucy is walking along the road with Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown asks her: “Lucy, are you going to make any New Year’s resolutions?”
Lucy hollers back at him: “What? What for? What’s wrong with me now? I like myself the way I am! Why should I change? What in the world is the matter with you, Charlie Brown? I’m all right the way I am! I don’t have to improve. How could I improve? How, I ask you? How?”
We all know a few Lucys, but most of us are aware that we need to make some improvements in our lives. However, change is never easy, even when it comes to following through with a few resolutions. I just heard that some of the top resolutions are; to get personal finances in order, lose weight, stop smoking, become healthier by eating better and getting more exercise, and improve personal relationships. Some folks even decide to attend church more faithfully. I think they’re going to start next week!
But the fact is that after only one week, almost a quarter of us have bailed out on whatever it was that we had resolved to do to better ourselves; after a month, almost half have given up. It is so easy for us to deny we need to change. Most often we see others who need to change, and we think like Lucy, “I’m all right the way I am! How could I improve?”
The typical cartoon sketch, we often see around New Year’s Day is the Old Year portrayed as a haggard, worn-out looking old man with a long white beard and the New Year portrayed as a fresh-faced newborn baby in a diaper. This cartoon picture reminds us that the last 365 days may have contained trials and tribulations, good things and bad things, events in our own lives, and global events, that if they were to be depicted in one single person, that person would look pretty well beat up and done in come December 31—a far cry from the full-of-promise baby New Year he had been twelve months before.
Since our passage from Luke always occurs in the church year so close to the end of the year, we see some similarity between the old man Simeon beholding the infant Jesus and the old man 2017 holding baby 2018. As Christians, I think we can see this passage as Luke telling us that one long period of the history of God’s people is now coming to a close and a new era—a new beginning—has shown up in the form of that infant Jesus.
Luke 2:25-32, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit Simeon came into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
Here we have an old man ready for death, and he is holding the baby Jesus who is the new covenant to all people, not just the people of Israel. Luke would later write in chapter 22:20 that as Jesus was celebrating his last supper with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection is a new covenant, a new beginning for the whole world!
The other thing I would lift out is that Simeon was not a priest or someone special in human eyes, although he was special in God’s eyes. He was a simple old man — a layman — an ordinary person. Luke was only underlining a point he had begun to make by telling about the angels who visited Mary and Joseph, just ordinary folk, and the shepherds who were called from their fields and flocks to worship Christ: The coming of Christ was to ordinary people. Luke doesn’t even tell the story of the wise men; that’s Matthew. Luke’s whole concern, in the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus, is to emphasize one thing: Christianity is based on the faith of ordinary people. That’s what Luke’s whole Gospel is about. It wasn’t the priest and Pharisees who received the Kingdom of God, it was the laypeople, the untutored, the untrained, the unsophisticated. It was simple fishermen like James and John and Peter. It was unimportant public officials like Matthew. It was women like Mary and Martha and Mary Magdalene.
Christianity has never been a religion of priests, pastors and theologians; they are important as our leaders. Yet from the very beginning it has been ordinary people of great faith, living out their faith, who built the church.
God intended the church to be an organization of laypersons, all “righteous and devout” like old Simeon, who in simple faith, was ready to receive God’s Kingdom and rejoice in it. It is ordinary people who had the courage to build the Kingdom of God, and it is ordinary people who will continue to bring hope to our world, to build God’s Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven!
There was a fascinating conversation on Rush Limbaugh’s talk show a while back. Having just completed Tom Brokaw’s wonderful book The Greatest Generation, a book filled with inspiring stories of the WWII generation, Rush had taken the position that the current generation of young adults, those in their 20’s, are, for the most part, a bunch of whiners. He said that while they are constantly whining and moaning about the difficulty of their lives, when compared to the hardships faced by their grandparents’ generation, they actually have it easy. Their grandparents had endured truly devastating events like The Great Depression and WWII. The current crop of young adults, he concluded, doesn’t even have a clue about real hardship.
Once Rush had finished his monologue, a bright and extremely articulate, twenty-three-year-old called in and said, that while The Great Depression and WWII certainly created terrible hardships for the people who faced them, that he believed his generation faced an even greater hardship.
Limbaugh asked, “And what exactly would that be?”
The caller said, “The loss of hope.” He said that his experience indicated that many of today’s young adults had simply stopped believing that things were going to get better. They didn’t expect to live as well as their parents had lived. They weren’t expecting a brighter future. They have simply given up hope.
He said, The Great Depression, as terrible as it was, in many cases brought families together as they worked side by side in the hope of saving their families. Most of his friends, this twenty-three-year old said, grew up in families in complete disarray and dysfunction and have given up the hope of ever having a real family experience of their own.
He continued saying, “WWII was a terrible event that obviously cost thousands of America’s young men their lives. Even though they knew the risks they still enlisted voluntarily by the millions because they saw it as a cause worth dying for. Most of the people in my generation,” he said, “can’t imagine anything worth dying for and they’re committing suicide in record numbers because many can’t imagine anything worth living for.”
He said, “Mr. Limbaugh, The Great Depression and WWII created terrible hardships. But I submit to you that the greatest hardship of all is living without hope.”
Simeon, an ordinary old man, saw the hope of the world in the baby Jesus, whom he held in his arms that day in the temple. As we close 2017, and welcome 2018: Do you see hope; in your personal life, do you see hope for our world? I do see hope, as I see God’s plan for His creation unfolding. I believe in God’s promise that Satan and evil will be defeated and Jesus and good will triumph, ‘In the Fullness of Time.”
I believe as the child did when he wrote a letter to God. A letter written in a childish scrawl came to the post office addressed to “God.” A postal employee, not knowing exactly what to do with the letter, opened it. This is what it said: “Dear God, my name is Jimmy. I am six years old. My father is dead and my mother is having a hard time raising me and my sister. Would you please send us $500? Love, Jimmy.”
The postal employee was touched. He showed the letter to his fellow workers. Everyone decided to kick in a few dollars. They were able to raise $300 which they sent to the family. A couple of weeks later they received a second letter from Jimmy, addressed again to God. It said: “Dear God, thanks so much for the money. But next time please deliver it to our house. If you send it through the post office, they take out $200.” Jimmy had enough faith to believe that God would deliver what he asked, and in the full amount!
I have faith and hope that God has begun and will continue to deliver what he has promised, in the full amount and in the fullness of time!
The Apostle Paul writes this in our passage in Galatians 4:4-7. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So, you are no longer a slave (to the law), but a child and if a child then also an heir, through God.”
As adopted children of God, we have chosen to believe that Jesus is the Son of the One True God and we believe God raised Jesus from the dead, and we have hope!
The great philanthropist Stanley S. Kresge was often in the company of college presidents or other fund-raisers asking for endowment or financial aid. During the course of discussion, Mr. Kresge would always ask one question, “Do you think the world is better today than it was 2,000 years ago?” I ask you that question today. Is the world any better after 2,000 years since Christ was born?
I thought about this question. On this New Year’s Eve Sunday, I say to you that I believe it is. It was Jesus Christ and his teachings that lie behind all the efforts at social reform. It was Jesus who abolished the practice of gladiators in ancient Rome. It was he who put an end to slavery. It was Jesus who elevated the status of women. It was Jesus who blessed the children and sanctified childhood. It was Jesus, who by his emphasis upon the worth of human beings, inspired us to pursue liberty and justice for all people. It is Jesus who has given us a new way of life, a new standard of conduct, a new power for living. When Jesus Christ is born again in the hearts of men, women and children, it is He who saves our world and makes it a better place to live.
I find hope in Jesus, and I pray you do also. I have faith that God’s promises have already begun to unfold, and that they will end in victory over Satan: In the Fullness of Time!
Pastor Rosemary DeHut