Christmas Sermon: Luke 2:33-44
Christmas 2Luke 2:33-44
December 30, 2007 Faith Ev. Lutheran Church Waterloo, IA
Fifty years ago, Irish playwright Samuel Beckett wrote a play that is now considered a modern masterpiece all over the world. The play is about two men waiting under a tree for a savior called Godot. The two men spend the entire play exchanging meaningless conversation while waiting in despair and hopelessness, neither of them really sure why they are waiting or what they need to be saved from. At the closing of the play, night falls on the helpless and unfulfilled men, and the savior they wait for never comes. In this work entitled “Waiting for Godot”, Samuel Beckett assumes the role of mouthpiece for the entire unbelieving world, accusing Christians of spending their lives waiting on impotent promises made by a nonexistent God.
A close look at scripture reveals that Beckett was at least partially right. For practically all of history mankind has waited for God. Indeed, they have waited for God to save them. My English Bible contains 66 books, and has nearly 1200 pages. Mankind was sinless and in favor with God for exactly two chapters, roughly a page and a half. We all know what happened in that third chapter of Genesis. Our ancestors Adam and Eve rebelled against God, and in doing so thrust themselves and all of God’s creation into a fallen and broken condition. The world and everything in it was torn apart from God by sin.
God was angry, and cast our first parents from the Garden. He cursed them with difficulties, tribulation and finally death. We see from the very beginning that God despises rebellion against Him. But we see almost immediately that God’s wrath is always overshadowed by His shocking grace. For even as God was expelling His wicked children from paradise, He promised them that their offspring would crush the head of the reviled serpent that encouraged their fatal mistake. Yes, even in the third chapter of Genesis, God promises His people a Messiah. And from that point on, mankind has waited for God.
And rarely have we waited well. God’s wisdom has always seemed foolish to man, and thus man has always sought to have things His own way. And throughout history, when man’s will led him to misery, suffering and despair (as was always the case), helpless man cried out to God, and waited for God to save him yet again. And without fail, God always did.
The entire Old Testament, in ways both subtle and bold, points to both the need for and promise of a savior. Whether it was through events that foreshadowed the salvation that was to come, or by the bold prophetic utterances of those who spoke on God’s behalf, every book of the Old Testament told of man’s desperate inability to save himself, and God’s enduring promise to restore him.
God promised to send a Messiah, a champion of His people, who would crush their oppressors, lead them to the Promised Land, and restore their relationship with Him. And so, man waited.
But God in His mercy did not force His children to linger here on earth without Him. Our Heavenly Father knew that the burden of enduring without Him was too much for His children to bear. So God always placed Himself where His broken children could find Him. He told them to build a tabernacle, or dwelling place, where they could come and hear His Word read to them. They were to come to Him in repentance, and offer the blood of animals as sacrifice for their sins. They were to come and receive forgiveness and comfort. They were to come and be in the real presence of God. And God was always there, just as He said He would be.
But over the generations, God’s people became so sinful and so rebellious that their sacrifices no longer satisfied His wrath. Despite God’s presence, guidance and mercy, man still wanted it all His own way. And so, God gave it to him. God spoke through prophets, and told the people of his fury, and then allowed His children to be taken into bondage again. But true to form, He assured them that the Messiah He promised would come to them at just the right time. God’s people lamented, and they cried out for reconciliation with their Heavenly Father. And… they waited.
The story of Simeon as recorded in the second chapter of Luke may cover only a few paragraphs, but it has a great and lasting importance to the life of every Christian. Simeon, like many of His generation, had waited for God’s Messiah. But unlike any other of His generation that we are aware of, he had been guaranteed that he would not die before he had seen the promise come to pass. Simeon waited well. We do not know for how long, for although tradition usually portrays Simeon as greatly advanced in age, scripture is silent as to how old he actually was. All that is to be said is that he waited well in faith for his savior to arrive. And just as God promised… the Messiah did come.
The scripture said that the Holy Spirit had come upon Simeon, and it is clear that this is how he knew that he had seen the Christ. For only through the eyes of faith that the Holy Spirit can produce could Simeon have know that this helpless, fragile baby was really the King of all creation. And as he looked upon the child, born humbly and in a most inglorious fashion, he knew that he had not waited in vain on an impotent or non existent fantasy. He had in fact been in the real presence of God.
As Simeon looked at the child, scripture records that he spoke these beautiful words that I am sure you recognize as the words of the Nunc Dimitis: “Lord now let your servant depart in peace according to your Word. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
The Samuel Becketts of Simeon’s day would have dismissed this as sheer and utter foolishness. But our God works that way. His foolishness produces abundance from nothingness, strength from weakness, life from death. We see this at the cross. We see our Jesus battered, weak and crucified, in despair and agony. Through worldly eyes, we see a gentle Jewish man being executed. But through the eyes of faith we see God incarnate, triumphantly destroying the power of death for us. And we can never think about this too much. For at the cross, we learn who we truly are, and who God is. God’s attributes were fully revealed that day, as we beheld God’s ultimate wrath and fury, and His shocking and infinite grace. Our sin so infuriated our Heavenly Father that there had to be blood atonement! Someone had to die! But He loved you so much that He couldn’t let it be you. Instead, in your place, He sent His only Son to be your Savior… just as He always said He would.
We no longer wait for God to reconcile us to Him, for that was accompolished at the cross. At your baptism, you were made a covenant person, forever bonded to the One who conquered death, hell and the devil. You are no longer a free agent left to your own devices and dependent upon your own plan. You belong to Christ, and you are His.
We still wait for God, but we wait differently now. We wait for His return. He has promised to come again for us, and to take us to the place He has prepared or us in Heaven. We now wait to see Him in His full heavenly glory, not as He was but as He is! The all powerful, all knowing, all loving and merciful Father we so desperately need Him to be.
But we do not have to linger around to be in His presence, for just like in the days of old, He knows that life on earth is too much for us to bear alone. Just like in the Old Testament, God still puts Himself where His broken children can find Him. He has promised to meet us in His Supper, where He gives you the sacrifice He made at the cross so that you can have comfort and forgiveness of sins. Here He meets you, gives you His presence, and assures you of His love. And He will always be there, just as He said He would.
As you wait for God now, do not concern yourself as some Christians do with “getting your life together” for His return. Do not believe that you will “get your house in order” so that you will be sinless when He returns. You will be sinning when He returns, and so will I. Rather, wait for God by remaining daily repentant, remembering the depth of your sin and the greater depth of God’s grace. Never forget that there is no sin you have committed that is too great for His mercy. His death is sufficient for you.
The world is full of Becketts that accuse us of waiting on a promise that is impotent, and a God that does not exist. But your God has a perfect attendance record. We do not know when He will return. But rest assured, when He has seen all that He needs to see, and all that He requires has come to pass, He will say to the evil foe, “You will hurt my children no more.” Our waiting will end, and He will return… just as He always said He would. Come Lord Jesus. Amen.