Holding the Promise

+ A sermon for the Presentation of Our Lord at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on February 2, 2020 +

Text: Luke 2:22-40

Audio: LINK

Well my friends, we did it—we’ve made it to February.
I don’t know about you, but January seemed impossibly long this year.
Maybe it was the now more than two months without an officially sunny day.
Maybe it was tying the record for the most rainy days in January. 3403b718-04fc-11e7-a621-509d6ee6d54e-780x459
Maybe it was the constant consternation about the state of our country and of our world.
Whatever the reason, at this point in the year, winter seems to be almost interminable.
I know that when we took down our Christmas tree at home and put away those lights we added during that darkest time of the year, I felt the gloominess set in so much more than I had just a few days before.
It felt as if the light and hope of that season so quickly faded to the dreary gray of a Cascadia winter.

So today in the midst of that winter gloom, the church celebrates a unique festival on our calendar—and it’s rare for us to be able to celebrate this day on a Sunday.
Today, February 2nd, marks the fortieth day of Christmas.
An ancient tradition that is still recognized in some parts of the world marked today as the end of the Christmas season and many churches have kept their decorations up until this date.
According to Luke’s gospel, it was on the fortieth day after Jesus’ birth that his parents brought him to the Temple in Jerusalem and, in accordance with Jewish custom, dedicated him to the Lord.

Simeon and Anna-2 by Julie Lonneman
“Simeon and Anna” by Julie Lonneman

And when they arrive at the temple, the Holy Family is met by those aged saints, Simeon and Anna, who greet the Christ child with wonder and rejoicing.
We’re told that when Anna saw Jesus she began to praise God and tell everyone she met about what she had seen.
And Simeon began singing a song that has become familiar to us proclaiming Christ “a light for revelation to the Gentiles,” which is why today is sometimes known as Candlemas when we let candles remind us of the light of Christ that is for all peoples.
It’s also why we have the light of a few extra candles this morning in worship.
Today is a celebration to bookend the Christmas festivities and remind us of the hope was born among us those many weeks ago in December.
It’s like a little Christmas celebration in February to show that the light that was kindled in the longest nights of the year still is burning bright and bringing us into the longer days of spring.

Because even in the natural cycles of the earth, this day serves as a symbol full of hope: we are now halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
It’s a reminder for us that those signs new life we can see in nature around us—like the sun finally setting after 5:00pm and the perhaps prematurely budding trees and flowers—will take root and blossom into the fullness of spring.
It’s a reminder that we can make it through the winter gloom into the hope and light and warmth that spring and summer will bring.
Punxsutawney_Phil_2018_(cropped)It’s even the reason that on this morning scores of onlookers and news crews scrambled around a den in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to see whether a groundhog named Phil would see his shadow or not (he didn’t, by the way).
That festival is based on an old German superstition about the how the weather on Candlemas will predict the coming of spring.

This day serves as a pivot of sorts, a hinge that plants one foot both in the winter and on foot in the spring—a promise that while, yes, the forecast still portends rain for the coming week, that rain is watering the flowers and trees that will burst forth in bloom in just a few months.
That the waters will nourish the seeds that are being sown in the coming weeks to produce an abundant harvest.
That it is storing up snow in the mountains to keep our forests lush and verdant in the summer.
That this too is part of the natural cycles of the earth, part of God’s good creation.

But we know that this day is not yet the fulfillment of that promise.
Today we can still only see in part what is in store for us and for the creation.
We can only hold on to the hope of spring we can feel in the rare sunnier days like this one.
It makes me wonder what those prophets in the temple saw that day so long ago, forty days after Christmas.
What sign of hope they saw that morning to make them praise God and sing for joy.
We can almost picture the aging Simeon tearfully and joyously take the Christ child in his arms thanking God for fulfilling the promise made to him—that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

opdracht4But what had he seen, really?
Simeon was holding in his arms a helpless not even six-week old baby.
It’s not like Jesus had done anything yet: his babbles not yet forming into sermons, his cries not yet cries for justice.
By all accounts, the world was the same as it had been 40 days earlier.
King Herod still ruled with an iron fist.
The Roman Empire still occupied their land, oppressed his people, and colluded with the religious establishment.
The people still longed for salvation.
And yet, somehow this little child has signaled for Simeon the fulfillment of God’s promise.
Somehow this tiny baby allowed Simeon to feel satisfied, that he was finally ready to die in peace.
Because he had somehow seen in his arms the salvation of God in flesh and blood; he had somehow seen the future that God has prepared for all people.
He sings of the light of this child, a light that is for the all the nations of the earth that will illumine what God has done.
A light that will show us what God is doing in our midst that can so easily go unseen.
A light that will reveal the love of God for all people through preaching and teaching and healing.
And this little baby is somehow the sign of promise that compels the Prophet Anna to proclaim the goodness of God and spread that good news to everyone she meets joining the shepherds as early evangelists of this wondrous child.

And yet, we must realize—they must have realized—that by the time this child would grow up and begin his work, these two blessed elders would have died.
They would never see him heal or preach or teach.
They would never see him feed the multitudes or calm the waters or challenge the authorities.
They would never experience the anguish of his crucifixion or the triumph of his resurrection.
But somehow, this little child was enough for them.
This infant boy proclaimed that their God was faithful to the promises made to them.
That this baby was God born in their midst full of hope and love and promise.
That this child would bring division and experience pain, yes, but he would herald a new future dawning that would show forth the glory and majesty of God.
That this little boy would change the world.
And with one foot planted in this mysterious and miraculous incarnation centered in the winter solstice, Simeon gravely points us to the implications of God-with-us, how the coming spring equinox will also bring opposition and pain and even death for this child and his followers, but will nevertheless proclaim the triumph of our God in Christ’s resurrection.

In some ways, we don’t have all that much more of an advantage over Simeon and Anna, do we?
While we put our trust in the stories of scripture, in the message of the gospel, we have never seen those works of Jesus any more than they would.
We still have a world that is in dire need of salvation, the fulfillment of God’s promises in our midst.
We still await the fullness of the Reign of God when hunger and sickness will be no more, when despair will be vanquished, when the climate will be restored, when tyrants will be cast down and peace will rule the earth.
We still mourn our beloved saints who had striven and hoped to see the fulfillment of this promise in their own lifetimes—just as we hope that our own eyes will see its completion.

And yet, on this morning we join with Anna in praising God.
On this morning we join our voices in Simeon’s song.
In fact, his song has become a refrain for the church since the earliest days and often follows the meal we share in Holy Communion.
It gives us the words of the canticle we have sung at this table all season.
freely-40707Because at this table, we, like Simeon, have held Christ in our hands.
At this table, we have tasted the salvation of God made manifest in bread and wine.
At this table, we have seen and touched and felt the fullness of God revealed for us even as we await its fruition across the globe.
And while we know that we might not live to see its final completion, God’s promise has been fulfilled for us and we can go in peace.
While we may hold a mere chunk of bread, while we may only take a sip of wine, in these gifts we experience the fullness of Christ, the fullness of the promise of life and love that God has made with us and with all peoples.

But while this meal may satisfy us with a sure and certain hope for the future, it can also leave us with a restlessness, can’t it?
While we rightly hail this foretaste of the great feast to come, we yearn for that day when all can gather around God’s table and eat their fill.
Sharing the cup, we long for the day when the creation will be restored and all creatures can safely drink.
Given a glimpse of heaven in this place, we plead with God to come quickly, to fulfill the promise, to transform this world into the reign of heaven.
And fed and refreshed in this holy meal, we prepare ourselves for the work, the opposition, the perseverance such fulfillment requires.

image-assetThis morning we sing with Simeon about Jesus as the light of the world, revealing the goodness of God to the nations.
It’s a theme we hear throughout this time after Epiphany and how we get to be bearers of that light.
In this feast of promise, in this feast of love, we hold the fullness of Christ, the fullness of God’s promise.
And in this meal, we become what we eat, bearers of Christ, bearers of light for the world.
We see God’s Messiah, God’s salvation, God’s goodness that is for all peoples.
And like those blessed saints of ancient days, this revelation spurs us into action.
We go from this place like Anna, praising God and sharing the good news to everyone we meet.
We go from this place like Simeon, proclaiming God’s faithfulness and giving thanks for what we have seen.
We go from this place in peace bearing Christ, continuing his mission, planting seeds that will sprout and grow, bearing the fruits of the kingdom.
We go from this place as rays of hope, doing our part to reveal what God is doing in our midst, helping to bring that promise to fruition.
We go from this place in peace, witnesses of the salvation which God as prepared in the sight of all peoples.

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