Read Luke 2:22-40
We get a substantial look at the ministry of Christ from his baptism by John to his death and resurrection, but there is much we don’t know.
The Christmas story is wonderful but from what we read, Jesus doesn’t say anything until he is 12 and even then it was after he had been missing for a couple days and was found in the temple being about his Father’s business, and we are not talking carpentry.
We don’t even have a record of Jesus having a Bar Mitzvah. If we did, it would be strange as this practice of celebrating a boy entering manhood and permitted to participate in the religious rituals would have made no sense. Minors were expected to partake in observances as much as they were able in the time of Jesus living as a man on this earth.
The Bar Mitzvah ceremony wasn’t adopted until centuries later.
But what we sometimes wonder about are the teenage years of Jesus. Could the Son of God truly survive being a teenager? Remember that he had younger brothers and sisters.
Did he ever just once get angry with them and say, “I’m telling my real Father what you did?”
We have insight into only a few years of this divine life.
Near the end of John’s gospel, he writes that Jesus did many more signs and wonders than what were written down, but that those that have been recorded for posterity are there so that we may know that Jesus is the Christ and that we may have life in him.
So we consider the gospels and ask, what is the purpose of this part?
So we examine this passage from Luke with two people that we know little about, Simeon and Anna who was the daughter of Phanuel, and we ask, “How does this lead us to Christ and to life?”
Why is this part in here?
Wouldn’t the story of Jesus be complete if it had just said that Joseph and Mary lived by the law? Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day and given the name predestined to be the name that is above all names.
Wouldn’t it have been enough to say that Joseph and Mary continued in their obedience to the Law of Moses by presenting Jesus at the temple and dedicating him to God as he was their firstborn?
But the scripture mentions names. If someone is named in the Bible, it often means that they were someone who was known or noteworthy.
These two people at the temple were not just relegated to words like a certain man, or the one who, or any other less personal description that would have been perfectly acceptable elsewhere in the scripture.
Why are these two identified by name and yet we don’t know much about them?
Let’s see what we do know, looking first at Simeon.
· Simeon lived in Jerusalem.
· He was a devout and righteous man. He is not identified as a priest or a Pharisee or with any position of any note.
· He was waiting for the redemption of Israel.
· The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Christ. He probably didn’t have a clue if he would die at age 20 or end up living to be 220 years old.
· On the day in question, the Spirit led him to the temple courts. That tells us that he just wasn’t hanging out there. He likely lived somewhere else in town but on this day at this time, the Spirit led him to the temple.
· Simeon took the child from mom and dad and they didn’t resist. So maybe Simeon was a priest of sorts or maybe Joseph and Mary had just become accustomed to listening for and obeying what God wanted them to do.
· In any case, Simeon blessed the baby Jesus.
Next we consider the woman—the prophetess–Anna.
· She was of the tribe of Asher.
· She was the daughter of Phanuel. Who was Phanuel? He was the father of Anna. That’s all we really know about him, other than his name means, Face of God.
· She had been married for 7 years before her husband died.
· She was 84 years old now.
· She did not leave the temple.
· She worshiped day and night.
· She fasted.
· She prayed.
· She came up to Joseph and Mary at just the right time.
· She gave thanks to God.
· And she started talking about this special baby to everyone who was intent on knowing about the redemption of Israel.
We don’t have her words. We do have Simeon’s words. They were a blessing to the Christ Child and his family and a revelation to us.
“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.”
What is revealed?
God’s plan of salvation would not be kept a secret. It was not just for a few. His salvation had been manifested in the sight of all nations.
God’s salvation would be for all people, yes, even those dirty ole Gentiles.
God’s glory would come through Israel. Though the people as a whole had made quite a mess of living in good relationship with God, the lineage of Jesus was traceable to David and to Abraham. The Seed that was Jesus came from the Jews. God’s glory is made known to us through his Chosen People.
And God had selected special witnesses.
· And Simeon who was promised that he would not die until he had seen the Christ.
And Simeon calls out to God as he blesses the child, “It is finished.”
A little over three decades later that child would cry out, “It is finished.”
Simeon had come from wherever he was that day because the Spirit led him there. He was surely ready to be led by the Spirit. We don’t see him struggling with following the Spirit. Remember how Nicodemus could not understand the things that Jesus told him and he struggled with being born of the Spirit. Jesus told him that the Spirit moves where it moves. It is like the wind.
The wind can blow right by us or a skilled sailor can catch the wind and move his vessel across the lake or the ocean.
Simeon was receptive to being led by the Spirit.
Anna was where she needed to be and she never left. We don’t know if God promised her the same thing that he did Simeon.
What we know is that she was exactly where she needed to be to play her part in this part of the story of the Christ. Somehow when the family arrived, she knew who they were, but she didn’t have far to go to meet them.
We study a lot about the prophecy of a Messiah coming for the salvation of the world. We love the Christmas story. We study the teaching and ministry and healing and other might acts of God that we see in Jesus. We hang on every word of the Sermon on the Mount and try to comprehend so many parables.
But sometimes we just need to step back and look at a piece of the story that is given to us so that we know this Child, this Divine Message of God, this Messiah, this Emanuel, this one who we know as Jesus was the one who was promised and is our life and our salvation.
These people and these events came together to affirm to us that Jesus did come and he came as the salvation of the world. There is much more of the story to follow, but the coincidence of these people and events were given as an affirmation to Mary and Joseph and to us.
In the mid 1980’s I was transferred from the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia where I had completed the Amphibious Warfare School and trained officer candidates for the summer following the school. My orders were to the Second Marine Division in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
I had traveled to Camp Lejeune a couple weeks earlier and rented a house so we didn’t have to have our household goods put into storage. We would leave our quarters in Quantico one day and the next day our stuff would arrive at our house in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
All we had to do was get everyone into two vehicles, drive south, and wait for our stuff to get there the next day. It was a simple but workable plan.
I had all of the houseplants and the dog in may car. My wife had our daughter and 2 month old son in her car. The moving van had just pulled away, so I said, “Let’s meet at the 7-11 and then head to Camp Lejeune.”
Now you need to know that at this time, you couldn’t go more than a couple miles along the US 1 Highway without seeing a 7-11. There was one only a couple blocks north of the gate to the base and there was one a couple miles south.
We were headed south so I turned left out of the gate and headed for the 7-11. There was some traffic so my wife was not immediately behind me but she knew where the store was.
I arrived in a few minutes and got out of the car and waited for her to pull up so I could get everyone’s drink order.
I waited some more.
Here I was on US Highway 1 South and all of the human members of my family had abandoned me. I had the dog and the plants but was missing 1 wife, 1 daughter, and 1 very young son.
Where could they be?
How much easier could I have made this? Let’s head out and meet at the 7-11. Realize that I had gone to school for 9 months to learn how to maneuver battalions and regiments and brigades. I had trained officer candidates for 3 more months. I knew how to coordinate a complex operation.
What had gone wrong that I couldn’t get 4 people, 2 vehicles, 1 dog, and a miniature jungle of plants to a rendezvous point a few miles down the road?
Well, they had turned north to go to the 7-11. Yes, it was closer but it was in the wrong direction. Did my wife of 2 years not know that she had married a Marine? We move towards the objective. We don’t give up any miles retreating.
The dog and the plants understood.
And 2000 years ago a righteous and devout man came from somewhere out in downtown Jerusalem and a widow woman who lived in the temple knew to look in the temple courts at just the right time so they would be there when baby Jesus was presented by his parents following their time of purification.
I couldn’t get 2 vehicles 3 miles down the road to the same 7-11.
The child would be blessed and salvation proclaimed and affirmed in this simple rendezvous.
The apostle Paul stated something similar on the grand scale. The Good News translation says it this way.
But when the right time finally came, God sent his own Son. He came as the son of a human mother and lived under the Jewish Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might become God’s children.
In a world that sees chaos and randomness, we see the perfect timing of God.
We know of the mighty acts of God.
· Creation was impressive.
· Finding a man who would build a huge boat and fill it with animals when it had never rained should not be dismissed lightly.
· For those who live in the western United States, 40 days and nights of rain seems pretty incredible as well.
· Parting the Red Sea was no easy feat.
· Crossing the Jordan on dry land probably when the river was at flood stage surely makes the top 10 list.
· Lighting Elijah’s water drenched pile of wood and putting the prophets of Baal in their place had to be something to see.
But sometimes we overlook the mighty acts of God that come through timing.
· Animals arriving to board the ark at just the right time. Imagine the magnitude of the task of building this huge boat and having to maintain an equally enormous zoo at the same time until the boat was finished.
· A ram caught in the bushes and suitable for sacrifice at just the right time. Now 10 minutes after Abraham had sacrificed Isaac would be grist for the mill in an Alanis Morrissette song but hardly bring the glory that God intended.
· A scrawny shepherd boy with some musical inclinations and deadly accuracy with a slingshot would have never been noticed 20 minutes after the Philistines overran Saul’s knee-knocking army, but was the epitome of perfect timing with both sides poised for battle.
· An ungodly ruler who would require a census and taxation of all in his realm that would send a young couple to the City of David when they were current residents of Nazareth at just the right time for this young maiden to deliver a child in the place prescribed by prophecy would not have been the same if Joseph could have registered online or requested a 6 month extension.
· A Savior whose blood would atone for the sin of the world might have seemed less significant to us if the law had not come first to show humankind how far they had strayed from God’s goodness.
· Presenting the baby Jesus in the temple, making the appropriate sacrifice, and consecrating this firstborn male child to the Lord could have just been an act of obedience by Joseph and Mary, but God turned it into a blessing and an affirmation when Simeon and Anna arrived at this time and place.
Sometimes a mighty act of God doesn’t lie in thunder, lightning, parting seas, still small voices, or other ways that we have become familiar with in the scriptures. Sometimes we see God’s direction and assurance and affirmation in his timing.
Angels, shepherds, and wise men made affirmations to Mary that the incredible revelation that came to her via an angel was no dream.
Simeon and Anna arriving at just the right time in just the right place affirmed that this child was indeed the salvation of the world.
But the young couple were admonished that this would be no easy road.
The Messiah would force people to choose.
Some would hate him and persecute him.
The hearts of many would be revealed because of this child.
And even Mary—yes, blessed among women Mary—would not be granted immunity from the trials that this child must face.
A sword would pierce her own soul as well. Perhaps that is why we read on more than one occasion that Mary stored up these things in her heart. Assurance and affirmation do not preclude trials and tribulation in our lives.
And so we come to coincidence.
Some people say they don’t believe in coincidence. That’s sort of like saying that you don’t believe in gravity. You would think that if you didn’t believe in gravity you would just float away, but so far that hasn’t been the case with anyone that I know.
How can the preacher believe in coincidence?
Because he believes in God, and God has set this creation in motion and caused people and things and events and circumstances to be connected.
What is coincidence? It is the coinciding of those events and circumstances and natures and people without an obvious labeling that goes with them.
We who know God and have been blessed to have the blindness of the world lifted from us know that these are not accidents.
Sometimes we confuse the word coincidence with accident or random or casual, and that confusion has been around so long that these are now secondary definitions of the word. But we who live in the Spirit and walk with the Spirit and seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness have eyes to see and ears to hear that God is at work in the coincidences of the world.
Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, Simeon, Anna, at the temple at exactly the right time is a coincidence that begs the term, divine orchestration.
Thirty-some years down the road from this moment in the temple, some disciples would find a colt exactly where Jesus said it would be.
At just the right time, Jesus showed up late to heal Lazarus. Healing is one thing. Raising a man from the dead is another. Had Jesus arrived right away and just placed his hands on his friend before he died we might have never heard of Lazarus.
Sometimes today we think that the Lord should have already come back for us, but his timing is always perfect. He is not slow in coming for he wants all to come to a saving knowledge of life in Christ Jesus.
And so we are to comprehend and understand and accept and embrace that God’s timing—though it may not match our plans—is always right on time.
And so we come to the timing of our lives, and that brings us to the Arby’s 5 for 5 special. I think it is now 5 for $5.55 now when they run the special, but it used to be a straight 5 for 5.
Once upon a time several years ago when I worked for the Oklahoma Publishing Company, I had spent much of the day in Chickasha, Oklahoma. I was tired and wanted to head west on that 2 hour journey that I had made too many times in the last couple months
I pulled into the Arby’s and got their 5 for 5 special figuring that I could eat it on the way home and start putting some miles behind me.
I walked out of the restaurant and drove around the building so I could get back on the highway and get out of there. As I passed the dumpster there was a man going through it obviously looking for food.
I headed about a block towards home and turned around. How could I drive home with a bag full of food when this guy was dumpster diving. This wasn’t a panhandler on a busy corner. The guy was digging through that nasty dumpster.
I was back in the parking lot in under a minute, but he was gone. I searched the surrounding area, but he was gone.
I drove home. Those were the worst tasting sandwiches that I had ever eaten.
When you know that you are supposed to help someone, just do it. That’s not the jalapeno peppers that you ate last night nudging you. It is God’s own Spirit.
There was no other time for me to help this man. I was there at the appointed time and I didn’t help. My eyes were not searching and my ears were not listening for God’s direction.
I wanted to feed my stomach and get home and was focused on doing both at the same time.
Today my eyes are opened much wider and my ears tuned for God’s voice. My desk drawers, or catch-all bin in my truck, or sometimes the cargo pockets on my shorts have blue wristbands in them.
I have a stack of Bibles ready to give away in my office, in my truck, and sometimes in other places.
I didn’t do this when I first accept Christ.
I didn’t do this when I first was ordained as an elder.
I didn’t do this when I was called and ordained as a minister of word and sacrament.
I didn’t start doing this until we embarked upon this thing we called Good News 2012. As we were working lists and finding all those kids, I remember sitting in my office and looking out my window. People were forming up for the homecoming parade.
I have never been much for watching parades but in an instant I no longer saw a parade but a chance to intersect with the lives of so many children and tell them that God loves them. The bracelets are different now but my eyes are still open.
Sometimes I feel like kicking myself when I don’t have a blue bracelet on me.
But I have learned to see through randomness to intersection.
I listen for things that coincide.
I don’t have to see the mighty acts of God in parted seas and or fire reigning down from heaven.
I look for God’s timing.
Why am I here at this time and in this place?
Is it to share the good news?
Is it to help someone?
Is it for my own peace?
Is it so that I may grow in grace even more?
I don’t always see the answers to these questions as clearly as we see Mary and Joseph bring baby Jesus to the temple and being met by a man appointed by God to live until his own eyes had seen the salvation of the world.
But I know to look.
I know that God works in the timing of people and places as much as he does in the physical provision and in the peace that we cannot comprehend.
And it is empowering to know that God is at work in all these moments of my life.
He is at work in your life.
He has placed people in your path.
He has given you gifts and talents that will help someone that you will encounter this week, perhaps even this day or within the hour.
And there are people and circumstances and encounters on your near horizon that will affirm that God is at work in your life.
Open your eyes.
Open your ears.
Open your heart and see that there is more to what is going on around us that just sleep, work, eat, sports, homework, taxes, and television shows.
See the divinely orchestrated coincidences that occur all around you. Some of them have a message or a purpose for you.
Will you recognize them?
Some will affirm that God is living and active not only in his written word but in your heart.
But will you notice.
Mary and Joseph were on their way to do what the law required, but it would be no ordinary day—not that these two could tell you what an ordinary day was.
It was a day for God to show his glory and affirm his presence and assure those who love him that he is in the here and now,
He is in your here and now.
Will you see him?
Will you hear him?
Will you respond to him?
Will you testify as to what God is doing in your here and now?
I say that we are his people and we will be on the lookout for his hand and his timing in everything of which we are a part.
A man named Simeon waited his entire life to say the words, “My eyes have seen your salvation.”
He made his appointment.
Anna made her appointment.
What will we do with the divinely orchestrated appointments of our lives?