First Mennonite Church
December 14, 2014
Longing for a Day of Consolation
Text: Luke 2: 22-35
This passage presents a beautiful picture of how human lives intersect. This passage is a portrait in which heaven and earth meet and more specifically it is a picture in which God meets mankind. In this picture we see city dwellers meeting with countryside folks, where the elderly meet the newborn, where the mundane day becomes a divine moment, where ritual becomes incarnation, and where promise of long ago comes to fulfillment. It is a passage in which someone with a longing heart is dismissed in peace and a joyful heart begins a journey of heartbreak. This passage is filled with contrasting images, but today I only want to talk about the character of Mary and Joseph, as a couple, and of Simeon. I will leave the contrasting images for another time.
Up until recent decades most people went to church every Sunday. Today, we must admit that the practice of rituals, sacraments, or religious ordinances are at its lowest in Christendom. Religious rituals in general have been relegated to fewer occasions in the lives of people. Besides Easter and Christmas, people only become aware of religious rituals when getting marrying, at funerals, or when dedicating or baptizing their infants.
In the Jewish context of Mary and Joseph, every household was required to honor God in everything and every day. “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone…Keep these words…recite them to your children everywhere you go, when you rise up, when you lie down. Post them everywhere you could see them daily (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Mary and Joseph lived with the word, worked with the word, ate with the word, worshipped with the word. The word was present when they rose up in the morning and the word was with them when they went to bed at night. Therefore when their baby boy was born, their saturated lives with the word led them to fulfill the rituals pertaining to dedication of the baby and the purification of the mother. Their readiness for compliance with the rituals flowed out from a saturated lives with the word. Honoring God in part was reflected in their observation of rituals.
The example of Mary and Joseph calls us to open our eyes and to take notice of the snares laid before us by the secular world. This story of Mary and Joseph calls us to free ourselves from the traps of secularism and technology we might have fallen into. The busyness of life, the pressing desire for happiness and fulfilment, the shrinking family-time with fewer meals ate together, are not only physically overwhelming, but more importantly, they spiritually numbing us or deadening our sensitivity to God’s presence in our daily lives. We, therefore, lose spiritual sensitivity and fail to recognize the sacredness of every aspect of life, but more importantly, we fail to recognize the presence of God in our everyday lives.
As we celebrate this Advent Season, take time to reflect on your spiritual life. What place does the Word of God have in your life? What is your view of the Christian rituals? Do you participate in Communion fully committed to its meaning? Are you baptized as Jesus commanded his followers to do? Do you strive to lead your children in the Lord’s way as you committed to do when you dedicated them as babies? Do you honor your spouse as you vowed to do the day you got married? Mary and Joseph are a clear example of Word-saturated lives.
Now let us to turn to Simeon. He is described as a “righteous and devout” man.
Simeon had been waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” The vision of a day of “consolation” for Israel is based on the words of the prophet Isaiah.
Comfort, O comfort my people,
Says the Lord
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. (Isaiah 40:1-2)
For the Lord will comfort Zion. (Isaiah 51:3)
How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
Who bring good news of salvation,
Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Break forth together into singing,
You ruins of Jerusalem;
For the Lord has comforted his people.
He has redeemed Jerusalem. (Isaiah 52:7, 9)
We do not know since when Simeon started looking forward to the day in which God would bring redemption to his hurting, oppressed, and spiritually fainted people. Simeon had not only been expecting and hoping for that day of consolation to come, but he also had been praying for it to come. Implied in the text is that due to fervent prayers of Simeon the Holy Spirit made known that he would not see death before that day comes. Simeon prayed and kept waiting. He grew old, but his hope did not wither. The day Joseph, Mary and Jesus went to the temple to fulfill their obligations to God, began like a normal day for Simeon. Then the Spirit prompted Simeon to go to the temple and he obeyed. Once there, Simeon took the baby in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation…”
How lovely it most have been to see old Simeon hold an eight-day old baby in his arms. But what made that moment the most marvelous occasion was what Simeon said, “Sovereign Lord, You may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation.” Oh, what a joyous moment it was for Simeon! What a profound sense of gratitude and peace must have overwhelmed his heart. What a sense of confidence and satisfaction, Simeon must have felt. That was the day and that was the baby he had been longing to see. Simeon was glad to see the Lord’s Anointed One whom he had been waiting for a long, long time. He got everything his heart had been longing for many years. There was nothing more to wait for; there was nothing more to hope for. It was all complete! God had fulfilled his promise to Simeon!
What happened to Simeon in the temple inspires faith and trust in God to all who are patiently waiting before the Him. What happened to Simeon is comforting news to everyone who is patiently waiting for a “day of consolation” of their own. Simeon reminds everyone who is praying and waiting patiently that what they are doing is not a waste of time.
We all might have what is for us “a day of consolation.” For me, my day of consolation is when I get to see my children become sufficiently ready to embark on their own life’s journey. I pray God would grant me strength and health to see that day. For some it more immediate. It is the day when a medical report come and relieve them of all their fears of having a deadly or weakening disease. For others it might be a day when they would see their loved ones saved. Still yet for others it could be a dream come true.
For an expectant mother it is the day when her baby would be born.
For student the day of his or her day of graduation; for the young lovers, the day they get married, and so on.
Despite how remote it is and how divisive it is, for the undocumented in this country, it is the day they are given citizenship. Everyone looks forward to some kind of a “day of consolation.” For Ahrean and Catherine, the day when August is released from the NICU to come to home. And that has just happened! We rejoice with them.
Jesus’ birth brought the day of consolation for Israel. He brought God’s light to the Gentiles and God’s glory to his people. Every time we celebrate Christmas, we rejoice that we have found God’s consolation in Christ. Yet, there is more to it than what we are already enjoying now.
Douglas Shultz tells the story of his final conversation with his father. Douglas’ father had had a heart attack some thirteen years before and then the doctors had said his dad would only live a few year more. When Douglas came to visit his parents during a school break, while he was in college, his dad called him aside. In a soft whisper his dad said, “Doug, I am going to die this year.” Emotions overwhelmed Douglas and with teary eyes he asked, “Are you sure, Dad?” His father nodded. The Douglas managed to ask, “Are you ready to die, Dad?” His father gave a resounding “Yes!” And continued, “I love this life, Douglas; every day I see is God’s gift to me. But now, I will see Him. And I am glad for that.” Douglas’ father saw God two months later.
My dear friends, even when we rejoice for the gift of God of life, love and family, even when we celebrate the joy of God’s salvation today, we are still looking forward to the day of our ultimate consolation. It will be the day when God will wipe all our tears away. It will be the day when God will embrace us with his loving arms. It will be the day when God will remove all pain and sorrow. Death will have no more say over us, because death will be swallowed up in victory. This is the promise of God. It all began on what was for Simeon “the day of consolation.” It all began the day Jesus was born for our salvation. Receive on this day God’s consolation in Christ. Amen!
Additional note on Jesus’ dedication
Naming and circumcising a child were both acts conveying identity to a child in Jewish context. The act of naming a child, especially with a religious name was an act of blessing and a declaration of the child’s character and heritage. In this case, the name “Jesus” was given to the baby, not by Joseph but by the angel. The name declared his character and calling: for he will save his people from their sin (Matthew 1:21).
Circumcision was an act of formal recognition of the child into the covenant community as was commanded to Abraham.
 Douglas Schultz, Wrestling with God: Herald Press, Scottdale. 2007 (p. 67)