Rev. Erik Veerman
Waiting for Redemption
This is our third advent sermon from the Gospel of Luke, and it’s the third advent song in Luke’s Gospel. We first heard of Mary’s deep faith as she rejoiced in God her Savior. And then last week, we considered Zechariah’s prophetic song as he focused on the fulfillment of salvation. Those first two songs happened before Jesus’s birth. And this third song, which we’re about to read comes shortly after Jesus’s birth. It’s declared through a Godly man named Simeon, as he held the baby Jesus in his arms. And in it he tells us of the peace that he has now that Christ has come.
Let’s now come to God’s Holy Word.
Reading of Luke 2:22-40
Christmas can be a time of celebration and family and friends. But sometimes behind the outward celebrations are deep longings and desires. We want relief from pain… we long to see family members far away… we wish to be with friends or family we’ve lost… we desire new relationships…. And this time of year can accentuate those unsettled feelings of waiting or longing. We desiring to be filled with joy or consoled by the embrace of a loved one.
Today is the day after Christmas. But kids, what if Christmas never came? …what would it be like if you kept waiting and waiting, but Christmas day never arrived? You would be sad, wouldn’t you? Well, that’s what it would be like to be waiting and longing for something, but feeling like it would never happening. If you’ve read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, it would be like what Mr. Tumnus said, “It is winter in Narnia… and has been for ever so long…. always winter, but never Christmas.” Well, God knows how to help us in our waiting and our longings… because Christmas, in fact, has come. Jesus has come.
One of the underlying themes in these verses from Luke 2 is waiting. Simeon had been waiting. Anna was waiting with the people who were waiting. Last week we saw how the prophecies and promises were being fulfilled after a long time of silence. Well, this week, it’s a little more personal. Many had been longing, deep within, for God to bring salvation. Yearning in their hearts that God would bring “consolation” – that’s the word used in verse 25. It means comfort.
Look with me at our text. I want to spend the first part here walking you through the structure. By doing that, it will help us see Luke’s focus.
Really, there’s a Hebrew and Greek parallel in our verses. We’ve seen this pattern before. Remember these parallels work differently from the way parallels work in English. The parallels here start from the outside and they work in. They work toward the center, the crux, the emphasis of the passage as they point to a resolution.
So let’s start from the outside and work our way to the middle.
• If you look at verses 22 and 39. Both talk about the Law. In verse 22, Joseph and Mary were bringing Jesus to the temple. It was time for his consecration and the purification offering. Earlier in the service David read Leviticus 12 for us. I didn’t just have him read that to make us all feel awkward. No, it helps us understand why Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus came to the temple. Jesus was to be circumcised on the 8th days and then 33 days later, Mary and Joseph were to offer a sacrifice. They couldn’t afford the lamb, but as we read, the law permitted them to sacrifice a couple of doves or pigeons. And since Jesus was the firstborn, he was also to be presented or consecrated to the Lord.
• Now, jump down to verse 39. You’ll see the closing parallel. It says that they “performed everything according to the Law of the Lord” So that’s the outer layer of the parallel. The law and the law
• As we move to the next level towards the center, Simeon is introduced. And we’re told that Simeon was “righteous and devout.” Verse 25. Righteous meaning he sought to live his life in righteousness according to God’s law. And devout meaning he loved God. His heart was devoted to the Lord.
• Well, just like Simeon, we’re introduced later to Anna. This is the other part of this parallel. Anna was also righteous and devout. Those aren’t the words used to describe her. Instead, we’re told that she dedicated her life to “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” It says she had been doing this for years. Anna, which, by the way, means “God’s favor,” was a widow. She was 84 years old… and for about the last 60 years Anna dedicated her life to prayer, day and night. So there’s Simeon near the beginning of these verse and Anna near the end. And both models of a life committed to the Lord.
• And, next, notice the parallel about waiting. Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” That’s up in verse 25. That “consolation,” as I mentioned earlier, was referring to how God would console of comfort his people when the promised Messiah came. God would bring comfort through him. It comes from the prophet Isaiah. Consolation or comfort is a big theme in Isaiah. Like we read earlier in Isaiah 52. Or maybe more familiar to you… Isaiah 40, which we read at our Lessons & Carols service, “comfort, comfort my people says your God.” So Simeon was waiting for God to fulfill this promise of and bring comfort.
• Well if you look down at verse 38 of Luke 2. Anna spoke, it says, “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” There it is again. A parallel - waiting. It’s more than just Simeon who was waiting for God’s redemption and consolation. No, there was a remnant of God’s people, longing for God to deliver Israel. And this was not a good time for the Jewish people. Israel was occupied by Rome. Herod the Great, even though he had Jewish roots, cared not about the promises of God. Quite the opposite. But there were people there in Jerusalem with Anna, who were waiting, knowing that someday God was going to bring his redemption. They had faith like what Hebrews 11 referred to - what we read earlier – faith in the things promised. They were waiting and longing for God to bring His salvation.
• Ok, so the parallels so far include God’s law, the devotion of Simeon and Anna, and waiting for God to fulfill his promise.
• Alright, let’s keep moving towards the center. The next parallels are the blessings. There are two blessings here. Did you notice that. First, when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple, Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and blessed God, verse 28. Simeon’s song is that first blessings.
• Then, look at verse 34. Simeon pronounced another blessing. This time he blessed Joseph and Mary. In the first blessing, 29-34, it’s about peace because Jesus had been revealed to Simeon. Jesus will be a revelation to all people. We’ll come back to that in a minute. And in the second blessing, not quite peace, no, rather Simeon revealed that Mary’s heart would be pierced at the people’s response to Jesus. But in both blessings, Jesus is a revelation. “a light of revelation to the Gentiles” verse 32, and at the end of verse 35, a different kind of revelation. It says, “that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
So where does that leave us in the parallel? Well, it leaves us with verse 33. This is the very center of this text. It says, “And his father and his mother” that is, Mary and Joseph, “marveled at what was said about him.”
They were amazed at what had been revealed about Jesus. because their child was the consolation of Israel. He was the one who would bring comfort, and salvation. Not just to their people, Israel, no, but to the world. The Savior had been born! Salvation had come to those who had been waiting and longing in Israel… and salvation had come to the world. And he would bring comfort and peace.
AND if you go back through those parallels one at a time, it is Jesus himself who fulfills each of them. He fulfilled the law. He’s the one who was perfectly righteous. He’s also the one who would bring perfect comfort in their waiting. And he’s the one who would bring ultimate blessing – peace not just to Israel. But peace to all people and nations.
Do you see those layers and parallels? How they lead up to the wonder of Mary and Joseph on the identity of their child.
I think one of the harder things for us to understand in all this is why more people didn’t know about the birth of the Messiah - Jesus. After all, it had been 40 days since Jesus was born… that’s a long time as far as news cycles go today.
Think about this, when a significant event happens today, all it takes is one tweet, one post, and that news can travel to the other side of the world in seconds. Most internet traffic travels through fiber optic lines. It’s pretty close to the speed of light. Basically, that’s about 186,000 miles per second. That’s how fast new can travel today. What a contrast to back then. Word of mouth took a lot longer, especially with the travel times between cities.
And the other thing is, when we think about Jesus’s birth 2000 years ago, it’s a big deal. But back then, this news wasn’t a big thing, yet. That’s because Jesus’s birth wasn’t understood - who he was and what he came to do. Beyond a small little group of shepherds, very few knew about Jesus’s birth. In fact, it took 2-3 years for this news to filter up to King Herod. He heard that a new king was born, but he still didn’t know where the boy was. So, he tried to take matters into his own hands to find this baby and kill this threat to his power. But even more, 25 years after Jesus’s birth, he was still only known by few groups of people. And that’s when things started to change. John the Baptist comes in and begins to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah to the world, and then Jesus begins his public ministry.
So when Mary and Joseph were taking Jesus to Jerusalem, he was only 6 weeks old. He wasn’t known. As they travelled up from Bethlehem, about an 8 mile walk to Jerusalem, a crowd didn’t gather around them—there was no motorcade of camels. They were simply doing what they were supposed to do according to the Law.
But when Simeon and Anna saw Jesus, they immediately knew He was the one. They’d been waiting and longing for him. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would see the Savior before he died.
We’re not told how long Simeon had waited. We don’t know how long it had been since the Holy Spirit had revealed this. But we get the sense that it’s been years. The relief and joy and peace he felt to see the Savior. The comfort and redemption of Israel had come.
Every single one of us is waiting and longing for something. Now, some of our longings are idolatrous—in other words, they come directly through our greed, our envy, our selfishness. But let’s focus on the longings due to the sinful world around us. For Simeon and Anna and the people waiting, their waiting was due to the fall – the fallen world – the need and promise of a comforter – a savior who would bring peace. You see, the whole world has been affected by sin. We all feel the effects—We’re all living in the sorrow and unsettledness all around us. To use the words of Romans 8 - The whole world is groaning in the pains of childbirth until now. Physically our bodies are deteriorating. Our work is difficult. Relationships are strained. We all face pain and loss. We’re all waiting for redemption and peace. We want to be fulfilled. We desire to be reconciled to those that we’ve offended or who have offended us. We long to see friends and family know Jesus. We deeply miss someone who passed away... or we long to have deep friendships with other Christians.
In our church family, like many others, the longings includes ongoing health issues, grieving at the loss of loved ones, family and extended family conflict, a longing for purpose or calling in our lives, a desire to be married or have children, strained relationship, and more. What we want is God to mend, to reconcile, to give us clarity and hope. It’s painful and we long to be free from the burden.
Think about Anna, here. Her husband died after only seven years of marriage – that’s not a long time. For decades and decades she was alone. She no doubt struggled to support herself. Perhaps she cried out to God many times for help. How did the Lord support her in her longings? Well, she clearly had a calling… it says she never departed the temple, worshipping, fasting and praying. That’s a hyperbole meaning she was there in every waking moments. God gave her purpose and patience and meaning. The Lord also provided for her needs—he used the community. Her family and tribe are mentioned in verse 36 as well as other people with whom she was connected - verse 38. So, in her many years as a widow, God gave her endurance, support, hope, patience, and purpose.
And those are all good things. In all of our longing and lamenting and waiting, God does lift us up. He does work through others and he does give us patience and grace… But there’s something even greater at work.
And it goes back to the structure of our passage. You see, the resolution to the waiting and longing here is the salvation that God revealed. And the wonder of it all, the amazing wonder, is how God has fulfilled it in Jesus.
The peace and consolation and joy that God gave Anna and Simeon was seeing God’s salvation. For Anna, she began thanking God for it. She then let all those who were waiting know that their waiting was over. Deliverance had come.
And through Simeon’s blessing. His song, God gave them a glimpse into the breadth of his salvation. Verse 32 is the first time in the book of Luke, where the Gentiles are included in salvation. The Gentiles, by the way, are all those who are not Jewish. And notice it starts with the Gentiles. “A light for revelation to the Gentiles” and then “glory to your people Israel.”
Jesus’s fulfillment of Israel’s waiting had to include salvation to all nations. That’s because the prophecies included salvation to all nations. This is what Mary and Joseph marveled at! Their son was the one, through which God would bring salvation to the world.
This was a radical salvation message. We know that because we just studied the book of Acts and saw how over and over, the Jewish establishment rejected faith in Jesus. Why? Because they rejected the Gentiles. Simeon alluded to this rejection when he said to Mary and Joseph in verse 34 that “this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed.” In other words, Jesus’s message would be divisive. That’s why it would pierce Mary’s heart. He would either be loved or hated by the Jewish people – and mostly hated. There would be no middle ground. But that’s the Gospel. The hope of salvation for all people. And it’s the thing that gave Simeon and Anna joy! This child was the one who satisfied their longing. He would bring the light of salvation to the whole world.
We didn’t sing it today, but a couple of time this advent we sang the hymn, “Come, thou long expected Jesus.”
Really, it captures these verses well. It starts out, “Come, thou long expected Jesus, Born to set thy people free, From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in thee”
And then listen to verse 2, “Israel's strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth thou art, Dear desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart”
You see, the ultimate longing of all our hearts is Christ. Is his salvation. We have a God who fulfills our longing. And here He is in Luke 2. He became one of us, he knows and identifies with us. Later in life he wept over Jerusalem—he longed for them to see and know Him. He was tempted and tried and He persevered. He suffered unto death but was raised to glory. And through his salvation we have joy and peace. He is the joy of every longing heart.
Some of you may have heard of Joni Erickson Tada. He’s an author and speaker. When Joni was 17 years old, she dove into a lake and hit her head on a rock. Ever since, she’s been paralyzed from the neck down – that was 55 years ago. A long time to endure that trial. But if you’ve read her books or heard her speak, she has that joyful hope. And it comes from her longing to see Jesus one day. She’s written about the hope of Christ at Christmas. She writes, “When we realize that Jesus is the answer to our deepest longings, even Christmas longings, each advent brings us closer to his glorious return on earth. When we will see him as he is, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, that will be Christmas indeed.”
The ultimate fulfillment of God’s salvation for us in Christ is that someday, we will see Jesus face to face. Not as a baby, as Simeon and Anna saw him, but as the savior king, when he returns in glory.
And that indeed is the peace and joy we can have in our waiting and longing hearts. Salvation.