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Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, February 10, 2019

Where God Resides There Is Power

Text: Luke 2:22–40

I have always found it interesting that many will wait in line for a long time to be able to see where someone famous used to live. On my first trip to Rwanda we were laid over for 13 hours in Amsterdam. Rather than sit in the airport we hired a tour guide to show us the city of Amsterdam. As we drove into the city, he showed us where Anne Frank used to live. She was a German-born Jew and became one of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust. She gained notoriety posthumously with the publication of Diary of a Young Girl, where she documented her life in hiding from 1942–44 during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. She later died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, in Germany in February 1945. I had read her story and in high school played a role in the cast of the play, The Diary of Anne Frank.

As we drove by the house, I noticed that hundreds of people were lined up for blocks for the chance to walk through the small home where Anne Frank lived over 50 years earlier. I thought of the time when we took our children to Lexington, Virginia, to show them the historic sights there, especially of the Civil War era. We toured the VMI Confederate Museum and we walked through the home once owned and lived in by Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson. Being someone who had read fairly extensively about the American Civil War, I found the tour touching as I remembered the story of Stonewall Jackson’s life and death. My children, on the other hand, were merely bored with the walkthrough and the main take away for them was how gross it would be to use “chamber pots” when you woke up and needed to go to the bathroom.

In both of these cases, those who had once lived in those homes no longer did and hadn’t for a very long time and yet we were willing to spend time and money to go on a tour where we are called to remember the lives of the former occupants, and maybe the lessons of their lives will somehow change us a little.

Several years ago, our daughter Amy graduated from Wesley Seminary in Washington, DC, and they had their commencement at the National Cathedral. I had seen the cathedral from the beltway in DC many times but had never had the opportunity to go there. Architecturally, it is an amazing work of art and well worth the tour, but as we walked in I thought of the biblical story from 2 Chronicles 7:1–3,

As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. 2 And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord's house. 3 When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

As we walked into the National Cathedral, I also remembered that this was now a place where they welcomed people from every faith to come and worship together—Hindu, Buddhist, Islam, Christian and I guess anyone else who comes there teaching the humanistic view peace and unity for the sake of the human race. The gospel is only one track to be taken. They feel that God is accessible from many different belief systems and all he really wants is for everyone to love each other. The Bible is an interesting book with a lot of good ideas but is mainly irrelevant for today. I was saddened that I had no sense of God’s presence or the holiness and majesty that Israel encountered that day long ago when the Glory of God swept through the temple in Jerusalem. To me the Cathedral was merely a really beautiful monument to man’s addiction to religion and humanism. I was in a building where the one who was supposedly reigning there was gone, if he had ever been there at all.

Today is the fifth Sunday after Epiphany. We have seen that Epiphany is a time to reflect on the life and mission of Jesus Christ as he came and dwelt among us in human form. We are to reflect on his life and mission before his death and resurrection and see his teaching and example as our example and guide for how we should live. We do this in anticipation of his imminent return to us as reigning Lord and King in the new Heavens and new Earth.

Our focus today will be on Luke 2:22–40, the story of the baby Jesus being presented at the temple in Jerusalem. I think it important that we begin with considering the condition of Judaism during this time in Israel’s history. It’s helpful to refer to Ezekiel 10:1–22 where the prophet in a dream saw the glory of God leaving the temple and traveling east. In Ezekiel’s vision, he saw that this was symbolizing that the temple was so defiled by sin that God would not remain there. Though the priests and those set apart for temple service continued to practice the ceremony and sacrifices required by the Levitical laws, the Spirit of the living God was no longer present, there was just dead orthodoxy.

Let’s begin with reading Luke 2:22–24,

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

Joseph and Mary were faithful and law-abiding Jews and they had come to the temple to make a sacrifice for Mary’s purification and to dedicate their first-born son to the service of God. Leviticus 12:2–4 taught that when a woman gave birth to a son, she was ceremonially unclean for seven days, just like after menstruation. The baby boy was to be circumcised on the eighth day and then the woman must wait 33 days to be purified from her bleeding. She was not allowed to touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification were ended. If a daughter was born, then the woman must wait 66 days before she would be considered purified. It’s not clear as to why.

Joseph and Mary came to Jerusalem to make the required offering of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons for Mary’s cleansing. If they had been well off financially, they would have needed to bring a year-old lamb. The fact that they brought a pair of turtledoves or two pigeons speaks to their poverty. Like the story of Jesus humble birth, Luke again points out that Jesus is identified with the very people that he reached out to save in his ministry. Those who were poor in spirit and in wealth and needed the good news of God’s love for them. Luke is also making clear that Jesus’ parents were not spiritual renegades but Jews who were faithful and sensitive to the Mosaic law, which is reinforced in Luke 2:40–52 when they make their annual customary pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Exodus 13:2 required that every first-born male child be dedicated to the Lord and they had come to do that as well. Let’s look at Luke 2:25–32 and I want to read from “The Message”,

In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah of God before he died. Led by the Spirit, he entered the Temple. As the parents of the child Jesus brought him in to carry out the rituals of the Law, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God: ‘God, you can now release your servant; release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see: A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel.’

Now remember, we have already seen that the Spirit of God had departed the temple many years before but that didn’t mean that the Holy Spirit was dormant. In 1 Kings 8:22–53, Solomon prays a Spirit-led prayer at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem that he had just had built. I love verses 27–29,

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! 28 Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place.

This is the same Spirit that hovered over the face of the deep at the beginning of creation and the universe could never contain his presence. When Simeon walks into the temple in the Spirit he is bringing the presence of God into the midst of all that is going on. Luke records that he is a righteous and devout man which means he is a man given over to the glory of God and the Holy Spirit is always willing to inhabit that. He sees Joseph and Mary through the lens of the Holy Spirit, and he rejoices because unlike most everyone else in the room, he knows the child in Mary’s arms is the fulfillment of all that God had promised. This is the one he had been praying for, that the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die until he saw the comfort of Israel’s misery and the light to all the nations. There he was seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise and he could not contain his joy. He took the baby from Mary’s arm and as he cradles the infant he offers praise to the God who remembered his promise and I think he sang a song of joy from the promise of Isaiah 52:8–10,

The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion.9 Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem.10 The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Simeon sees the truth that no one else there can see just yet. God came back, in a way that no one could have foreseen. I think the Holy Spirit was allowing him to experience the hope and peace that he had longed for all his life. Then he proclaimed, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation…” (and if I can take some creative literary license here) …AND IT DON’T GET ANY BETTER THAN THIS!

Simeon’s response has so much to teach us about what is truly important. He is one who had dedicated himself to prayer and waiting for the promise of God to be fulfilled. When through the Holy Spirit he recognizes the child in Mary’s arms I think his spirit soared because to see Jesus was to see the salvation and glory of Israel and a light of revelation to the Gentiles. Simeon knew that in seeing this blessed promise fulfilled he would now die. He saw Jesus and the joy of seeing the Messiah and knowing exactly who he was, brought amazing peace and fulfillment even in the face of death because he had seen the source of life! Simeon’s job as sentinel was done and it was time to go home to be with the God who had called him and allowed him the honor and joy of seeing the Messiah face to face, to hold the Christ child in his arms.

What could top that? Simeon is to us a model of the faithful servant who is committed to God’s purpose and plan, even when his time is over. This righteous and devout man of God had waited a long time and I wonder if in his waiting he had pondered Psalm 84 and had found himself longing for the day when he would be in the presence of God. Listen again, with eyes closed and hearts tuned in to Psalm 84:1–4; 10–12,

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! 2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. 4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! Selah” 10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you.

Do you ever find yourself contemplating scriptures like this and feeling a sense of joy and anticipation? I do and sometimes I can hardly wait. However, we see next that Simeon wasn’t done with his prophetic word for Jesus’ parents, especially Mary.

Let’s read Luke 2:33–35,

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Have you ever noticed that in almost every story that there is a villain? In those stories wonderful, beautiful and joyous things are happening but there always seems to be the dark side that comes to undo and corrupt all the good and joyous things. I think the reason that writers do that is not just to keep the story interesting but because in our story there is a villain that would rob, kill and destroy anything that is good or worthwhile. Simeon, speaking in the Spirit rejoices over the blessing of the Christ child, but there is a dark side to the story and that’s why the Messiah has come.

The imagery that Simeon alludes to in his warning comes from Isaiah 8:14–15,

And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.

Jesus was going to divide the nation in two. Some will respond and others will oppose, and the way forward will come with a cost, it always does. The road to the fulfillment of God’s promises is not smooth and it comes with many obstacles. To identify with Jesus will bring pain because many will reject him. Simeon likens this rejection to a sword piercing through Mary’s soul. She will feel a mother’s pain as she watches her Son live into the calling on his life, she will see the joy from those who follow him and she will know the pain of watching him betrayed, brutally treated and put to death.

Simeon’s remark to Mary is important to all who would follow and identify with Jesus. It will come with amazing joy and peace but there will also be painful consequences because we have an enemy that hates God and would destroy everything and everyone who glorifies the Lord. The last word that Simeon has is that “the hearts of many souls will be revealed.” Jesus will be the litmus test for where a person is. My response to Jesus is the test and my answer reveals the truth of my heart. The Apostle Peter told the crowd as he preached in the house of Cornelius in Acts 10:42–43,

“And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Jesus is coming to judge the living and the dead and the “hearts of many souls will be revealed.”

The final section speaks of Anna, a prophetess who faithfully served at the temple night and day. Apparently, through the Holy Spirit she also recognized the identity of the Christ child and told of his coming to all those who were waiting for the redemption of Israel. Luke is careful to point out that the testimony about Jesus comes through a prophet and a prophetess. Each gender testifies to what God is doing through the child and therefore all should rejoice at his coming. It’s also important to note that Simeon and Anna were advanced in years thereby having a lot of life experience and that both had dedicated themselves to God’s glory and revelation. They also become examples of what it looks to follow the plan and will of God.

So, what are the takeaways for us today?

Stephen in his sermon from Acts 7:42 chastises the Jews for putting their faith in the temple at Jerusalem and he says,

“Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, 49 ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? 50 Did not my hand make all these things?’”

In 2 Corinthians 6:16 the Apostle Paul in teaching the Corinthian church to stay away from idol worship writes,

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

If we are indeed followers of Jesus Christ, then the promise is that God’s Holy Spirit has come and taken up residence within you. Jesus promised his disciples in John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

We shouldn’t come to a building expecting God to be there to meet our needs for the week, but we should come as those who are filled with the Holy Spirit and gather with others filled with the Spirit to worship together. Remember Simeon, who spent his life seeking the face of God and was therefore filled with the Holy Spirit. This was well before Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out lavishly. If you have come to saving faith in Jesus, the promise is that the Spirit has taken up residence but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a great deal more that the Spirit is willing to do in and through you. Remember we are called to be the Light of Christ to those around us. Are you sensing the Spirit’s presence within you on a regular basis? Do you want more? Ask for it. Jesus said in Luke 11:13,

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

You might be saying, ‘Well if I have the Holy Spirit within me, why would I ask for more?’ Because there is so much more to be had.

How much more? Unlimited.

Do we want to be those who are revealing the power of God through healings, recognizing and casting out the demonic or, dare I say, raise the dead? Our enemy is showing his strength and boldness every day. How do we fight against it? The legislature or the courts? We have seen that this is fighting the enemy on his home turf. No, we fight in the power of the Holy Spirit and authority of Jesus Christ.

Remember that Jesus will come revealing the truth of our hearts. Is your heart sold out to Jesus? You can fool me but not him. Are you holding back, afraid to go all in? Jesus is inviting you this morning to open up to whatever he wants to do in and through us as individuals and as a church. I want everything that he has for me and I invite you to join me on the journey of seeing how far God will take us.

DO you want to see the enemy defeated? Abortion abolished? Gender confusion and sexual perversion done away with? More importantly, do you want to see those who live and walk in darkness come into the saving light of Jesus Christ? It will only happen if God’s people will fall on their knees in repentance, inviting God to do what he will in us. We’ve given up too much ground already. It’s time to take back what has been stolen and bring it back into the hands of God.

Let’s pray

©2019 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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