Hope For the Future / First Sunday after Christmas

Luke 2:22-40

And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the Law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God

What a joy it is to hold a newborn baby. I was looking at photos in my phone and found a picture of Georgann holding Abby in her arms. There are many more photos of grandparents holding our grandchildren in our arms. Every one of them has an adoring grandparent smiling, looking into the face of the new infant. In that moment you realize that a new generation has arrived. It’s hard to describe, unless you’ve experienced it, the emotions when holding your new born grandchild.

Your thoughts are often private. You realize that there’s a future they’ll live and experience. And you won’t. Mary and Joseph knew that God had spoken an astonishing promise about their Son, but they had no idea of God’s final plan. Mary and Joseph were doing what Jewish parents do. They traveled to the temple to dedicate their first-born son to the Lord.

Upon arriving they’re met by Simeon. I can see the old man Simeon. His face is wrinkled with the years. His hands, showing his age, as he takes this baby in his arms, he’s looking into the very eyes of the long-promised Messiah. He was looking into a future not yet lived.

Simeon and Anna both lived to an old age, but they never lost hope in God. They waited patiently for the Messiah, devoted themselves to the worship of God. The Temple became their home away from home. Their hope in God was rewarded when Mary and Joseph entered the temple. They’d come as good Jewish parents to offer the required sacrifice for the baby’s dedication.

Simeon also knew that King Herod still ruled. Roman troops were still crucifying patriots. Jerusalem had its fair share of beggars. Pharisees still demanded respect. Showing off their long tassels and phylacteries. Phylactery is a small black box worn on one’s arm or forehead, containing verses of the Torah. Jesus would later criticize them. He called them hypocrites and white washed tombs. Everything they do is for show. They wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verse outside but on the inside, they’re snakes.

The power of Rome was undeniable. Revolts were constant. Roman Generals competed for power. Government sanctioned murders were always happening.

Herod, himself, killed two of his sons and a wife. Caesar once said about Herod: it was safer to be a pig in Jerusalem than a son of Herod. Life was short if Herod thought of you as a rival for his throne. People paid their taxes but were never sure when the rules would change. There was a longing, a hope for a better future. Would God send a Messiah has He promised? 400 years had passed since the last prophet.

By the time Simeon saw the infant Jesus, the feeding stall was occupied once again by animals. The manger only held hay. The shepherds were back to their sheep.

Simeon knew this day would come. He was told by the Holy Spirit that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Messiah. The years were etched on his face. His step was slow and bent. Gray hair, white beard. On this day, God knew that Mary and Joseph would be bringing their son to the temple. Simeon was told to go. How did the Spirit tell Simeon? In a dream? A vision? We don’t know. But maybe there came a nudge, a thought, I think I’ll go to the temple today.

He walked through the narrow streets. Stepping carefully over cobblestones. The beggars were on the steps as usual. Pilgrims and new parents all bringing the appropriate sacrifice. Trumpets didn’t sound. Angels didn’t throw rose petals before the carpenter and his wife. So, how did Simeon know? The voice of God pointed him to Mary and Joseph. It’s that simple.

Only one person seems to grasp the mystery of the moment, the moment that God sent in motion. Simeon recognized the baby as the Messiah, because he said, this Child, is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel. He also gave a warning. A sword of sorrow would pierce the heart of Mary.

What does this story mean to us in the 21st century? How many years passed between the promise given to Simeon and the arrival of Mary and Joseph to the temple. I don’t know. But at some point, Simeon was told that he would see the Messiah. How many months and years passed? I don’t know. It makes me remember the angel’s message to Abraham and Sarah that they’d have a son. Ten years went by before Isaac was born. In the meantime, Abraham had flocks to manage, over 300 servants to manage. He was a traveling nomad.

So also, with Simeon. He had a career. Maybe he had a family. I’m sure he went to work every day. Maybe by this time he had grandchildren. Maybe he was playing with them when the Spirit nudged him to go to the temple. Did he say to himself: Why today? Why now? It isn’t the time for morning or afternoon prayer. The nudge was enough to send his feet to the temple. There will be hundreds of families at the temple, how did he know that today was to be the day? He didn’t.

He heard the whisper of God’s voice, and he went. On this particular day, as he walked past parents with children, suddenly his eyes focused on Mary and Joseph. He was drawn to them like a magnet. Then he knew. He took the child in his arms and gave thanks to God.

The voice of the Lord is like a voice, but it’s not really a voice. It’s more of an impulse, instinct, or guided intuition. It’s the still small voice of our thoughts, emotions as we keep in step with God’s Spirit. Remember every Christian has the Holy Spirit inside them. Because you’re a Christian, you already possess an inner compass pointing to the Lord’s will. It’s a voice of wisdom.

Simeon had developed a life of conversation with God. He had carved out time from his busy schedule to read and study the scriptures, to worship at the temple. When the voice of God whispered. He went to the temple. God still speaks to us today. We’re no different.

The question: How can we hear the whisper of God’s voice speak into our lives, our soul? If you want to hear the Lord’s voice clearly, you must be developing a life of conversation with Him. Yes, go to work. Yes, go to worship. Play with your children or grandchildren. Carve out time in your busy schedule to read the bible. We know that God has used dreams. God has used visions. We know that there are times when reading a bible verse, even one you may have read for years, suddenly it takes on new meaning. That’s the Holy Spirit speaking to your heart.

Here’s what happened to Simeon and to us if we recognize the moment. You’re occupied with some tasks, like mowing the lawn, washing dishes, clearing out your garage, or mopping the floor. And suddenly the thought of a person you know is on your heart and mind, you feel a burden to pray for that individual, or perhaps a nudge to call and check on them.

The Lord’s voice is like a voice in that it gives us instruction, but it’s not really a voice. It’s more of an instinct, impulse, instinct, or guided intuition. Be alert. When Simeon obeyed and went to the temple, he was drawn to a particular family. Then the prophecy flowed, not from him but from the Holy Spirit through his voice.

Sometimes we think that every time God spoke in the Old or New Testament, He did so loudly. Not so. When Samuel heard the voice of God in the middle of the night, Eli didn’t hear it at all. When Jesus heard the voice of God from heaven at the Jordan River, the crowd only heard some kind of noise.

Remember when Paul came to Jesus on the road to Damascus? Jesus told Paul to go to a certain house and wait for further instruction. Jesus could have easily told Paul everything he needed to know on the road, but He chose to use one who was already a Christian. There are times that wisdom comes from fellow Christians.

So, when determining if the Lord is speaking to you, look for the sense of peace within you. The effect of His speaking will often be rest, peace, quiet joy, reassurance. If you sense a voice that sounds like your own voice, and it agrees with the attitude or behavior that gives glory to Jesus then, go and do. If the Lord is speaking to your heart and mind, and you can’t shake it, then write it down, leave it alone for a while, if the thought, or feeling, desire, or impulse is still with you and it is in line with Christian values, then you’ve heard from the voice of God.

In the new year, develop time with the Lord. You will find joy and peace.