Simeon and Anna were frequent worshipers at the Temple in Jerusalem. They had spent their whole lives looking forward to the day when they would see the Lord’s Messiah whom God had promised to Israel.
Simoen and Anna saw what everyone else in the temple saw as Mary and Joseph worshiped by fulfilling the requirements of the law of Moses. It was a sight that was often seen in the Temple as parents of a firstborn son fulfilled the requirements of Leviticus 12:1-8 where the mother of a son, who was declared ritually unclean for 33 days following the son’s birth would present either a pigeon, or a turtledove to the temple as a sacrificial sign that she was ritually clean.
The second sight was in fulfillment of Exodus 22:29 and 34:19-20 where firstborn sons were required to be offered to God. In response to this requirement of the law, Numbers 18:6 stated that parents may present 5 shekels of silver in lieu of giving their firstborn sons to God, but did you notice that Luke did not record Mary and Joseph offering 5 shekels as they presented Jesus to the Lord and, in effect, dedicated Jesus’ life to God?
Perhaps it is the sight of this act of dedication that inspired Simeon and Anna to see what nobody else saw in the temple as Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Frederick Buechner describes what the sight may have looked like when Simeon held Jesus in the Temple and declared that Jesus was the Messiah who would redeem Israel as he was held by the cross.
“Jesus was still in diapers when his parents brought him to the Temple in Jerusalem ‘to present him to the Lord.” (Luke 2:22), as the custom was, and offer a sacrifice, and that’s when old Simeon spotted him. Years before, he’d been told he wouldn’t die till he’d seen the Messiah with his own two eyes, and time was running out. When the moment finally came, one look through his cataract lenses was all it took. He asked if it would be all right to hold the baby in his arms, and they told him to go ahead but be careful not to drop him.
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation,” he said (Luke 2:29), the baby playing with the fringes of his beard. The parents were pleased as punch, and so he blessed them too for good measure. Then something about the mother stopped him, and his expression changed.
What he saw in her face was a long way off, but it was there so plainly he couldn’t pretend. “A sword will pierce through your soul,” he said (Luke 2:35). He would rather have bitten off his tongue than said it, but in that holy place he felt he had no choice. Then he handed her back the baby and departed in something less than the perfect peace he’d dreamed of all the long years of his waiting.”
Perhaps it was the sight of Mary and Joseph dedicating Jesus to the Lord that caused Anna to praise God as she worshipped in the Temple and spoke about Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Which brings us to the question of today’s sermon as we worship on this last day of 2023. How do you see the promise of God’s presence as you begin a new year tomorrow? Do you see 2024 in the hope that Jesus holds you even in those times when your soul is pierced? What do you see in those times when all you can do is to hold on to the hope that Jesus is holding onto you?
Tyrone Flowers spent his childhood without parents, bouncing between foster homes and reform school. He was just 17 when a confrontation with a teammate turned violent. Tyrone put up his hands to fight, but the teammate pulled a gun. Multiple shots later, the once-promising basketball player was paralyzed for life.
“The main thing that was ringing in my head was getting this person back – revenge,” Tyrone says. “My goal was either put him in a wheelchair or kill him.” Tyrone was the one who ended up in a wheelchair. It was just the latest blow in a life that had been full of them.
“I was told I would never amount to anything,” Tyrone recalls. After his father was murdered when Tyrone was 10, “People would always tell him, ‘You’re going to be just like your father – either dead or in jail.’ ” The desire for vengeance burned within him for two years, but he reports that he was able to move past anger and self-pity to forgiveness and a new perspective.
“Now, what was really burning in my heart was, ‘Why did God save me?’ ” Tyrone says. “Why did I go through the things I went through? What was my purpose?” Tyrone attended the University of Missouri-Columbia on a Fulbright Scholarship, not only graduating with honors but going on to earn a law degree in 1998. While in school, working on a paper about the juvenile-justice system, he visited some of the centers where he’d stayed as a child. As he saw these children, he found that he had a connection with them. “[They] were going through something that I’d already experienced – parents are incarcerated or dead, grew up in poverty, trouble in school,” he says. “I knew that God had equipped me uniquely to work with high-risk urban youth.” Today, Tyrone leads Higher M-Pact, a ministry to rescue and mentor at-risk youth in Kansas City, Missouri, and beyond. “I realized that, if you’re operating in God’s perfect will, you’re not disabled,” he says. “He’s going to enable you to do whatever you’re called to do.”
What do you see?
What Do You See?
by Pastor Marc Brown
December 31, 2023
Accompanying Scriptures: Luke 2:22-38
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for December 31, 2023
Scripture Lesson Luke 2:22-38
The Good News “What Do You See?”
Music “In the Bleak Midwinter” Hymn #221
Closing Music “Gentle Mary Laid Her Child” arr. Marc Jordan