To wait in hope:  Sermon 31 January 2016

Luke 2:22-40 The Presentation of Christ in the Temple
In our Christian Basics course this last week we looked at the parable of the prodigal son and how the Father looked out for his son & welcomed him home with outstretched arms. You get the impression of a Father watching and waiting in hope that one day his son would return & he is overjoyed when that day finally comes.
In the O.T. we read of stories of watchmen who would keep watch around the city walls. Their job was to keep alert & watch & wait and if any danger arose a signal would be given. Similarly if the city’s army was returning home then a signal would be given to open the gates.
We have a picture of 2 watchmen in our Bible reading today: a man & a woman who were faithful as they watched and waited in hope for God’s kingdom to come.
Simeon, it suggests in verse 25, was waiting in hope for Israel to be saved.
Simeon, it says was a godly man, the Spirit was with him, & the Spirit of God said to Simeon that he would not die before seeing the Messiah – the long-hoped-for godly king of Israel.
Simeon we understand was waiting in hope for the people of Israel to be released from Roman rule, to be governed by a godly leader, to know the benefits of God’s rule – no doubt he hoped that this Godly king, this Godly kingdom  would bring peace & justice, freedom, stability & security. And no doubt these are the hopes that many people would echo today.
These were the hopes for the Messiah, and at the start of Jesus’ ministry, as we heard in our Bible readings last week, Jesus stood up in the synagogue & read about such hopes from the prophet Isaiah. And once he had done so, he sat down and said to everyone listening, that he had come to fulfil these hopes, come to bring:
Good news to the poor
Freedom for the prisoners
Release for the oppressed
Sight for the blind
The year of the Lord’s favourAnd these hopes were not just for the Jews but for the whole world. Indeed the prophet Isaiah foretold this when he spoke of the Messiah being a light to the Gentiles as well as for the people of Israel – a light to Jews & non-Jews alike!
And here Simeon was, in the Temple in Jerusalem, when Jesus is brought in as a child, by his parents!
Jesus was only a few weeks old at the time and he was there as part of the Jewish customs.
I wonder how long Simeon had waited for this moment...
But he waited in hope:
not a fanciful hope (like hoping you’ll win the lottery)
but a faithful hope (hope in the God who keeps his promises)
and God honours his promise as Simeon holds the child in his armsHow long had Simeon waited in hope…
The people of Israel had waited several centuries (the prophet Isaiah was written around 700 years before Christ).
I wonder how long we would wait in hope!
How long would it be that we waited, before we gave up hope for something – a week, a year, a lifetime?
The Bible says to have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see. And we are people of faith; we are people of hope.
Anna waited in hope.
Day and night she worshipped God, fasting & praying, and then having seen the child Jesus, she gave thanks to God for a hope fulfilled and in v38 it says she told all who like here were waiting in hope for God to set Jerusalem free.
Again we have this hope of freedom:
freedom for the captives
release for the oppressed
the day of the Lord’s favour which was a day ofJubilee when people were released from their debts (freed from their debts)We read of freedom elsewhere in the New Testament as we recognise that we are forgiven for our sin, set free from our bondage to worldly ways, set free to serve God in the power of His Spirit.
I wonder how long Anna had waited for…
But she waited in hope.
At 84 we get the impression she had served a long time in the Temple:
faithful waiting
hopeful waitingHow long do we wait before we give up hope – a week, a year, a lifetime?
And then we read of Simeon’s famous words of praise, ‘Lord let your servant go in peace…
You have kept your promise. I have seen your salvation… a light to reveal your will to the Gentiles and bring glory to your people Israel.’
These words are used daily in the Church of England for night prayer as people seek to go to bed in peace, in hope…
These words are used regularly in the Church of England as people come to the end of their lives & indeed at funeral services as we seek to know God’s peace, as we seek to hold on to our hope…
But Simeon also speaks words of warning to Mary the mother of Jesus & tells her that while this child of hope will indeed bring the fulfilment of hope to the people, this hope will not be without cost.
Yes many would receive Jesus as the Messiah, as God’s Son and would be accepted into God’s kingdom & know freedom in God’s kingdom.
But many also would not receive Jesus as the Messiah and would actually reject him and violently reject him.
This warning, points to the suffering that Christ would have to endure on our behalf, and the suffering that Christ’s followers would also have to endure as they seek to take up their crosses and follow him.
Waiting in hope is not a passive thing like waiting in the waiting room at the station or a doctor’s surgery, maybe just whiling away time reading the paper or watching the world go by.
Waiting in hope is an active thing like the Father in the parable of the prodigal son or the watchmen waiting on the city walls. Waiting in hope requires determination & perseverance even through suffering – perhaps especially through suffering (see Romans 5:1-5)
Mary would indeed suffer in the long term as she saw her child grown up and then suffer a horrible death on the cross.
And we too as followers of Christ today will suffer as we seek to follow in his footsteps.
As Christians today we know Jesus brought in God’s kingdom and we know the benefits of that kingdom as we enjoy forgiveness of sin (freedom from sin), as we enjoy peace with God & security as children of God. But we also recognise that God’s kingdom still needs to be fully established as we seek justice & stability for our world - something which will only happen fully when Jesus returns. But in the meantime we pray for God’s kingdom to come more & more in our lives & more & more in our world. In the meantime we wait in hope.
But how do we do this?
How do we keep believing, while living in a world which seem such a mess at times?
How do we keep trusting in God when we see so much suffering & so much trouble – so much of what God does not want in our world?
It is difficult when all around we see wars, hate & people being horrible to each other – and that’s just the church!
But there are horrible things going on in our church, in our work situations & family situations & how do we wait in hope in all this?
We will no doubt be tempted to think that God is not here, that Jesus is not going to return, that faith is rubbish & just not true.
Simeon & Anna would have faced similar temptations, but they waited in hope despite what they faced day by day as they endured occupation by a foreign ruler, as they were subject to Roman Rule. No doubt they too would have been tempted to think that God was not there, that their Messiah would not come, that faith was rubbish.
The people of Israel in general too would have been tempted along these lines.
For hundreds of years they waited for the Messiah to come but then seen their beloved city & Temple ransacked & destroyed. No doubt they too would have been tempted to think God was not there, that their Messiah wasn’t coming, that faith was rubbish.
But many did continue to hope as they remembered stories of God’s faithfulness to His people, as they prayed to the God who did keep His promises. And of course we read how Simeon & Anna were both people of prayer.
So how do we in the 21st century wait in hope, when at times everything seems to scream at us that faith is not true, that God is not there & that Jesus will not come again?
And how do we wait in hope on a more personal basis when we feel that God has promised things to us, on an individual basis?
How can we hold on to these individual promises where God has promised to help us with for example with our job situation or our financial worries … with guidance over a particular situation or on who we are as a person… with strength to change where we need to change?
There will be times when we are tempted to think that God Is not there, that He will not keep his promises, especially when it takes time, especially when we encounter suffering along the way.
Let’s take encouragement this morning from Simeon & Anna who continued to wait in hope through being people of prayer.
Where are you struggling to wait in hope at the moment:
to trust in God over the long term?
to trust in God through difficulty?Let’s be quiet for a moment to consider those thoughts:
let’s bring to God those concerns
let’s receive from God his strength
Hebrews 12:1-3
Lord please help us to know your strength that we might endure, that we might wait in hope, that we like Simeon & Anna might be faithful watchmen & watchwomen in your kingdom.Amen.