A Homily for The Presentation of Christ
February 2, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Luke 2:29-32
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
On January 3, 1957 four missionaries landed their plane upon a small sand strip in the Curary River in the jungle of Ecuador, some time be for this the young men had sensed a call from the Lord to reach the Huaorani people, who were known for being a particularly violent and relatively unreached people group. They had flown over the village and made initial contact and were hoping to soon make further contact, they knew this calling was dangerous, and perhaps deadly.
After three days a small group from the Huaorani reticently made contact with the missionaries. They took one of the young man flying on the plane, and at first all seemed peaceable. However, the leaders of the tribe became suspicious, and rightly so, because other outsiders were equally eager to make contact, but this contact was in hopes of taking away their land.
Soon jealousy over whelmed the leaders of the Huaorani and they planned an attack on the missionaries. At 3 pm on January 8th, the Huaorani made contact again, but this time with the intent of attacking and killing the four men. Shortly after this the missionaries were dead, and fearing retribution the Huaorani torched their village and fled.
One of the missionaries names was Jim Elliot – he perhaps is the most well know of the four for a number of reasons but one thing he is remembered for is a short statement he wrote in his journal: “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Elliot and his four friends gave their lives which they knew they could not keep – in order to glorify God, and to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps to some of us this sounds absurd, but this morning we meet another man who is waiting with eager expectations to meet Christ, eager to know Christ, and to see his captive people set free. This morning we meet Simeon the prophet.
As I was studying and thinking about this passage – I was taken away by the thought of how in Christ’s early childhood narratives, he is barely seen, he is simply an infant given to the will of his earthly parents, and as such – shepherds, magi, angels, his parents, and two prophets become the focus of the narrative. Yet – even in this Christ is glorified, and we come to a deeper understand of who he is as our savior and incarnate Lord.
We of course know Simeon’s song well as it is sung or recited during Evening Prayer, and we refer to it as the Nunc Dimittis. The song was traditionally used by monks during their last time of prayer of the day. The words from Latin mean “now you dismiss” referring to Simeon’s prayer of “Lord now let your servant depart in peace,” which of course is Simeon saying “now I am ready to die, ready to be with you.”
The monks use this prayer as a closing song for the day as a part of their intentional reminder to habitually lay their lives down, to habitually die to themselves, which is our calling as well. For the monks of old the end of the day was another call to repent of the sins of that past day, to die to themselves, that come the next morning, if the Lord willed it they may rise to new life.
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
The English translations of Simeon’s song begins with an address to God, using the word “Lord.” However, this is fascinating because the word that is used is not the word typically used when Scripture refers to God the father as Lord, nor as Christ the son. Instead it is a far less common word that is used a mere ten times in the New Testament.
In almost all other cases the ESV translates it to “master,” one other time it is translated as “Lord,” and once, when used in conjunction with the typical word for “Lord” it is translated “sovereign.” These translational choices give us a glimpse as to what Simeon is trying to say – he isn’t saying “God, let me rest now,” no, he is saying “My master, my king, my ruler, my sovereign,
dear owner of my soul,
let me lay down my head, let me rest in your sweet mercy.”
Simeon sees God not as some distant sky fairy, not as a benevolent grandfather, for Simeon God is not far off, but He is the ruler, and possessor of him as a human being and by extension we are called to rest in God in the same way.
And this begs the first question: Are we willing to give up our entire lives for God, are we willing to say to God “our lives are in your hands”? Are we willing to trust God with every detail of our lives from the grand to the minute? Do we believe that:
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose?
Then Simeon prays for death – “now let your servant depart in peace.” Do you find your satisfaction in Christ in the same way that Simeon did? Do we see that his coming into the world and into our lives is the culmination of all Good things that God has planned for his people? If God took our lives today – would we smile and say “my life is complete, I have done all that God has called me to do?” or would know somewhere deep down inside we had failed to glorify God, to love God with our total being, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves? Are we willing to let Christ be our everything?
My friends – the bar for being Christian is high and you will fail to meet it. I have failed to meet it time and again, I am the chief amongst sinners, I fall down, I fail to love well, I chase false gods, my eyes wander, I doubt, I grow weary, and grumbly like the Israelites in the desert and wonder “how long o Lord?”
Recently, I have felt the need to abide more richly in Christ, to renew my trust that He is good, and sovereign, and ruler over my life. I know of God’s sovereignty intellectually, but sometimes I grow distressed that things are not working out the way I want them to. Yet, I have seen God provide. I have never been without, I have never wanted, I have never gone hungry, I’ve always had a roof over my head, a friend to talk to. I have rarely had a lot, but the little I have is enough to get by.
God has always faithfully provided – I have seen this throughout my life with Christ – in the tears and joys, in the anxiety and peace, in the seasons of a little and in the seasons of a lot he has been there – if he can provide in this way – surely he will provide in every other way, surely he will guide me – surely, he has proven himself a faithful and good master
– and now I must abide.
Beloved – we will sin, we will fail, we will feel utterly unworthy of our calling into Christ – because we are– but Christ is the father who runs out to meet the prodigal son in the field, who puts upon us the best robe in the closet, who celebrates and kills the fatted calf for us. Christ rejoices and embraces us when we’ve wandered and return home, Christ will leave the 99 for the one lost sheep, Christ will come for us, guide us, heal us, forgive us, and love us, so let us not fret for one moment.
We have not and cannot earn our salvation – and that is the point of Christ’s death for in His death and resurrection we find grace and forgiveness and in that we are called to reside in Him, we are called to trust him with every aspect of our lives, we are called to know that He is our sovereign master, we are called to abide richly in him, we are called to die to ourselves, so that he may live abundantly in us, and we may live abundantly in him.
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
I hope we can see vividly that God calls us to obedience, calls us to give up our lives, calls us to see Him as our sovereign Lord and master, but how do we know what it is that God calls us to do?
Simeon says that these things are according to God’s word – and we know from verse 26 that God had revealed to Simeon through the Holy Spirit that “he would not see death before had seen the Lord’s Christ.” But how do we live such spirit filled lives? For aren’t we promised that if we are in Christ we are given the Holy Spirit?
A wise man once told me “you give the Holy Spirit words by knowing God’s word.” Of course we know that the Holy Spirit is actively drawing us closer to God, is actively re-forming our heart, is actively giving us a deeper conscious, a deeper understanding of right and wrong, we know that when the church is uniformly drawn to some purpose, it is probably the spirit moving her to do so, but how do we habitually live in submission to the Holy Spirit?
It begins with knowing the word of God, it begins with reading it voraciously, reading it as it is the bread of life, and where we will find the living water, letting the word renew our minds. It is here that we find the pure form of the word of God, it is here that we see how he has acted for the millenniums before the coming of Christ, and how he came to die to set his captive people free, it is in God’s word that we come to know his character, of his goodness, his love, his mercy, his justice.
Let us be devoted in the task of knowing God – not to earn anything – but that we would know Him and he would know us, and in that we would learn to be conformed to His will, that we would be better servants and children, that we would be able to pray Simeon’s prayer more faithfully, and that we would know
– that he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
Perhaps Simeon is endued with some great wisdom, perhaps we knows that Christ must die a death of shame to take away our own death, sin, and shame, perhaps Simeon knows that Christ will be scorned and rejected, perhaps Simeon is wiser and more faithful than Christ’s disciples will prove to be at the crucifixion, but nothing stands to tell us this is the case. No – Simeon simply prays “my eyes have seen your salvation,” for he is endued with the Holy Spirit and simply recognizes Jesus as the Christ, simply recognizes that Jesus will be the one to bring freedom to God’s people.
Simeon knows who this little baby is, but does not know how God will act – and that is enough for him.
We too know of God’s deliverance, we too know that we are given peace in our abiding in Christ, we too know the end of the story – but we do not know how we will get there. So when the earth trembles and nations rage, when people are evil, when they plot or when they gossip, let us not waver, let us not faulter but say “mine eyes have seen your salvation,” and persevere with faithfulness, and remember:
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
But now Simeon says something amazing – think for a moment about the disciples – they all seemed to believe that Christ came to be the temporal king of Jerusalem and Israel, to drive the Romans out of the nation, and to reestablish the state of Israel, to sit upon his ancestor, David’s earthly throne. But Simeon seems to recognize that maybe, just maybe Jesus is more than an earthly king.
For it is before all people that Christ is prepared – it is before all people that Christ comes to and it is Christ who will judge all people at the end of time, it is to Christ that every knee shall bow. At the coming of Christ two thousand years ago, we find the beginning of this, but not the end, we find the beginning of the end.
And then Simeon does a double unfolding – he recognizes that Chris is light for the gentiles and the glory of God’s people, Israel.
This day in the Christian year is commonly called Candlemas, it was the day that the church traditionally blessed their candles for the year, and people would bring their candles for their homes to be blessed as well. Nothing in the church building is there by accident or happenstance, rather everything has meaning including candles.
We have intentionally set this building aside for one purpose – to worship God, we have set it aside to be a sacred space. Like all thing in the church, the candles have meaning. We light them as a habitual reminder of Christ’s light coming into the world to save sinners. We light a fire at the Easter vigil and carry that light into the church, proclaiming the light of Christ coming into the world, the light of Christ being resurrected, proclaiming that all hope is never lost.
The priest or deacon sings the exultet at the vigil to remind us of the importance of that light in our lives and in the world, the candles are lit from the paschal candle, and act to remind us of the light of Christ in our lives and so when you see the candles on the altar, let them trigger your memory – that Christ came into the world to enlighten you and I, that Christ came into the world to set us free from the darkness of our sin, that Christ is our light and our hope.
But he is also the glory of His people Israel – Israel is God’s people, Israel was set aside to be a blessing to all nations – and this blessing is the coming of Christ. By bringing Christ into the world Israel glorified God, and in such Israel is glorified.
Yesterday as I was driving home around sunset and I was thinking about the beauty of the earth. My favorite time to come up from Phoenix to Sunset point is that hour before sunset. It sparks in me such an appreciation for God’s creative power. Yesterday my thoughts wandered to how one day God will re-create the earth and when God restores all things to how they were meant to be how much more beautiful it will be.
Then, I realized – what will be truly beautiful will be to experience God’s glory – for now we see through a glass dimly – but then we will see fully, experience fully, we will not be separated from the glory of God by our sin, but will bask in his love and glory perfectly.
This is what God does for sinful humanity in Christ Jesus, he makes us free, and makes us to know Him, and though this is out of love – more importantly it glorifies God, because another has recognized that God is the good and sovereign master of their lives. Another has recognized that he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
I started this sermon with the story of four missionaries who died on a sandbar in the Ecuadorian jungle and you may wonder how we know so much about them? Well, a few years later two of their widows went to live with the tribe, through this several of the Huaorani people came to know Christ, came to know his freedom, and came to be faithful followers of Christ. The four families became inextricably interlinked with the Huaorani people.
One of their sons came to be friends with one of the men who killed his father – and a reporter said to him “I understand forgiving someone who had killed your father, but how can you love him?” The man thought for awhile and then came to that old saying that perhaps we all know “hurting people hurt people,” and realized perhaps – “forgiven people forgive people” and loved people love people. We are forgiven and we are loved – and as such – we are to be forgiving and loving.
If we are residing in Christ, if Christ is our sovereign Lord, if we have given Christ the total of our being – then we know that the words Jim Elliot scribbled in his journal nearly seventy years ago are not folly but true - He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose, for what incredible goodness we gain when we reside in Christ!
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.