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Luke 2:22-38 NIV

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” ), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Introduction. It’s a strange thing, but whenever I think about Simeon and Anna, it feels like they belong back further in time along with the other great Old Testament prophets. Last week we had Zechariah, a priest of the Temple, and Elizabeth, his childless wife who miraculously conceived in her old age. Now we meet Simeon and Anna, a righteous man and prophetess, who all but carry the dust of the previous age of the law and prophets with them. You could ask why is it so important to Luke to record all of this at the beginning of his Gospel. Well he is helping us understand movement from God’s covenant with Israel through the law to God’s covenant with the whole world through Jesus. Luke wants us to understand God was doing something new in Jesus, but at the same time was keeping His promises to Israel. God is not abandoning Israel but rather is keeping faith in an unexpected way that extends God’s favour and promise to all peoples. We see this very clearly in Simeon’s prayer.

Also we see this in the way Luke takes care to demonstrate that Mary and Joseph obey Jewish law in the rituals of purification and dedication, and that Simeon and Anna, righteous representatives of Israel, see God’s faithfulness to Israel and all the world in the presence and person of this child.

I want to note a few things about this incident and Simeon’s prayer which perhaps help us with aspects of our prayer lives. 

Perseverance. What are you like at waiting. Imagine Mary and Joseph in the inner part of the temple and yes almost certainly they would have had to join a queue so that Jesus might be dedicated. Simeon himself will have looked at these queues day after day, waiting for God to keep the promise he received that with his own eyes by virtue of the Holy Spirit he would see God’s messiah before his death. 

During this pandemic we are having to get used to waiting, we no longer control our own destiny as we once thought we did. For some struggling with unanswered prayer it may feel like they are abandoned, you can perhaps relate to the powerful image in Lamentations3:44 You have covered yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can get through.

In truth there are many reasons for unanswered prayer but at this time we must stand alongside Simeon and Anna, watching, persevering in prayer, waiting for the moment when God will act. 

Jackie and I are currently trying the couch to 5k running app. (pause for laughter) I am mostly doing it for the moment when Sarah Milligan says “well done flower”. But it would be so easy to give up on so many occasions. So I want to encourage any of you, who feel like giving up: Too tired, too busy for God, if you want to finish well, it’s not time to give up, it’s time to persevere.

Obedience. At the heart of this reading is Simeon’s prayer sometimes known as the Nunc Dimittis, beautiful when sung, preferable without a mask. Let’s here those words again. Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” They are truly beautiful words but behind them is a lifetime of obedience and faithfulness on the part of Simeon. The story of our faith and lives really is a marathon not a sprint, you have to put in the hard miles of obedience. In Tim Chesters book ‘You can pray’ he admits that the real battle when it comes to prayer is actually to start praying, to get on with it. He says “Wrestling in prayer is not just something for great prayer warriors. Actually it describes your experience and mine. The main struggle is to get on with it”.

Prayer needs obedience because at the end of the day we are in a spiritual battle and the best way to engage with that battle is through prayer. In Ephesians after Paul has told us to put on the full amour of God he says this “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people”. Ephesians 6:18 NIV

Trusting God’s promises. Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from Simeon is simply to trust God’s promises. In his prayer there is a glimpse of what it is like to live trusting in God’s promises. Think about it , he gets to hold the Messiah in his hands. Simeon lived his life longing for that moment. Can you imagine being so confident in God’s promises that you could die happy. That you could die without fear? 

God’s promises to us in scripture are not just about death and heaven they are about many things. It is in claiming the promises of God that the themes of perseverance, obedience all come together. George Muller the 18th century evangelist decided he was to pray for 5 friends until they came to faith. In a few months one came to faith, but it was 10 years until two others did. One more came to faith 25years later. The final friend he continued to pray for until his death 52 years after he had first began to pray for them. The final friend  came to faith in Jesus shortly after Muller’s funeral. 

It is at times like this that we perhaps need to discover afresh the promises of God in scripture and to simply just get on with praying, not giving up when the going is tough or to think we are too busy, or that prayer is for someone else.

Final thought. Mary and Joseph and Jesus are in the inner part of the temple, along with Simeon and Anna. They are all Jews, Gentiles would have to wait in the outer Courtyard. When Simeon prays over Jesus these magnificent words it is as if the barrier between the two is broken down. God does keep His promises.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


First published on: 27th September 2020
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