THE FULLNESS OF TIME
Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
DECEMBER 31, 2017 – First Sunday after Christmas
Last week, we were like children, full of possibility and imagination at the coming of Christmas one more time. We remembered the family we gathered with as children and we remembered the challenging events that gave us something new to celebrate…something new in all the world…and still new.
We have had our gatherings now. I hope you had a good time with friends and family, and that you have heard from many people who remember you with joy. I hope the story of the Nativity gained new, special meaning for you.
Now we come to the end of the year and look back over the last week and the last year…and as far as we can see. We are blessed this time of year with both an Alpha and an Omega as our companions.
It was a feast of surprises for Christmas. It is a time to reflect… to ponder the events of the year in our hearts…as we approach the New Year.
At Christmas we bite into something new. At New Year’s we chew on things that remain with us.
The Lectionary presents us with two wonderful, faithful friends, Simeon and Anna, to give us the wisdom of those who have waited patiently for The Fullness Of Time to deliver a Savior to God’s people.
They have waited a long time, and Israel has watched anxiously for 500 years for this day to arrive. Suddenly, their vision clears and their dreams become reality before them.
It is only a poor couple. Their offering is a humble one. Leviticus decrees that if a son is born to a woman she shall bring a lamb in its first year to the Temple for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering.
But if she cannot afford a sheep, we read, she is to take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering.
By coming with a pair of turtledoves, they were telling the priest, Simeon and Anna, and all the world…even to this day…that they were but a poor couple.
Of all the people we have met so far in our studies, they are the poorest…in tangle wealth…of our heroes.
Abraham had flocks. Jacob married well. Joseph had an amazing Technicolor dream coat. David was watching his father’s sheep. Joseph and Mary bring two turtledoves.
But there is something about this family that Simeon and Anna have not seen before. They have been waiting for a long time…not as long as Israel (500 years)…but for a long time.
And now there is a glimmer…a possibility…new hope…that this is the one. The prophets of old live in the words that Simeon and Anna speak over the child.
When the American Revolution was brewing and conventions throughout the colonies were debating the question of separation from Great Britain, Patrick Henry was a young lawyer in Virginia.
On March 23, 1775 he made a speech at the Second Virginia Convention to debate the issue. His speech is credited with moving that Commonwealth to move toward independence.
He concluded a well reasoned talk with these words. “Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
A man standing outside the convention hall said something on hearing those words that is very much like what Simeon said as he watched the circumcision of Jesus.
He said that he was now ready to die after hearing those eloquent words. “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,” Simeon said on seeing Jesus.
He was no longer confined by Death. He had lived. Like John the Baptist, he had come into the world, not to perform some great act, but to witness and testify to the greatness that was to come…that was coming…that had come…into the world.
The past and the future, the Alpha and Omega, had been revealed to him in the presentation of a beautiful child of a poor couple, who were obedient and faithful to God’s Word, even though it was but a widow’s mite that they brought for an offering.
But then, with the experience of all his years, he saw what the friends of darkness do to anyone who would come bearing too much light to go unnoticed by anyone.
And he said, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed” — then turning toward Mary, he added— “and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Think of Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. Such lowly and humble people from the part of the country…the western frontier…that was looked down upon as rough and uneducated…that did not know manners.
But they knew hardship and they had been schooled in perseverance. They survived a long and bitter war that was hated by both sides and he had come to symbolize the suffering everyone in America had been experiencing. He had lifted up their guilt and taken their sin upon himself.
But then the war was over and they gave themselves the treat of going to Ford’s Theatre to see a play. Lincoln was not looking back, but forward as they chatted, and he longed to be famous no longer. He wanted to be closer to the book that had shaped his language since he was a little boy learning to read.
When this second term was over, he told his wife, he wanted to “go abroad among strangers so I can rest.” He wanted to visit the Holy Land.
Mary said his last words were that “there is no city on earth he so much desired to see as Jerusalem.” Moments later, he was shot…and a sword pierced Mary Todd Lincoln’s soul, too.”
There was something so bright about his life at that moment…he was so full of light…that darkness itself had to attack him.
In what was to me a chilling remembrance of a moment with a woman who had been touched by darkness, Hillary Clinton wrote about meeting Jackie Kennedy Onassis in January of 1993 to get advice on what she should expect as a First Lady.
Jackie told her to be careful. Bill Clinton was a very exciting figure at that moment, newly inaugurated with high expectations ahead of him. There is something about people who are charismatic, Jackie said. They seem to attract violent people. Our anger becomes attached to them.
We only need to read the negative things that are said about anyone who is ascending to some political prominence to realize that the world has not changed much…except that in this day of virtual reality you don’t have to physically kill someone to destroy them.
Simeon knew that, too. This child was so radiant that darkness would haunt his every step.Still…as Simeon praises the moment…we see that the goodness triumphs over evil.
The inner thoughts of many would be revealed in how they received this child…this one who had been promised for so long…this Messiah. Darkness would show itself, but that would only make the Power of God all the more obvious.
Why would anyone bother with one who had nothing to say? Why would they feel threatened by one who made no difference in anyone’s life? The fact that darkness had to show itself makes the Light in him all the more obvious.
We look back over the year and wonder why things are the way they are. But we look forward, too, and wonder why things cannot be the way they should be…and how we might nudge reality toward the light …and the goodness…and the truth…that the Great Teaher brought into the world with him.
Anna comes in as Simeon and Mary and Joseph and the priests are engaged in the solemn business of marking Jesus as a member of God’s chosen ones. She immediately senses something beyond human goodness and begins to praise God and speak of the redemption of Israel…the salvation of God’s people.
They were right, but I wonder if they knew how right they were. There was no power beyond Rome that they needed to concern themselves with. There was no America. Slavery was a way of life.
This newborn babe…duly consecrated…would change all that. The world would never be the same. He would draw all people to him…for good or evil purposes.
We think we have it tough, but we do not need to worry about finding a place to stay at the inn, or Herod’s violent reaction to news of greatness…Goodness itself…in his midst.
We have more blessings… and we have more responsibility to carry the Good News to all who have ears to hear it.
We may be criticized…maybe even attacked…as we try to prepare the way for God’s Kingdom come to Earth. The opposition from those who wish only themselves well is a sign that we are on the right track.
I celebrate my Grandma Addy’s birthday today, too. She would have been 117 if only she had held on for a little longer. She lived to be 96…from 1900 to 1997…and there were things that upset her, but she knew that life was better with television…and radio…and the telephone…and running water… and electricity.
She had not lost sight of how greatly we have been blessed by what other people have done to prepare the way for us to be the most powerful nation in the history of the world…and she was grateful for every day she got to spend loving the little ones God had given her. Like Anna, she was indebted to the world…and to God in Jesus Christ…for the wondrous things she had seen.
My cousin Beth sat with her in her final illness. Grandma was ready to go and knew where she was going, but she was too strong to make the trip quickly.
Finally, Beth told her that is was her silver wedding anniversary and she needed to get back to Seattle. Her sister Barbara would take her place.
But Grandma was having one of her deaf spells and just kept saying “Huh?” every time Beth took a breath. Beth finally broke down sobbing and left.
When Barbara came in, Grandma told her that she thought there was something wrong with Beth. She had been crying and carrying on something awful that morning.
“She is turning 50 this year, you know,” Grandma said, “and I think it’s starting to get to her.”
There we see someone who understands the fullness of time and the love of God. There we see someone who trusts that they are loved and cherished. There we see someone on earth who welcomes the coming of peace on earth.
We have been blessed to be the light of the world. Let us not hide our light under a bushel basket. May we put it upon the lampstand for all to see.
May we, too, be so blessed that we become such a blessing to all theworld in the fullness of time. Amen.