Sermon: Being a Prophet
Trinity Presbyterian Church, Arlington, VA Dec 28, 2014
Primary Text: Luke 2:22-40
There is a story behind every story. This story has a story behind it. It is a story that is too seldom heard but without it, the story before us makes no sense. This is a story of two rather elderly people, people who seem to spend all their time in the church building that is the Temple in Jerusalem. When I was growing up, there were elder people like that. My wife and I have not been around Trinity long enough to know who those are around here, but I have my suspicions.
Let me just paint his picture again for you…..
Luke has carefully outlined for us the announcement to Zechariah the priest, of the birth of a child to his barren wife Elizabeth, both of elderly years.
Then we are told of the announcement to the young maiden Mary, soon to be married to Joseph, of the plans of God to conceive in her a child who will be the heir to King David’s throne and re-establish that Kingdom for ever and ever.
We have the Meeting of Elizabeth and Mary and the response of the unborn John to the presence of Jesus. He jumped up and down in her womb.
We are told of the shepherds who are visited by angels and proceed to the manger in Bethlehem where they find the young couple, Mary and Joseph with their newborn child Jesus.
We finally arrive at the text of our story. But this brief story from Chapt 1 and 2 is not the story which is behind this story. There is a much larger story behind this that whispers to be heard. It is the story of how God has been working in the World . This is not merely a story of two couples, a visionary experience by some shepherds, and a couple of prophets, let alone how God might visit us, each individually or our families, or all of us at this time of year and every year, which we call Christmas.
Not only is there a story behind every story, but this story is about how God always reveals his stories , what He is up to in history, through his Prophets. Amos 3:7 “Certainly the sovereign Lord does nothing without first revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.”
There are words in the text which suggest what that plan is and to whom it has been revealed and what they do about it. We’ll come back to the words in more detail later, but let’s at least put them out there.
The first word which should catch out attention is “Restoration” Simeon has been “looking for the restoration of Israel.” That is a part of God’s Story.
The next phrase is that Simeon would not die before seeing “the Lord’s Christ or Messiah.” That is a part of God’s Story.
We then have in vs 30, Simeon saying he has seen the “Salvation” of the Lord, which is a salvation for both the Gentiles and Israel. That too is a part of the Story, if not the whole Story.
So with Anna, we have key words in the text. She has been praying and fasting in the temple awaiting the “redemption of Jerusalem.” Another piece of God’s Story of History is laid before us.
But before we get to giddy and excited with all this talk about Restoration and Salvation, we need to also hear as strongly the personal note Simeon has for Mary, the young mother, ‘Listen Carefully, This child is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected. Indeed, as a result of him the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul as well.” That too is a part of God’s Story.
Behind every story there is another story. But who hears and believes that story.
Being a Prophet means hearing what others do not hear. Being a Prophet means seeing what others do not see. Being a prophet means saying what others will not say.
Biblical Prophets tell the story of God. We do well to listen to them. They tell us what God thinks and feels about his creation. They tell us where our food comes from and who are our brothers and sisters. They tell us how to interpret history which seems to have so many other meanings. They tell us who cares for the animals when we don’t and who causes the rains to flow and stop. They tell us many things, like who are not prophets, how to listen for the Spirit, how to discern God working in the World , and how in turn we should speak and act towards others when we forget.
Simeon and Anna lived their lives hearing, seeing and saying what those around them did not understand. They were waiting for what they did not yet see but knew would appear and speak loudly. And they awaited this within a context that tempted them with much to see and hear, much that seemed to be clear, prescribed, and certain, Spirituality in the Temple, authority within the Priesthood, salvation through the Sacrifices, Sanctity in the Law, and Values oriented within the Traditions.
Each day, every day, they were there in the Temple. They did not await the new rulings of the Sanhedrin, or the new legislation of the current occupying army. The picture of world history was to them an open book. It was the picture of God’s hand upon Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, a picture of Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, a picture of Amos, Habakkuk and Daniel.. Their history book showed them the hand of God upon an Obedient Israel and a Disobedient Israel. The Deliverance of Israel from Egypt and the Return from Babylonian Captivity were their witness to the God who Restores His people and Saves them as a witness of grace and mercy to the nations. They were reminded of Kings who were Obedient and Kings who were disobedient to the Covenant and the Commandments of God. History was the Story of God’s walk through time and space within our world and how that walk was itself redemptive and restorative.
Their view of history maintained a consistent vision of a God who is Sovereign and intimately engaged in and watching over his world. They had a vision of a God who does not care for our views of power or importance. They had a vision which did not esteem riches or influence. They had a vision of a God who towers above all false beliefs and the imaginations of human self-worth.
How often we forget that history.
But being a Prophet does not solely meaning looking to the past. A Prophet sees the future and has confidence in that future. A Prophets sees God’s Future.
It is a future of God’s continual Restoration of his world from the destruction and toxic impact of human progress. It is a providence and watch care over his Creation. That which is Good from the beginning is restored to the Good. It is a future where the imaginations of humanities heart will once again reflect the image and likeness of God is every form. It is a future of God’s Saving us from ourselves, where the lion will lay down with the lamb and weapons will be turned into instruments of good and productivity. It is a future where healing will prevail against all disease and there will be no more crying or pain and the health of the human person will radiate the glory of his/her intended state, and where mental anguish and pain will be restored by true worth and meaning being reaffirmed within the human spirit. It is a future of true restoration and salvation. Where all humans know how to care for each other as brothers and sisters. Where things work as they were meant to work, and life is truly lived as it was created to live. That is the vision that makes them rise each day and wait for the consolation of all things, both in Jerusalem and among the nations.
The prophet sees that Future and is eager to proclaim the assured Day of the Lord.
For Simeon and Anna, that day had arrived. In the child in the arms of young Mary, the Day of the Lord had come. Without fanfare, without wealth, without power, the Future had come upon them. He had arrived in the silence of the night, in the humility of an animals feed trough, wrapped in strips of cloth. He arrives in Jerusalem, the city of God, the city of Peace, Shalom, Salem Jeru, the Peace of God, in a time without peace. He is brought to the Temple but not to the Sanctuary, Mary, as a woman cannot enter there. She is in the outer court, a lessor holy place but He is recognized nevertheless, by those with a Prophets Eyes, a Prophets Ears, and a Prophets Voice. The child, the Redeemer of the world is recognized by those who know the Story of God.
If that was all it meant to be a Prophet, it might be somewhat easy to be one. It might even be seen as being optimistic, to be a utopian visionary, or a modern positivist philosopher. Mankind’s great gains and successes seem to continually suggest even against many odds, that we should have hope or at least be respectfully open minded about the future. Things are getting better many will say, even if from time to time they slide backwards or slowdown. The market these days is up, again, sustainability is a good word and we might even get another Democratic President.
But what if at the very core of your hope for the future, if at the very center of your faith, your vision of salvation is shattered. What if Anna or Simeon had seen the Crucifixion of Jesus? What would they have said then? Simeon says to Mary, at the height of his prophetic announcement of Jesus’ historic role as the Savior and the Messiah, AND, he will be rejected. And you yourself will experience the anguish of that rejection. People will reject the very Salvation God has to offer, simply because they don’t like it, more than that, they can’t stand it. That is, if your hope isn’t that all of life will be naturally getting better, consistently moving forward, and progressively showing humanities best side, then you are wrong. The thought that others will listen to what you have to say, even listen to what Jesus has to say, and say oh, that sounds great, I’m with you, is not an obvious outcome. Salvation, God’s way, is not the Story people seem to want truly to hear. Remember, a Prophet may have honor, but not in his own country. And the country of God is the whole world. The hope of the Prophet is only shared by those with the Spirit and vision of a Prophet.
Christmas has become many things to many people. But Christmas without also celebrating the events of Easter week is not Christian. Even the Prophetic vision of God’s future is shattered so that when the Resurrection occurs, no one, not even the Prophet will be able to claim credit. Jesus who is our hope and our redeemer is the Story of History, in its origination, its narratives, and its culmination. Keep that Prophetic vision before you as you move from Christmas to Easter. The Spirit of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy. To see the world through His eyes is to see clearly now and into the future what God will have for you now and in the days to come. Amen.