The Joyful Response
Today is New Year’s Eve.
For so many of us, we’ll begin new diets and exercise plans.
Others will make this the year to get their finances together.
Maybe we’ll begin a search for a new job or a new house.
Maybe this is the year that we finally spend more time doing the things we love and seeing those who are most important to us.
Why does it take the change of the year to do this?
After all, no one starts their new diets on December 15.
What we’re talking about here are those New Year’s resolutions, are we not?
How many of you are making resolutions or have made resolutions in the past?
And how many of you have made resolutions but never followed through with them for one reason or another?
The only resolution that I’ve ever really kept was one I made with a group of friends about 15 years ago.
I remember us sitting around a campfire in South Carolina on one particular New Year’s Eve and — as the conversations always seem to turn toward on New Year’s Eve — asking “So, what is your New Year’s resolution?”
One of my buddies said he would lose weight.
Another said she would begin dancing in shows like she used to.
And mine was to learn to play jazz drums and join a jazz band.
This was all before kids…
Amazingly, we all kept our resolutions that year.
My buddy got back into shape and has stayed in shape to this day.
My other friend did start dancing again in shows and eventually began giving dance lessons to young girls.
And I joined a jazz band, playing with some outstanding musicians and making some amazing lifelong friends.
And I’m so glad I did that, because I’ve been drumming since I was 9 years old, and — except for a few years there when I moved South and couldn’t keep toting around a drum set — drumming has always been a great physical and artistic release for me.
Now, granted, I’ve failed at every other attempt to keep a resolution, but there was something different about this one that stuck:
I was passionate about it.
But, you know, it’s not so much about the resolution itself; it’s about how that resolution changes you.
As I’ve said: Drumming helps me to be creative, it helps me to release stress, it gave me some great friends, and, at least for a few years, it provided a decent secondary source of income.
Sticking to my resolution changed me.
My response, then, to my resolution was all these great and expected and unexpected things.
So while New Year’s resolutions often may be unattainable or unrealistic, when it’s something we’re truly passionate about and we truly seek or even need, we will be successful.
Is the change of a calendar year necessary?
God’s own resolution to make the greatest change the world has ever known was not constrained by the New Year…
While the act of Jesus’s birth was all phenomenal — a part of the Trinity leaving his throne in Heaven to be born as a lowly infant to a poor, single mom — it was the change that happened to the world after his birth that was most significant to us.
For about the next four months, we will walk with Jesus:
* as he grows up.
* through Epiphany next Sunday, which is when God’s manifestation in Jesus becomes known to the Gentiles, not just the Jews…
* At his baptism, through his ministry, miracles, teachings, and eventually his persecution, death, resurrection and ascension at Easter.
Talk about the change this birth that we celebrate on December 25th brought!
But, like God’s resolution to deliver us a savior, the change continues to happen.
Like my buddies and myself who made those resolutions so long ago …
… how they have changed our lives — and others’ lives, as well.
The change, once it begins, continues — like the ripples of a pebble dropped into the ocean.
They continue endlessly.
Simeon and Anna
We see a great example of this in our reading today — we begin to see the results of Jesus’s birth, and the Joyous Response to that birth.
Still now, it’s a very Jewish response.
Next week, when the Gentile wisemen visit Jesus, that Joyful Response will be known for all the world — all people — not just Israel and the Jews.
So what do we find here?
We pick up in Luke’s account in Chapter 2, Verse 22, and we’re in the Temple in Jerusalem.
So, Mary and Joseph are from Nazareth.
They travel the 80 miles south to Bethlehem to be counted, and that’s when and where Jesus is born.
Then after Jesus is born, they have to travel about five miles back north to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill Jewish purification rites.
That only can happen in the Temple, and there’s only one Temple in Israel, and that’s in Jerusalem, the Holy City.
When the wisemen finally come next week, the new family will be back in Bethlehem — Matthew tells us.
And it’s in the Temple in Jerusalem that we meet two prophets.
The first is Simeon, who is an elder and who, Luke tells us, has been given a prophecy from God that this baby will come and will be the Messiah, who will save all people.
Notice these words?
They are all Jewish people in the most Jewish of places — the Temple — in the most Jewish city on Earth — Jerusalem, and doing a very Jewish purification ritual — the sacrifice of live animals.
Yet this very Jewish prophet, Simeon, recalls the greatest ancient Jewish prophet’s words…
He pulls from Isaiah, saying:
“…for my eyes have seen salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of ALL PEOPLES, a light for revelation to the GENTILES AND for the glory of your people ISRAEL.”
(Luke 2. 30-32 Emphasis added)
Simeon, you see, understands the change that this baby represents.
A change for ALL PEOPLE.
Salvation for ALL PEOPLE.
After Simeon, we see the prophet Anna (or Hanna) also in the Temple.
She, too, is an elder, and is an entirely devout Jew.
There are very few women named in the Bible, and Luke makes it a point to name Anna here.
Giving her name adds to the reliability of her testimony of Jesus.
It’s that important.
And, although Luke doesn’t directly quote Anna, we are told that she, too, speaks about the baby’s saving of “all who were looking for redemption of Jerusalem,” Verse 38.
Simeon and Anna have waited all their lives for that baby to come.
When the baby comes, they know salvation has been born to the whole world.
Simeon even says he now can die in peace — the prophecy, we see in the reading, would come true in his own lifetime.
Both he and Anna are changed now, just as the world will be changed.
All by the coming of God as the baby Jesus, who will be the Christ.
When they come face-to-face with Jesus, they experienced for the first time the hope and peace that Jesus brings.
They feel the redemption and salvation born of the Holy Spirit.
They are now at peace, because of Jesus Christ.
They are changed.
In their shoes
Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to be one of the shepherds called to the manger on Christmas Eve.
Or what it would be like to be in the Temple with Simeon and Anna.
We tend to romanticize these things in our Christmas carols and hymns, in our Christmas movies and books, and, to a certain extent, even here in church.
And so it’s hard to imagine what that felt like.
This sacred Temple — truly the one place the Jews could go to not feel the persecution and presence of the Roman Empire.
A place where they could read the Scriptures and speak of the Messiah who was to come — the hope for Israel.
And it’s there in those dangerous and desperate times, that Hope born anew.
Evidence, right there in their arms.
But, you know, we don’t have to be near the manger or in the Temple 2000 years ago to experience that Hope.
The shepherds, the prophets and Mary and Joseph came face-to-face with Jesus, and their lives were changed.
But we, too, come face-to-face with Jesus, and what happens to us?
Do you have a testimony?
Most of you have heard mine.
The tears of joy that cleansed me from the inside-out.
The pure joy that made me smile for two weeks straight.
The incredible joy in my heart that I feel each and every day, knowing that I belong to Jesus.
I am in Jesus’s hands always!
Changed. Completely transformed. Made new!
When we come face-to-face with Jesus, our lives are completely changed.
Over and over and over again, each and every day.
More and more, every day of our lives.
Pray for salvation
It’s New Year’s Eve, and some, most, or even all of us may have some sort of resolution in our minds.
But I’m asking us whether we have a resolution in our hearts.
A resolution that will completely change us from the inside out.
One that brings lasting Joy.
If that’s you — and even if it’s not — pray with me right now this prayer.
Just say it silently to yourself, repeating each line:
Lord, I know that my sins have separated me from you.
Forgive me and help me to be stronger.
I believe Jesus died for me, was resurrected and is alive.
I ask Jesus to be my Lord and live in my heart forever.
In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.
When Simeon and Anna came face-t0-face with Jesus, their response was joyous.
It’s in that joyous response that they witnessed to the world.
Think about it: Simeon and Anna would continue to proclaim the Good News, just as the shepherds did.
More, they would live out the Good News.
This is our response as well:
That Christ’s birth in our lives has changed us.
That after coming face-to-face with Jesus, we are compelled to speak about the hope for redemption we now know as a result of meeting Jesus.
Have we, like Simeon and Anna, seen in Jesus the hope and salvation of all people?
If so, what is our joyful response?
Is it here, for the church, or is it beyond these walls?
Is it here, for those we love and worship with?
Or is it for all people?
Is it at Christmastime, or is it all 365 days of the year?
The shepherds, the prophets, the wisemen, the apostles and every disciple with a passion in her or his heart for Jesus shows us what a joyful response looks like.
What does our joyful response look like?
When people speak of us, do they speak of our Joyful Response?
Do they know we love and follow Jesus?
Can they see it in us?
What does it look like?
What does it feel like?
How has it changed our lives?
What have we done, and what will we do, in response to this gift of grace from God?
How will we, like Anna and Simeon, speak to other people about this hope for redemption that we have found with Christ’s birth in us?
See, we all want joy.
But part of having joy is being able to name it.
And while evidence of the joy we have is to act upon it and share it, it’s in the acting upon it and the sharing of it that we witness it in ourselves and grow in that joy.
It’s like walking on a beautiful wooded trail, but you get to a place in the forest where there’s a log laid across a stream.
You can say, “Well, look at that — I could continue walking this path because someone had graciously placed a log across the stream.
But unless you actually stand on that log and walk across it, you won't you fully understand what it feels like — to trust in that log and that what’s beneath your feet brings you safely along your journey.
You see, making a resolution, but never embarking upon it, is empty.
It’s standing at the stream bank and never taking that step in faith.
We can say we have faith, but we never experience it.
No, when we step across the threshold of faith, that’s when we can experience faith working for us — faith solid beneath our feet.
Then, like the prophets, we will respond joyfully.
We come here, and we learn so much about what it means to be a disciple.
To pray with others who need prayers.
To encourage them, sit beside them, and stand with them.
To pay attention to the needs of others not just here in the church, and even beyond our community; but in the world.
To understand the oppression and persecution that others live with.
And then to work to do something about it.
To truly love your neighbor, even if your neighbor is living on the streets, stealing from others to support his or her drug habit, talking hate or serving a life sentence in prison for taking an innocent life.
It’s going to those hard places that we’d rather not have to go — the hospitals, the nursing homes, the jails, the children’s homes.
It’s parting with our money to help those who are suffering starvation, thirst, disease and dictatorship in hostile places around the globe.
And it’s being educated and speaking out and voting against the the policies that, and politicians who, continue to oppress those with no power, both here and around the world.
Jesus shows us the way.
To be a disciple means so much more than just learning how to be a disciple; it means being a disciple.
And — trust Jesus on this —
It’s in being the disciple that we will witness the true power of Christ in us.
We will understand God’s resolve to save us — ALL of us.
And when we come face-to-face with Jesus, we will be forever changed.
Then, we, too, will have a joyful response.