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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Living in the Promise

In the story of Simeon and the Presentation of our Lord, God assures us that God keeps promises. We can wait for God to fulfill God’s promises to us and to all of creation with courage and hope.

Vicar Emily Beckering; The Presentation of our Lord; text: Luke 2:22-40

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“Could this be the day?” He wondered. “Will it happen today?”

This is the way that he started every morning: wondering, waiting, hoping.

“Could it really happen today?” He tingled at the thought of it.

“Might this be the hour?” he pondered often throughout the day, every day.

It certainly was not a relaxing life: constantly attending to what might be, always alert, living on the lookout, but he had been given a promise. The promise was his purpose and the promise was his pursuit. He could not have rest until it happened, this he knew. And so he watched and he wondered, and he waited.

The story of Simeon is a story of waiting: a story of living in the promise, living in that in-between time.  The time between a promise given and a promise fulfilled.

We, like Simeon, live in an in-between time: the time in between receiving God’s promises to us in Christ and seeing the full realization of these promises. 

The expression: “we walk by faith” is true for us because we have experienced God’s presence with us and care for us, and yet there is still so much that we cannot yet see or understand clearly. There is so much for which we still wait.

As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, we who have the first fruits of the Spirit wait for the redemption of our bodies, not only we, but all of creation groans to be set free from its bondage to decay. We, with all of creation, are waiting for that time when an end will come to suffering and pain and death. We are all waiting for the day when we no longer feel any distance between us and God. We are all waiting to be reunited with the ones who have gone before us.

While we wait with all of creation for these things in this in-between time, there are also things for which we each wait in our lives that have been promised to us in the midst of this relationship with God.  Part of the witness of Simeon’s story is that God really does enter into our lives and speak promises to us.

What are God’s promises for which you are waiting?
What is it for which you are still longing to be revealed?

It is into this time—our time of waiting and anticipation and longing—that God’s word comes to us today. 

And thanks be to God for this because waiting is no easy task. Waiting for God’s promises to us to be fulfilled is difficult because in this in-between time we see glimpses but not the full picture. As Paul writes, we see in a mirror dimly, and only know in part, but we wait for when we will see face to face and understand fully.

In this space, in this in-between time, there is so much room for doubt.

We may doubt the promise itself: Did we hear the promise correctly? Was that really what God promised? Was the promise really for us?

We may doubt ourselves and our ability to recognize or to receive the promise, especially if we are waiting longer than we anticipated for God to keep God’s word: What if we somehow missed it? Is there some way that we could mess it up or prevent the promise from being fulfilled?

We may doubt the One who has given the promise. It is difficult to wait because it is difficult to trust: will God be faithful to God’s word?

Perhaps for some of us, the problem is not doubting the promise, but not knowing what it is that we are promised. We are not certain what God’s word is for our lives. How can we trust if we do not even know what it is for which we are waiting?

In response to each of these fears which often seem to hold so much power over us, we are given the witness of Simeon so that we might wait with good courage. 

At first, we might scoff at this witness and think: “Ha. It was easy for Simeon! He had a direct word from God. He knew exactly what God had promised him and what he was supposed to do about it.” Maybe it’s harder for us because it’s not always clear to us what God has promised to us, how God is at work in us, or where or to what God is calling us.

But the key to hearing the good news in this story today is to recognize that the God who spoke to Simeon and led him to the temple is the same God who has claimed us and is at work in our lives. 

It is evident from Simeon’s witness that this God is a God who loves us deeply and acts out of this love. God cares so tenderly for Simeon that God the Father makes the promise to Simeon through the Holy Spirit. God the Son fulfills this promise. God the Holy Spirit ensures that Simeon gets to see the promise fulfilled.

So much of our difficulty with waiting arises from the fear that we have been abandoned, and that we must have somehow imagined the promise or screwed it up. But God doesn’t just make a promise and then step aside or sit back. God is intimately involved in Simeon’s life, so much so that the Holy Spirit rests upon Simeon so that God may dwell with him. By this Spirit, Simeon is guided at just the right time to meet the Messiah promised to him.

It is clear that just as the Triune God is committed to the saving purpose of redeeming Israel, so too is God committed to ensuring that Simeon, whom God also loves, is able to witness the fulfillment of this promise.

God is a God who keeps promises. God was faithful to the promise made to Simeon. God was faithful to the promise made to all of Israel. God will be faithful to the promises that God has made to us.

What is more, the same promises that were given to Simeon and to Israel are also given to us. We have also seen our salvation. In Jesus, God has given us God’s own heart. When Simeon was led to the temple by the Holy Spirit, he was met by his savior. We were led here today by the Holy Spirit where we are met by our Savior. When we take the Eucharist, we take Jesus into our arms. The same love, the same life, the same freedom that Simeon realized was offered to him, to Israel, and to all people is ours. The same Spirit that rested upon Simeon has been poured out onto us in our Baptism.

Just as the Triune God tenderly cared for Simeon, ensuring that Simeon heard the promise, was led to the one promised to him, and recognized it when the promise was fulfilled, the Triune God is at work in our lives, guiding us and giving us what we need to be formed into who God has promised until that time when we experience the fullness of all that God has promised.

When we hear the story of the presentation of our Lord, God is taking us up into God’s arms and saying: “Look what I’ve done for Simeon. Look what I’ve done for Israel, for the world, and for you. You can trust my promises.”

When we cling to this word from God, then we too, like Simeon, can live in the promise.

Two things emerge for us from Simeon’s witness about what this looks like.

First, we are to keep waiting.

Simeon expected God to fulfill God’s promise to him, so he lived watching and waiting—living on the word given to him. God also asks us to wait, to watch, and to listen. We live in the promise when we live on the lookout for Jesus to meet us, and when we listen for how the Holy Spirit is nudging us, drawing us closer to the fulfillment of God’s promises in our lives.

We are to wait and watch and listen, even for the unexpected. The promise might not be fulfilled precisely in the way that we expect. Is it likely that Simeon expected the deliverer and savior of his people and every nation to come to him as a baby? The fact that God’s promises are often fulfilled in unexpected ways is made clear to us not only in this story, but throughout the gospels. Think of the rich man who did not anticipate that the Messiah would ask him to give up all of his possessions to follow him, and how he went away sad because he had great wealth. Think of the Pharisees who could not accept a Messiah who broke bread with sinners. Think of the disciples who were filled with fear because they did not expect their Messiah to suffer and die.

God may not fulfill promises to us in the way that we expect, but with open hearts that listen for the Holy Spirit to guide us, God will see to it that we are led to where we need to be, that we are formed into who God would have us be, and that we can recognize God at work.

We are also to wait and watch and listen even when it takes longer than we thought for God’s work in our lives to be fulfilled. Think of Anna: the prophet who never left the temple but worshipped night and day. Think of all the nights and days and weeks and years that she waited for the promised redemption of Israel before she got to see that promise fulfilled before her eyes.

It might take longer than we want for God to fulfill what God has promised for us and for the world, but God will see to it that it is accomplished.

The second thing that God asks of us today is to respond when we are called.

When the Word was given to him to go to the temple, Simeon got up and followed. By following the Word given to him, Simeon encountered his Messiah and witnessed the fulfillment of God’s promises. We hear from Simeon’s song, however, that following the Holy Spirit caused Simeon to come closer to his own death, for once he met his Messiah, he knew that he could now pass away. Yet, being faced with his death also meant coming face to face with the one who had come to set him free from the power of death.

In the same way, we are not told that living according to God’s promises or following the Holy Spirit to where Jesus is will be easy. Simeon’s prophecy warns us alongside Mary and Joseph of opposition, rejection, and suffering. But what we are promised is that by the power of the Holy Spirit, God will be with us as we follow the call to follow.

Although waiting, watching, listening and following where the Holy Spirit leads us in this in-between time is not easy, we know that the Triune God who held Simeon in tender care also holds us. It might take longer than we would like, and it might not happen in the way that we expect, but God will be faithful to God’s promises for our lives. To this we can cling. That is living in the promise.

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