After a Lifetime of Waiting
First Sunday After Christmas, B
After a Lifetime of Waiting
31 December 2017
Revs. Samuel B. and Janice M. Lamott Adams
Isaiah 61:10-62:1-3, Luke 1:25-38
Samuel: A week ago many of you gathered here to celebrate the long awaited birth. You heard again the familiar lessons and sang the carols that many of us know by heart. And many of you went out to celebrate with families and friends. Now the ruined Christmas paper is in the trash, most of the leftovers are gone, and I’ll lay odds that a fair number of us are wearing what was still wrapped and under the tree last Sunday. And here we are back, but the celebration is not over. Today is the seventh of twelve days in the season of Christmastide. The Christ candle is still lighted, but the church is a much quieter place. The angels have gone away to wherever God’s terrifying messengers go. The skies are quiet. The shepherds are back in their fields. But the star is not gone. Epiphany is still ahead. January 6 celebrates the arrival of the magi from afar. The first time parents are already preparing for life with their newborn son. After all the drama, they are preparing to return to their routines and to let God show them the future as it unfolds, one day at a time. Jan: Their first stop is in nearby Jerusalem at the temple mount, the center of the ritual life of their people. According to their customs, a woman who has given birth was unclean, stained by the spilling of blood. Their scriptures had long ago laid out the process for purification. Poor as they were, the only sacrifice they could afford was a couple of birds. But they were faithful, and they did what they could. But for these parents the time for surprises was far from over, as their routine trip to the temple would show. There they would be met by two elderly saints, Anna and Simeon. Both had prophetic gifts which allowed them to see beneath the surface of things. Samuel and I would like to introduce them to you. We’ll let you imagine that we are actually old enough to play these parts! Samuel: (wearing Jewish prayer shawl) My name in Simeon, and I am now an old man. Jerusalem is my home, and I love being here close to the temple, and surrounded by the best scholars of my faith. They have taught me to know the scriptures, he Law from Moses, the praise music of the Psalms, and the wisdom of ancient priests and rabbis. But it is the writings of the prophets that have always caught me. These men of vision came to us all through our history. They were sent by the Most High for centuries, even after our glory days under David and Solomon; to anoint kings, advise kings, and to announce God’s judgment of corrupt kings. And when the kings were gone, the prophets still came. Some even told of the time when the Most High would restore the monarchy, when God would send a new shoot from the dry stump that marked the genealogical line of David’s father Jesse, all that was left of David’s family tree. I especially remember one whose writing comes near the end of the set of scrolls our Page 1 of 4 rabbi’s call Isaiah. This mighty prophet wrote during one of our most painful times, when my beloved city of Jerusalem was in ruin. This temple mount was nothing but a hilltop littered with ancient ruins. This prophet always wrote that God was not yet done with us. Listen to his rousing words from Chapter 62. “For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.” All my adult life I have waited, sustained by the Holy Spirit, for these words to come true. And it came to me one day that I would live to see God’s faithfulness. I would be given the great privilege of looking into the eyes of the one whom the Most High would send to redeem us all. And I did not wait in vain. One day I was drawn by the force of God’s Spirit to come here to the temple grounds. I entered from the city as always by the long passageway and the stair which brought me here to this vast courtyard. This particular day my attention was drawn to a small family who were visitors. I could tell from their speech that they were country people from the hills to the north, from the Galilee. They must have come for the rites of purification, because they carried a newborn child, only a few days old. It was the child I had come to see. They let me hold him. When I looked into the face of that infant, I saw beyond seeing. This child is the One so long promised, the one I have waited all my life to see. Words just propelled themselves out of my mouth, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Oh yes, he’s still tiny. And fragile. It will be years yet before his work is complete. But I have seen the beginning of God’s new work of salvation. At my age that is enough. (prayer shawl off) Jan: (wearing head scarf) I will never forget that day. I was in the temple courts as always. Some say that I live here. You see, I am long widowed, and now my life is here in this temple, praying and fasting, and waiting for God’s salvation. I don’t even know now what brought my attention to that small family. Maybe it was the ecstatic prayer of the old man. Maybe it was just the inner nudge from the Holy One of Israel. And maybe those are simply two names for the same thing. But suddenly I knew that I had to go and see them. Yes, they were outlanders, and poor. I could tell from their clothing, and from their modest offering of two turtledoves. But there was Page 2 of 4 something else. It was the child. It doesn’t matter how I knew. But this child bore in his life the promise of God’s redemption. At my age it was enough simply to see that my prayers were answered, that God’s work was in process. My body would not contain my joy. I became a living fountain of praise. The words simply bubbled out of my depths. I think if I had been silent, the very stones would have taken up the song. And I could not stop. My words are still with me. I absolutely sang: “Praise to you, Most High God! Through the ancient prophets you promised to restore the throne of David, To visit your people and to bring your redemption right here to Jerusalem. Now I have seen with my eyes the One you have sent. With my ancient ears I have heard the joyous music of his baby sounds. Your faithfulness is astonishing.” Then I began to work my way among my friends. They were the ones among the temple throngs whom I knew were also praying and fasting, waiting the Promised One. To one, and then another I said, “Look over there! Yes, the humble family talking with the old man. That child is the One! We have waited long, but we have not been disappointed!” Instantly I remembered how the ancient prophets were rejected, again and again. I told my friends: “We must keep this news in our hearts, and not on our lips. We must be careful whom we tell. There are many, especially in high places, who cannot share our joy. This child must be kept safe to grow and mature so that God’s work can be done through him. (head scarf off) Samuel: Luke tells us they went back to Nazareth where this child grew into manhood, and “became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” After a lifetime of waiting, the old ones with prophetic gifts knew that God’s new work of salvation was begun. But it would not be complete for some years yet. The next lifetime of waiting had begun. Jan: Two millennia and countless lifetimes later the promise that so deeply moved these two elderly saints is still powerfully alive. Even when it is so hard for us to see. The promise of God’s action to redeem God’s world is often like yeast buried in a lump of dough, noiselessly alive forcing nourishing bread to rise to feed the hungry nearby and continents away. Sometimes God’s promise is unfolding on the margins of our life, as caring people share our love, and share our resources. Sometimes we glimpse it on the back streets of our cities, and in our hospitals and jails. Wherever people are suffering. It’s also happening far away from our comfortable corner of the world, in war torn countries and crowded refugee camps where food, water and medical care are scarce. Volunteers are there, helping the best they can. God’s promise is always moving some among us to action, showing us how to live out Jesus’ words in Matthew: “As you have done it to one of the least of these, my sisters and brothers, you have Page 3 of 4 done it to me.” Even now the Spirit is empowering these words among us. Right here. Right now. Do we hear them? Will we live them? Thanks be to God! Amen.