I was privileged to lead, preach and pray in my church this morning, and I thought to share with you on here too. The readings were Hebrews 2: 14 – 18, and Luke 2: 22-40, and the children were present throughout our worship this morning – they usually go for their own teaching during worship to Sunday School, but they stayed in the main service today.
It doesn’t seem like it, but Christmas was only a month ago. I don’t know about you, but for me, the month since Christmas has felt nothing like the month of Advent before it.
I was at St Mary’s for their Advent Sunday service, and I preached about waiting. The kinds of things that we wait for, what it feels like to wait, waiting for something which you know is going to be special, but without knowing exactly what. I’m sure you remember the feeling of waiting and preparation for Christmas during Advent, but there is more to the type of Advent waiting that was going on when people were waiting for the Messiah in the first place.
Let me show you a clip of a video which shows us another type of waiting.
You see how excited Jessie is to meet Woody? See how she leaps around…”it’s you! it’s you!”. She can’t keep herself still with the excitement of finally meeting Woody, someone she has been wanting to meet for such a long time.
Contrast her reaction with the old Prospector. He was more sedate, awestruck even. He talked about how he has waited “such a long time” to meet – as he calls it – the Prodigal Son. He says “we have waited countless years for this”.
Did you notice too, that Woody was surprised that the Prospector used his name? Jessie tells him “everyone knows your name, Woody”.
So we have someone who everybody knows is coming, who people have been waiting a long time for, and for whom everybody is thrilled and awestruck at finally meeting. If we watch the next bit of the film, we learn that Woody has got a purpose, of bringing the Round Up gang back together, of restoring them to the glory days if you like.
Sounds a bit like waiting for Jesus doesn’t it?
But there’s more to it than that, and this is where our Gospel reading today comes in.
Now I’m not for one minute suggesting that we can substitute Jesus and Woody, but we can draw a comparison to the expectations and excitement that both Jesus and Woody drew from people around them.
In our Gospel reading, we heard how Anna and Simeon both recognised Jesus, and who both gave thanks for his arrival and then prophesied about his future.
Jesus was in the temple that day because Mary and Joseph were required to present him soon after birth, according to the law. He was to be brought to the temple, and as the first born son, he was to be dedicated to the Lord. We know now, 2000 years later, that he was the Lord, but back then at only a month old, nobody else – except Simeon and Anna – did.
Simeon was first to proclaim he recognised who Jesus was, and like the Prospector in our video, said he had always known this day would come, and that he had waited a long time for it. He prayed to God, with that familiar passage that we know now as the Nunc Dimittis, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace”
Simeon prophesies about Jesus and his purpose here on earth. He says he will be “a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel”. Simeon recognised, with guidance from the Holy Spirit (verse 26), that Jesus’ purpose was twofold: to bring light to the Gentiles, and to the glory of Israel. In other words, to all people.
If you remember, the Israelites were waiting for the Messiah to come to restore them, but Simeon says that he was to bring light to the Gentiles also. Not just healing and redemption of one people, but of all people.
Although we don’t hear Anna’s words in this reading, Luke does record that she also spoke of Jesus’ redemptive purposes.
We hear more about why and how Jesus came to earth in our other reading today, from Hebrews. In it, we are told that God came in human form as Jesus, a fully formed human being. Flesh and blood, with fears, loves, temptations and emotions. Jesus was long awaited, and fully human. He was at one with his people here on Earth, and as both Anna and Simeon said when he was a tiny baby presented at the temple a month after his birth, with a job to do.
And so, where does that leave us? Today, here in Blackley [and in our communities wherever we are]?
We are reminded at the end of our Gospel reading that Mary and Joseph were on their way back to Nazareth soon after they had presented Jesus in the temple, in other words, going back to normal life after their precious son was born. And so it is for us. Christmas is over, and it’s time to get on with normal life again.
But for us, like it was for Mary and Joseph, having Jesus in our lives means that there is a new meaning to the word “normal”. What is normal life when we have Jesus at its heart? I suppose that is a topic for a different sermon, but it is definitely something to think about as we approach our Lenten sermon and prayer series.
We are going to dismantle our Crib Scene shortly which was put together by the children at the Crib Service on Christmas Eve. We will pray as we do so, for our community, for our church and for our world. The waiting for Simeon was over, for he had seen the Lord, but for us, the wait for Christ’s coming again goes on. And as we wait, we pray that just as Jesus, the Messiah, the healer and bringer of redemption, was recognised by Anna and Simeon in the temple that day, that we too recognise Jesus in the faces and in the lives of those around us today.
Prayers of Intercession
(during which the children removed the various figures, leaving Jesus in his crib)
The Wise Men
Lord, may these figures of the Wise Men remind us of those who travel across continents to find what they are looking for. We remember especially those who flee from war torn countries, who seek to escape violence and hate filled regimes. We ask that you comfort those who are frightened, those who are hurting and those who seek peace. We pray especially for leaders of our nations and our communities, that they receive your wisdom to be act in the good of all people. We remember those too who give of everything they have in the name of their faith in Jesus Christ.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Lord, may these figures of the Shepherds remind us of those who society does its best to ignore. Those who are trapped in poverty, those on the fringes and don’t know how to join in, those who feel they are not good enough. As Jesus took human form, remind us that he is present in everybody we meet. Give us words of love and acceptance to speak to those who don’t feel they deserve it. Equip us to help those on the edges by bringing them in. Remind us that the good news of Jesus’ birth was shared with such as these.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer
Lord, may the figures of these angels remind us of the connection we feel with heaven through these very prayers, and the prayers we offer each day to you. Remind us as we pray that we are not alone, and just as the angels carried messages of Jesus’ birth, give us the words to say to people we meet to share his good news with them.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer
Mary and Joseph
Lord, your precious gift of Jesus was born to Mary, and he was raised by Joseph until he reached the time of his ministry. As we remove these figures from the crib, we are reminded that for them, like us, with Jesus in our midst there is a new normal to be found. We ask ourselves how can we ever be the same again after meeting Jesus, and we ask you now to refresh us and renew us daily, putting him at the centre of all.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer
And as we close our prayers, and before we say the Lord’s prayer together, let us just pause for a moment to consider Jesus who is left behind in the crib as a reminder that he lives amongst us, and is present in all our actions and interactions with other people. Lord, we ask that you open our eyes to recognise him, just as Simeon and Anna did in the temple that day.
And so we say together the words that Jesus taught us:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your Kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom,
the power and the glory are yours.
Now and for ever.