Christmas for Grown-ups, Chamberlyne Baptist

This is the sermon I preached at the Chamberlayne Baptist Church where my friend Dave Peppler is pastor.


Christmas for Grown-ups     Luke 2:22-40

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.

34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.

40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Last week I sat in a fast food restaurant, thinking about this morning’s sermon. At a nearby table some senior citizens were reflecting on what it means to grow old.

One of them said: “I know I am getting older because almost everything hurts, and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work!”

With that it began…

“You Know You’re Getting Older When…”

Your back goes out more than you do.

You feel like the morning after but you didn’t go anywhere the night before.

You don’t care where your wife goes, just as long as you don’t have to go along with her.

Somebody compliments you on being patient. But really, it’s just that you just don’t care anymore.

And my favorite: “You know you’re getting older when you sink your teeth into a juicy steak, and they just stay there.”

As entertaining as it was to hear these reflections on getting old, I was a little disturbed. Each of these statements reinforced the idea that getting older means to be “past one’s prime.”

But I’ve known many senior citizens who never became “past their prime.”

Let me tell you about Gazelle Eubank. When I became a pastor on the Northern Neck, I was told that she should be my first pastoral visit. She was 92 years old. I assumed folks wanted me to visit her because she might not have much time left. I assumed I would find her in a rocking chair, near a window, reading the Gospel of John from a Bible on her lap. When I arrived I saw her sitting on a John Deer lawn-mower, cutting the three acres of grass around her house.

Let me tell you about George and Edna Roff. They met in Sunday School when they were both four years old. They married when they were both 16 years old. I became their pastor as they were preparing to celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary. For more than 80 years they had been together, as a blessing to their church, family, and community.

Let me tell you about Burleigh and Jewel Tatum, both in their late eighties when I became their pastor. I had just preached a sermon about Abraham and Sarah, advanced in years, giving birth to something new in their son Isaac. Burleigh and Jewel were holding hands like teenagers when they met me after the benediction. “Pastor, we don’t have time to talk,” Burleigh said as they went out the door. Your sermon inspired us and we’ve got to get home and start working on birthing something new in the world.”

Let me tell you about Eloise Ridgeway, who was 106 at the time of her death. At 103 I went to visit her at Lakewood Manor. She wasn’t in her room. I eventually found her in the gym, doing 15 minutes of spin on a stationary bike. I discover she did that three times a week.

Today’s text tells us of Simeon and Anna, defined as old, yet still living with energy, passion, and faith.

Simeon had seen a lot in his lifetime. We are told he had waited a long time for the consolation of Israel. He had been waiting, praying, and longing to see his Israel find comfort after many decades of sad disappointment.

As a man of advanced years, Simeon would have witness many changes in his life. He would have seen control over Jerusalem change hands many times. Kings and Emperors and Governors – Herod, Caesar, and Pilate – and all come and gone, but little changed.

As a boy, Simeon probably heard stories from his grandparents about the Maccabean uprising. In his home and synagogue he would have heard stories about Abraham and Sarah, the exodus out of Egypt, the reign of King David, and the days of the prophets.

No doubt, he had seen the rise of the Roman Empire and its oppression over the Jewish people. As he witnessed this abuse, he had probably professed belief that one day Jerusalem would one day be free from its oppressors. He hoped, and prayed that this liberation might come during his lifetime.

Simeon was at the Temple on the day of Jesus’ presentation and circumcision. He probably sat with fellow elders, talking politics and the economy, and maybe telling jokes about getting older while eating bagels and lox with his friend. At appointed hours they would also pray, and chant, and sing.

While praying, Simeon saw a Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus enter the Temple’s outer courtyard. Such a site should not normally raise an eyebrow. It probably happened multiple times daily. But for some reason, this child was different. Simeon knew that this baby would change the world.

He watched and waited and when he saw the young family depart from the temple, Simeon ran and blessed them. “I can now die in peace,” he said. “I have seen God’s promised redeemer.” If all that were not strange enough, he next turned to mother Mary and said: “Your child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

An old man blesses a baby. It a picture of shared fragility in which we see God acting in a new way.

But we are not done yet. Next up is Anna, introduced as a prophet (or preacher). We learn she spend her days at the Temple, praying to God and proclaiming God’s will and way.

Anna, like Simeon, was an very old – 84 years old. That was nearly twice the life expectancy of the time.

Anna sees the infant Jesus. Next she praises God and tells anyone who will listen that in this child rested God’s promised redemption. She declares Jesus to be the Messiah the people were waiting for.

I was in a conversation not long ago about the variety of festivities surrounding Christmas. We were talking about Santa, Rudolph, stockings, presents, and Christmas trees. One of them said: “Well, Christmas is about the children.”

Not in today’s text. Today’s story tells us about Christmas for grown-ups. It tells us about Christmas for those who have seen the sorrowful side of life and find themselves looking for consolation, solace, and relief. This is about an infant who would grow-up to be the Savior of the world.

Simeon and Anna hunger to see God working in the world – and when they finally see that, they are not shy about declaring it so. They put their name and reputation on the line by declaring the word they have received from God.

It must have been quite the spectacle; these two senior citizens making a fuss over a little baby. Two old people, thought to be “past their prime,” heaping praise on an infant, declaring that the power of God was wrapped up in that small, insignificant package.

But that’s how God moves more often than not. In Paul’s letter to the Romans we learn that “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And God chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.”

We look to the White House or the State House and think that power resides there. We looked to the wealthy elite on Wall Street to think that their decisions determine our destiny. But God mostly chooses those in the small house on Main Street to make salvation known.

But still, we understand Simeon and Anna declarations just a bit, don’t we? Who has not held an infant child in their arms and not thought similar things as they?

Your pastor felt that way last Sunday. He carried an infant child as he preached. On social media he wrote: “I cannot describe the feeling of joy to carry a tiny baby through the congregation this morning while delivering a homily. Laying him in the manger and seeing a look of complete peace was overwhelming.”

Your pastor saw hope, peace, joy, and love in the face of an infant child. As he reflected on the birth of Jesus, your pastor saw the potential of every life.

You’ve felt that way, too, haven’ you? You’ve your child or grandchild and imagined great things for them.

“Who are you going to become?”

“What great things will you do with your life?”

When Simeon and Anna held the infant Jesus, they somehow saw that one day he would change the world. They told everyone within earshot that God had finally sent the Messiah who would set them free.

But just so we do not get all spiritual about this, let’s remember that grown-ups tend to be more realistic than idealistic. That was certainly true of Simeon. Before he handed Jesus back to his mother, he gave her of warning.
“Your son will be responsible for the rise and the fall of many in their nation. He would be met with opposition…And in the end a sword would pierce both their souls.”

Now it is one thing to hear that you child is predestined to do great things. It is quite another thing to hear about the deadly cost your child is fated to face for following God’s ways. But it is a message we need to hear. We should be reminded that following Jesus will bring blessings in life, but it also has the potential to pierce our souls.

Grown-ups understand that.

In August I was feature in news stories from our local TV stations and on the front page of the Richmond Times Dispatch. Don’t worry; I did not do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical. Up till August 20th, I was the pastor of the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond. On that Sunday our historic congregation worshipped for the last time. We disbanded as a church and gave our property to a new, younger congregation.
That was the last day of a long journey. In the several years prior we had been walking in darkness and despondency. In the final two prior to our closing, our congregation travelled from one graveside to another. We buried nearly 75% of our active membership. We died well. We died with an eye toward mission. We died in a fashion that served to advance God’s reign in our community. But we did die. And since that Sunday, though I know was lived out in obedience to the will of God, I have still felt that sword piercing my heart.

Do you understand what I am saying? There’s something about following the way of Jesus that can be dangerous, frightening, and challenging. The idea that a tiny, fragile, infant child holds within that small package the power to change the world – that requires a mindset that can grace in broken places, hope in dark corners, and resurrection at the graveyard.

Simeon and Anna saw that in the eyes of Jesus and they rejoiced. They told everyone who would listen: “Here’s is the Messiah!”

Let’s not view Anna and Simeon through rose colored glasses. While they were joyful, it was only in front of a backdrop of darkness and despair, sadness and sorrow.

I’ve seen joy in sadness and celebration in sorrow.

I’ve seen it in the more than 100 hospital rooms where I have sat with a family while momma or papa breathed their last breath.

I have seen it when talking to the homeless and jobless—to those on the brink of brink of brokenness, but who still sang God’s songs of salvation.

And I have seen it among those who have faced nothing but sadness and sorrow; they feel beaten down and broken. But they keep on looking for the consolation that only God can provide.

Those folks near me in the fast food joint were expressing with joy the sorrows they faced as grown-ups of an advanced age. That might well reflect the attitude of Simeon and Anna. Imagine Simeon and Anna sitting there saying: “You know you are getting older when…”

Last Sunday I preached at a church out in the country for a friend who had to be away on Christmas Eve. As I did today, I preached about hope in the midst of despair. And I shared the story I shared moments ago about the death of Patterson Avenue Baptist.

In the past week since, I have received nice email notes from older members of that church. They complimented me on the sermon. They lamented their fear that their church might be facing the same demise. Then they expressed their faith in God, no matter what?

One wrote, saying: “I am old, tired, and unable to do much. But by the grace of God, I will do what I can do!”

That’s the way Christmas is for grown-ups.

I have been blessed to know lots of grown-ups who were living radical lives of faith. You probably could tell some inspiring stories, too.

But there is a bigger issue at work. You see many of your have looked at Jesus. You have experienced the dawning of hope in your lives. You have been blessed by the consolation of Divine grace. Here’s the question: Now that you have seen Jesus, how will you declare his hope and grace to the world?

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