Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Two Turtle Doves
Updated: Jan 5, 2022
12 Days of Christmas, sermons for the season just after Christmas.
Preached Sunday, January 2, 2022, at the 9:30am Worship
Scripture Luke 2:21-39
21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
22 When 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”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;[d] this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.[e] 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[f] came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon[g] took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[h] in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon[i] 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 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna[j] 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, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child[k] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
When a new baby is coming, there are many rituals we go through… Hiding it, name search, leaking it out, showers, ice chips, preparing the nursery, pink and blue, cigars, baptism, rosebud, bible, cross. Jesus also was fully human, and had similar rituals… Circumcised on the 8th day, brought to the temple for dedication, and a sacrifice offered to God in his honor. In our rituals, its often hard to imagine them without the presence of grandparents. So, I’ve often thought of Anna as the devout old grandmother of the story.
What do we know about Anna? Well, she was a prophetess, meaning she had special insight into things of God. She wasn’t really related to Joseph or Mary, but was a daughter of Phanuel, in the tribe of Asher. In other words, her lineage was steeped in the ancient family of Israel. She was very old for her time, 84, and had been married for only 7 years, long ago, but widowed ever since. She never left the temple, meaning that she’s one of those folk we would say was always at the church if the doors were open. And her whole way of being was one of constant worship. She prayed. She enjoyed the special meals. She studied and discussed. She was focused on looking for the God’s redemption of Israel, and when the baby Jesus came near, she sensed it, praised God for it, and could not help but speak about the child to others.
Simeon, on the other hand, though seemingly similar to Anna, is perhaps quite different from her, more than we’re likely to realize. From what we just read about Simeon, he was just a man, not a prophetess like Anna. We don’t know his trade, whether he was wealthy or poor, or anything else about him. Anna’s heritage and tribe are remembered, but Simeon’s only family tie is to Holy Spirit, who was apparently on and with him.
We might assume he was old, because of the reference to not seeing death until he had seen the messiah, and then once he does see Jesus, he considers himself dismissed in peace. But we are jumping to the conclusion that Simeon was old, and had lived a long life of faith, and that now that he had finally seen Jesus, he could be dismissed, in other words, die in peace. The text is not specific about that. Simeon might have been a faithful, but troubled, younger man, college-age, recently married, a new dad. He could have been middle-aged, someone who had believed lots of things already but was now spending time in the discomforts of his unbelief.
We don’t know his age, but we do know Simeon was a good man, a righteous and devout man. We don’t know if he was a religious man. Where Anna never left the temple, Simeon was a man of the city, Jerusalem. He came to the temple on this occasion because he was led by Holy Spirit. Perhaps the temple was a new place for him or an uncomfortable place for him. Perhaps Simeon was not so much about the rules and regulations of religion and the temple, as he was about hope for the people and the city. Perhaps he witnessed how many people went to temple in order to get consolation for themselves, assurances, blessings, rewards, comfort but then didn’t help build a city where everyone got those same blessings and comforts. There at temple, people prayed hoping for a future. They prayed they had worked hard enough, obeyed hard enough, followed the letter of the law sufficiently enough to earn that future for themselves, someday. But perhaps Simeon looked for things to change now, wanted things to be different today, and not just for the religious people, but for everyone.
If so, then Simeon wasn’t righteous and devout because of his religion, or his religious habits. What made him special was his new yes, his trust he would see and meet and know the messiah one day and would see things begin to bend toward the good. He hadn’t seen that yet, but he was an optimist, and he believed he would see it soon. He believed in what he had not yet seen. He had the Spirit-given gift of faith, a gift he hadn’t earned, a gift he hadn’t been given the opportunity to accept or to reject. It was just a part of him, and had affected his life. He may not have been a temple insider. He might have been just another guy from Jerusalem, who trusted, and waited for a true God to appear. He knew where the temple was, but we don’t know if he came regularly or even often. We only know that he was righteous and devout and that he trusted he would a messiah would change things for the better forever.
On this day, he took a child in his arms. I doubt he expected his faith to be fulfilled by one he could hold in his arms. I’m sure he imagined someone bigger, larger than life… grown up, wealthy, influential over the masses, powerful, an efficient leader, a conqueror, who knew how to fight, and had no fear. But instead, he met the messiah who was a child, a child of a poor man and his young wife, so poor they could only fulfill the sacrifice with the cheapest of offerings, two birds. Still, Simeon’s faith embraced what he had not expected. He praised God, and also spoke of this child to others in the city.
Anna’s speech isn’t remembered… I imagine she used classic words everyone in temple had heard hundreds of times from her… ancient words of faith that reiterated the truth of the amazing gift among them in the Christ, words normal religious folk would understand and expect.
Simeon’s speech is remembered, if only partially. Simeon considers himself dismissed in peace. Perhaps he will die in peace today. Or perhaps, even more hopefully, he will now finally live in peace, and see a city and world that is moving fast toward peace, all because of this messiah he held in his arms.
I didn’t say HIS messiah. That would betray Simeon’s own belief and faith. Simeon's God given faith is not about what benefits Simeon. Simeon's faith and hope in a messiah is about the city, the community around him, the consolation of all the people. Salvation is God’s generous gift to many, not just for him. Salvation is prepared and given away freely and abundantly by God, not something earned and accepted by us. Salvation happens beyond the temple, in the presence of all peoples, not just to those who lock themselves inside the temple walls and try to follow every dot and dash of Scripture. And perhaps the biggest shocker of all, Salvation’s light is not reserved for just the covenant people of Israel but shines on the Gentiles as well.
Simeon even dares to put that thought in priority order… a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and also for the glory to your people Israel, to make sure we hear that wide gentile part… Christ’s light is shining beyond the old boundaries, and inside the old boundaries as well. Because of the gift of God revealed in Christ, many among the Gentiles would also be saved. Many in the people of Israel would fall away. They would oppose the Christ child. They would not be able to trust in a child, born in a manger, prepared in the presence of all people to bring salvation to the Gentiles and also the Jews. They wouldn’t want God’s grace to be so generous. They wouldn’t want the priority to flip flop and have those not already here elevated to a higher priority. No, many of the temple insiders had thought they had earned their salvation, and that the outsiders had to come in and be like us, believe like us, to be saved. But Simeon took this child in his arms and saw, by Holy Spirit, how many would fall and rise, how heavily Jesus would be opposed by those unable to imagine the boundaries of Christ’s work extending beyond temple and religious walls… and not just extending, but giving priority to Gentiles, outsiders, those who have the seeds of faith, thanks to Holy Spirit, just like Simeon, but have not yet met their Messiah.
Friends, if you are like Anna, older, someone who comes from a long line of believers, someone who worships and prays regularly, that is wonderful. I hope in this Christmas season, you have been pleasantly surprised by meeting the Christ child for the first time all over again, and find yourself moved to speak of the amazing miracle in this child to all inside or outside this Sanctuary who are looking for redemption.
Or if you are like Simeon, one who somehow believes but cannot always pin down how or why, one who trusts in God’s good purposes for the people of this nation as well as other nations, for the people of this religion as well as other religions, I hope in this Christmas season, you have held the baby Jesus in your arms for the first time all over again, and been given all the evidence you will ever need to live the remainder of your life in peace as a willing servant of the most high God.
All glory and honor now and forever more be to God and God alone.