12/31/17 – No Longer Waiting For God

NO LONGER WAITING FOR GOD

December 31, 2017
First Sunday after Christmas
Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; and Luke 2:22-40
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

Years ago, Tom and I used to watch a British comedy called “Waiting for God.”  The setting was a retirement home. One would think it would be depressing, but it was quite lively. There were only two people who were “waiting for God.”  One was the money-grubbing CEO who hoped that the residents would meet their maker soon, so he could maximize his profits. The other was a character named Diana, who was forced to end her exciting career as an international journalist because of a leg problem. The rest of the residents were busy living life to the fullest, trying to work around the head of the facility and encourage Diana to become active and engaged in the facility’s communal life. The director’s scheming and Diana’s cynicism and reluctance to join in the communal life created the comic tension in the weekly plots. The residents were not waiting to meet God at all, they were squeezing out every ounce of life until God decided their time was up. The senior citizens in that comedy series seemed to take to heart the line from the poet Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gently into that good night.”

In our gospel reading for today, it seems that Simeon has been waiting for God. But, like the characters in that British comedy, he was not waiting for God to take him off ‘this mortal coil.’ No, Simeon had been waiting for God to act. We tend to forget what dramatic act for which Simeon was waiting because some of his final words are standard in funeral liturgy. You probably know these words by heart: 2:29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;” These words make up what is traditionally called the “Nunc Dimitis” They are usually spoken at the end of the funeral service. Yet, within the original context, these words have more to say to us about living than dying.

Each of our texts for this morning speaks of salvation. In Isaiah, we hear a poetic announcement of Israel’s salvation which will shine “like a burning torch.” This salvation was not an individual salvation, this was salvation for a people. Israel had strayed from God and punished by years of exile. Then God declares that Israel will be saved, but not just for Israel alone. Israel will be saved for a purpose far beyond her borders. Israel will be saved to be a witness for righteousness and God’s power and mercy. Israel will become a light for the Gentiles, which means everyone else in the world. Reading in Isaiah before and after this passage, it is clear that righteousness is defined as living according to God’s will for justice, freedom from oppression of any kind, mercy toward all and peace. It is not following any ritualistic laws or professing any creed or dogmatic theology. It is an action that is aligned with the way God acts.

Likewise, salvation is living in harmony with the world, as we sing with God God’s original composition. There are basic rules, but how they are followed depends on what God sings. I think of it like Jazz in which the leader plays a tune that changes while the rest of the band adjusts and adapts their playing to make beautiful, original, and always changing music. The basic rules are those that define righteousness in any particular situation. To those who act righteously there is peace.

The psalmist speaks of salvation as being a gift bestowed by God on all of creation. Thus, acting with righteousness extends to how we treat the earth and all that lives upon it, preserving the delicate balance God first created. For Paul, the joy of salvation is described as being like an orphan who is adopted into a loving and welcoming family with God as the father. (Galatians 4:5)

At the time of Jesus’ birth, Jews occupied by the Roman Empire longed for the day when they would, as Isaiah foretold, “go out in joy and be led back in peace.” (Isa 55:12) Luke describes Simeon’s feeling of utter peace when he sees salvation in the infant Jesus. Because Simeon is a righteous man he recognizes that God had answered the prayers of his people and delivered salvation in human form. Holding the Christ child in his arms he holds complete righteousness and God’s invitation to salvation. The challenge for the world is to accept that salvation, which will establish peace on earth. Simeon has seen the grand possibility the future holds but also understands the challenge this will be for those that cling to worldly values. He knows there will be resistance as humankind has always resisted God’s grace when tempted by the powers and pleasures of the world.

Luke tells us Anna also has the proper qualification to recognize God’s gift of salvation. It is typical of Luke to tell stories in pairs, usually with a man and a woman. This righteous woman is given the task of being the witness to God’s gift of a Savior. Thus, Anna becomes the first Christian evangelist and preacher. Tell that to anyone who says women shouldn’t be ordained!  And for those in society who deny the value and dignity of the elderly, in this story, we have two central characters who are no longer “waiting for God.” Simeon and Anna trust, using the words from the bible, as well as from the Brief Statement of Faith of the PC(USA): “In life or death we belong to God.” Simeon will continue to experience salvation in death, Anna will proclaim it to the living.

We are Anna. Our time left on earth may be short or long; regardless, Christ has commanded that we continue to be a witness, to be a light shining in the dark places in the world until death extinguishes that light. The challenge set before us is to pass on that light, as one candle can light many others that continue to light others before the wick burns down. Christ is the light of the world – pass it on!

Amen. May it be so.

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2017, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois