Rev. Dr. John Judson
January 29, 2017
Jeremiah 31:31-34, Mark 4:26-32
The clock was ticking. The hundred days had begun. Everyone was watching. Everyone was expectant. Millions were hopeful. Millions were angry that he had been elected. The problems were great. The solutions not obvious. He had to do something and do it soon. The pressure was on and he knew it. The question was, was Franklin Delano Roosevelt up to it? Could he bring the United States out of what was becoming the greatest depression the world had ever known? Oh, wait, you thought I was talking about President Trump? Well, not exactly, though I suppose I was, along with every other president of the modern era. They have all taken office faced with grave issues of war, unemployment and recession among them. The people have elected them believing that they could fix it; they could make the world better. And the newly elected presidents had to prove they were doing it…in their first hundred days. The pressure was on to do something; to bring about a better world.
In some ways this was the pressure that was on Jesus. As he was beginning his ministry he understood what the people were looking for. They were looking for the one who could do it; who could bring about the Kingdom of God, preferably in a hundred days. They were looking for the one with the right slogans and programs; the one with the power to make it happen to bring about God’s amazing kingdom in which the Jewish people were free to live and worship, in which they once again actually had dominion over their enemies; in which everyone had enough; in which there was peace and prosperity. The pressure was on. Yet in a sense it did not seem to impact Jesus in the least. In fact, when he talked about the Kingdom of God, the images he offered were never images of waiting, rather than of action; of inactivity, rather than harried hurrying. The Kingdom of God is like seed that is planted and it grows in its own time and way. No one can hurry it. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grows, slowly into a bush that welcomes all sorts of creatures. This was not what the people wanted. They wanted action. They wanted results. The pressure was on.
What is fascinating to me about all of this is that the pressure faded; at least it faded in the church. At the birth of the church there was a real sense of urgency to build this amazing Kingdom. The earliest Christians lived in communities in which all was held in common. In which all people had enough. In which all people were taken care of. The earliest Christians also invited others into this community, believing that in so doing they were helping people prepare for the coming kingdom. Yet over time, when the Kingdom didn’t get there; when the kingdom didn’t get here, people went back to Jesus’ teachings and realized that he had taken this long term view. He had seen the Kingdom coming as a future event, and not necessarily one in the present. So the church put the Kingdom on the back burner. They realized that they could not build it, that only God could build it, so why try. The church offered glimpses of the Kingdom in its architecture, great soaring cathedrals; it offered it in its liturgy, music, incense. But the real Kingdom, that was God’s business. That was God’s work. When God was ready the kingdom would come.
This same attitude is prevalent today. I recently watched a video in which a well-known pastor said that the only thing Christians were supposed to do was to tell people about Jesus. That we could not bring about the Kingdom so we were not to try. I have to say, in one respect I agree with him. I know this comes as a shock to many of you. The one respect is that we cannot create the Kingdom. We cannot change people’s hearts to make them more loving and compassionate. We cannot create perfect economic systems in which everyone has enough. We cannot bring about peace between nations who have conflicting interests and needs. We cannot make fundamentalist Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus feel good about members of their faiths who do not believe the same way. In that sense then the pressure is off. It is off because ultimately only God can build the Kingdom. And if we listen to Jesus, God is doing this, but God is taking the long term view. The Kingdom is growing, we know not how, and one day it will arrive and be this amazing tree in which all of God’s creatures come together as one. The Kingdom will be a home for all. That’s where I agree. However, there is a place where I disagree.
The place where I disagree is that we should not do anything other than tell people about Jesus. Now let me be clear, should we tell people about Jesus? Absolutely. We are to tell them about the infinite love of Jesus that enfolds, sustains and empowers life. We are to tell them about the open arms that welcome all into Christ’s community of love and grace. Yes, we are to tell. Yet, we are also supposed to be Kingdom people. We are to be people of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness and compassion. We are to be people who share our resources with others. We are to be people who run our businesses with the highest ethical standards. We are to be people who treat others as we long to be treated. We are to be those who stand against injustice and oppression. We are to be the voice of the voiceless. In other words, we are to be those bright spots out in the world; those examples of what the coming Kingdom will look like. And we are to do this not merely because we should, or we ought, but because this is the essence of who we are. This is who we are as followers of Jesus Christ. We are those who have had God’s law of love that Jeremiah was talking about, written onto our hearts. We are those who have been hard-wired to be Kingdom people.
A few minutes ago I said that the church tried to demonstrate what the Kingdom of God looked like through its architecture and its liturgy. This morning I want us to realize that we are to be the cathedrals and liturgy through which others see the Kingdom coming. We are to be those who are the light and love of God in the world. We are to be beacons of the Kingdom shining into a hurting world. In and through us, people are to see what the Kingdom looks like.
. This morning as we hold our annual meeting, I want to say how proud I am to be your pastor; proud because when I look out at you I see the light shining. I see in what you do, in what we do, glimpses of the Kingdom coming. And even though we cannot create it, it is here; it is here in all that we have and are doing. My challenge to you this morning is this, to ask yourselves how am I being a light to the world, so that those around me can see the Kingdom coming in who I am and in what I do.
Rev. Dr. John Judson
January 22, 2017
Luke 4:1-8, Mark 1:21-28
I am afraid that it is time. It is time that we had “that” talk. The talk that your parents were afraid to have with you. The talk that some Presbyterians have in hushed tones, trying not to be over heard. It’s time to have the demon talk. Yes, that’s right. It is time to talk about demons. In some ways this should not have to be a difficult talk because demons are all over the Bible, and especially in the stories about Jesus. And they are in the stories about Jesus because the First-century world believed that demons were everywhere. The demons, according to Jewish belief, were descendants of a wayward angel, who had begotten children with human women. And they were a big family. There were approximately seven and half million demons. Each person had ten-thousand at each hand, right and left. They lived in tombs and unclean places. They lived in the desert and howled. They were around at times of danger such as child birth and at times of joy, such as weddings. There were demons of leprosy, blindness and heart disease. In other words, as I said a moment ago, they were numerous and they were everywhere. Even so, I would imagine, you are saying to yourself, what does this have to do with me. I live in the 21st century and don’t believe in demons. So why have the talk? The answer, I hope, will become clear as we move ahead, but first we have to take a closer look at the demonic to understand.
The role of demons was to inflict harm on human beings. They were, if you will, bent on distracting and diminishing. Demons were intent on distracting people from their true purpose of loving God and neighbor. They distracted people with the temptation of loving only self. Demons worked to diminish the humanity of individuals. They work to slowly erode the image of God in people so that people became less than God made them to be. In a sense they worked against the world God intended; a world in which every human being lived fully, using their gifts to serve creation all the while loving God and others. We can see this in both of our stories this morning. In the first story, Satan tries to distract Jesus from being who God created him to be; the savior of the world. Satan does this by tempting Jesus to focus on himself; his physical needs, his desire to be king of the world, rather than focusing on the mission he had been given. In the second story we see the effects of the demonic in that the man who confronts Jesus is out of control and afraid of God; so afraid that he cannot be the person God has created him to be. This is what the demonic does; it distracts and diminishes so that human beings cannot be those God created them to be.
So, once again, what does this have to do with us? The answer can be found all around us. We are surrounded by the demonic. We are surrounded by those invisible forces which seek to distract us from our mission to love the world as Christ loved the world. We are surrounded by those invisible forces that seek to diminish our humanity and the humanity of others but having us see ourselves and others as less than human. We are surrounded by hate, anger, violence, fear, racism, greed, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia…and the list could go on and on. These are the invisible forces which seek to do harm to God’s beloved; to individuals, communities and to the world. I say these are demonic, not because they are brought about by little, invisible cartoon demons. I say they are demonic because they do what the demonic does. They come in through the back doors of our lives and distract us and diminish us. They cause us to be less than fully human and they cause us to see others as less than fully human. They do harm to our relationship with both God and neighbor. To make my point, and I am not looking for hands in the air, how many of us have unfairly looked down upon and judged another? How many of us, have created negative stereotypes about people who are different from ourselves? How many of us have become so angry about something that we are out of control? How many of us have allowed fear to control us? See, we don’t need demons to see that the demonic is at work within us and within the world. This reality then leads us to one more question, how do I defeat these invisible powers that seek to distort the person God has created me to be?
The answer to this question, simply put, is that we are to do what Jesus did, we are to do the miraculous. Jesus, when confronted by the demonic, performs the miracles of resistance and restoration. He performs the miracle of resistance, resistance to the temptations that are before him, by remembering what a right relationship with God looks like. Jesus remembers that life is not about self, but about God. It is not about self, but about others. It is not about power but service. This is the miracle of resistance. In the second story he performs the miracle of restoration. The man approaches him, filled with fear. “Have you come to destroy us?” he asks. Jesus response is to drive out the fear and replace it with Shalom; with the fullness of what it means to be a child of God. In some ways this sums up all of Jesus’ miracles; resistance and restoration, leading people to become fully human and fully alive.
The gift of God is that we can perform these same miracles. That’s right, we can do the miraculous. We can perform the miracle of resistance. We can perform this miracle in the same way Jesus did, by remembering who and whose we are. We can perform this by reminding ourselves that life is not about self, but about God; not about what I want but what others need; not about power but about service. What happens when we do this is that we shut that back door through which the life distorting powers sneak in and take hold of us. And instead we open the front door through which the love and grace of God comes in and reshapes us. We can perform the miracle of restoration. We can perform it by responding to hate with love; to anger with consolation; to fear with hope; to racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and xenophobia with a demonstration of inclusion and welcome. And by so doing we will open the possibility of the transforming love and grace of God to work in the lives of others.
Friday evening, after having watched the inauguration, I decided to go on Facebook. There was a video of a man being beset by a bunch of cute puppies, thank yous from people who had been asking for prayers and lots of ads. But then there was a photo of empty bleachers along the parade route for our new president. Below the picture there was a rather innocuous comment, but below that it said 374 comments. Out of curiosity I looked. What I read were some of the most demeaning and nasty comments I have ever read on Facebook. It was like watching the left and the right lob literary shells at the other side hoping to destroy the other. It was demonic. It was demonic not because they agreed or disagreed about President Trump and his policies. It was not demonic because people wanted to stand up for what they believed. It was demonic because they were distracting and diminishing. They were distracting people from their mission to love God and neighbor. They were trying to diminish the other into a pile of nothing.
My friends this is what the demonic has always done. It has taken hold of us and used us to destroy ourselves. Our challenge is to not let it. Our challenge is to do the miraculous; to resist and restore. It is not easy, yet it is our calling. So here is my challenge to you, to ask yourselves, “How I am performing the miracles of resistance and restoration in all of my interactions with those around me?”
Don’t Waste a Breath
Rev. Joanne Blair
January 15, 2017
Isaiah 61:1-4; Luke 4:14-21
Last week John read from the book of Luke about when Jesus was 12 and engaged in conversation in the temple. How he was obedient and grew in wisdom. We now join Jesus when he is 30 years old. Jesus has been baptized, filled with the power of the Spirit, gone off into the wilderness for 40 days, experienced temptation from the devil, and is now back out of the wilderness. Our scripture reading this morning is, in the book of Luke, the beginning of Jesus’s Galilean Ministry.
We all love it when someone from our hometown “makes good” and becomes well-known for it. Jesus had been teaching in the surrounding areas and now he’s home.
“Hasn’t he grown into a fine young man?!”
“Oh, he’s so articulate and confident!”
“Doesn’t he look good? That wilderness air has done him well!”
“And he’s single, too….”
People were excited to hear him speak…at first.
Those of you following “We Make the Road by Walking” also know that the reading assignment for this week goes on for several more verses, and Jesus makes it clear that his message is for “outsiders” also. And after he said that, they wanted to throw him off of a cliff.
Hopefully you won’t feel that way about me today!
Today, we’re going to focus on the front part of this piece … the verses we just read. Imagine the scene: People sitting in their favorite “pew”, chatting before worship. “Oh, Jesus is in town! He’s been teaching in other synagogues. I wonder if he’ll teach today? Oops, better settle down … service is starting.”
The service begins with the usual prayers…and a Psalm…and sure enough, Jesus comes forward to read from the scroll. He finds the passage he wants and reads the particular verses from Isaiah that I just read. It was the custom in that time to stand when reading the scripture, and then sit down to teach. And so Jesus sits down and people anxiously await to hear what he will say.
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
That’s it. Perhaps the world’s shortest sermon. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (And people say my sermons are short!)
Jesus would have flunked any seminary preaching class. His sermon was too short, had no jokes or illustrations, and didn’t go on to explain his point. But Jesus obviously thought it was enough.
That’s why he chose this messianic passage from Isaiah. And all these many centuries later, his message is the same: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Only nine words …nine words that changed everything.
This Friday, January 20, Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States. After taking the oath of office, he will give his “inaugural address”, which is a speech given to inform the people of his intentions as a leader. The scripture and statement we just heard from Jesus, is his agenda. It is an outline of his ministry, a statement of his vision, and the foundation of his mission. This was Jesus’ inaugural address.
This is why the writer of Luke places the story much earlier in his gospel than the other writers do. Through 30 years of preparation, Jesus is clear about who he is, and why he is here.
Jesus speaks of how society is to be changed - how people need to transform to become a kinder and gentler society. His message was for the people of the day. And his message is for us, today.
Earlier we heard Ann/Forrest read from the book of Isaiah. Note that when Jesus read from Isaiah he left out all talk of vengeance - and spoke only of release, recovery, freedom, and good news. Jesus was speaking to everyone that could hear him, and he is speaking to all of us… for we are all captive, broken, and blind in some way. Jesus is claiming all of us to be transformed … and to take part in that transformation. Today. Today.
Some of us live in the past. We long for the “simpler days of old” … for “the way things used to be.” Some of us can’t move ahead from circumstances or relationships in the past (both good and bad) … and we get stuck there. Some of us strive to exist in the future. “Someday, things will be better.” or “I’m waiting for X to happen, and then I’ll do Y.”
As Michael Marsh says: “With one foot in the past and one in the future we straddle and completely miss the present. We become captive to what was, oppressed by what might be, and blind to what is.”
I agree, for while we are shaped by the past, and plan for the future, we live in today. Today.
Today is where we meet Jesus. Today, in the present moment, regardless of our personal circumstances. Jesus calls for the restoration of this world. Jesus calls for the transformation of our lives. And Jesus calls for these things now. Today.
And if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, then we gladly and gratefully take on this yoke. I used to think of a yoke as a heavy burden. (Even though Jesus says it isn’t.) This pastor’s stole is a yoke.
Many people in Jesus day were disappointed in this Messiah. They wanted him for themselves, and they wanted him to charge in on a white horse with trumpets and power. And if we are honest, we are often the same. We want Jesus to “take care of business”, to answer our prayers … to fix things. But Jesus shows us by his life and death and resurrection that he is not just “a fixer” … he is the Way.
Jesus calls on each of us to invest ourselves in the Kingdom of God. Today.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us. The Spirit of the Lord is within us. And so we are all called.
And no matter how inadequate you and I may feel at times, we are the body of Christ. We are the hands and feet of Christ, and we are each called to ministry.
In a world of so much change and turmoil, where natural and man-made disasters seem rampant, where there is so much need, where we sometimes struggle to see God at work … this can seem totally daunting. Where do we begin? Here. Today. Now.
How do we do it? With kindness, and compassion.
Let every thought and action be directed by the love of God.
Each of us has a call and a role to play.
Jesus had the power of the Spirit, and we do, too.
We are called, because the Spirit is around us, beside us, and within us.
Respond to the Spirit in you, and the Spirit in each other.
Every breath we take is a sign that we are alive today.
Every breath we take is a gift.
Every breath we take is a call to action.
And the Spirit is there to guide and direct us in that breath.
Today, don’t waste a breath.
Rev. Dr. John Judson
January 8, 2017
1 Kings 3:1-9; Luke 2:39-52
So what are we supposed to do? What are we supposed to do in less than two weeks when we have a new president inaugurated who has never held office, never passed a bill, and never created policy? What are we supposed to do with our new congress in which the majority party cannot agree within itself what to do about some of the most important issues of our day: trade, immigration and health care among them? What are we supposed to do with a state legislature that continues to try to figure out how to fund infrastructure and education? What do we do when we have new elders being ordained and installed today who are going to be leading the church into a religious world that is rapidly changing and highly unpredictable? What are we supposed to do? The answer? Pray for wisdom…for their wisdom.
Wisdom is one of those interesting concepts in scripture that almost defies definition. It is not simply knowledge, though knowledge matters. It is not simply faith, but faith matters. It is not simply intuition, though intuition helps. One part of Wisdom is that ability to discern and implement the new reality that God desires in which all are blessed. It is the ability to cut through all of the warring ideas, concepts, belief systems and party politics and see the right choices that need to be made to enhance the lives of those who are governed. This morning then I want to offer you a prayer in three parts for all of our leaders, that I will encourage you to pray every day…all arising out of the only story we have of Jesus’ childhood. So here we go.
Part number one is that our leaders look for wisdom. Our story in Luke picks up with Jesus and his parents headed for Jerusalem. Jesus, who at twelve is now considered an adult, evidently slips away from his parents either heads to, or remains at, the Temple after his parents make their obligatory sacrifices. Why would Jesus do this? He is after all, well, Jesus. I would argue that he does so because he is looking for wisdom. Somehow he already understands that he has been entrusted with a special mission. In order to accomplish this mission he will need wisdom, the ability to cut through religious tradition and worldly temptations to discern God’s future for him; to discern what are the right choices. And the Temple is the place where the great teachers, the great rabbis, shared their wisdom by teaching the next generation of Jewish scholars. These were the people for whom Jesus was looking; from whom he could find wisdom. We need to pray this for our leaders because the temptation of all leaders is to assume that they, in an of themselves, have the right education, insight and intelligence to always make the right decision. Unfortunately, the systems into which they are being engulfed are powerful, and without wisdom, those leaders will simply repeat the words and deeds of those around them, and not necessarily those which lead to God’s new creation.
Part number two is that our leaders listen to wisdom. What has always fascinated me about the use of this Jesus story is that people believe that Jesus was there, as a twelve-year-old, teaching the teachers; that the divine Jesus child was in the midst of the scholars, teaching them a thing or two. But if we actually look at the text we see that Jesus is listening and asking questions. Jesus understands that he does not possess all wisdom. He understands that the only way to gain wisdom is to first listen to those who are wiser than he is and then to ask them questions. As an aside, this process of listening, asking and then answering questions from the wise teachers was the Jewish way of transmitting wisdom from one generation to the next. Yes, the scholars and people are amazed at his understanding and his answers to their questions to him, but before that, we have to hold fast to the fact that Jesus knew he did not have all of the answers but was in need of listening to others wiser than himself. We need to pray this for our leaders because they are going to be inundated with all sorts of people all wanting their time, their vote and their support. People and institutions with a single cause will dangle money and support in front of them…oh and elders, sorry this will not happen to you…and they will be tempted to listen to the highest bidder. And our leaders, just like most of us, will tend to listen to those people with whom they already agree, which simply reinforces their particular prejudices and priorities, rather than offering them new possibilities. Our leaders need the ability to listen to, and ask questions of, those who already possess wisdom. Who have a clearer vision of what God’s future for this nation, this state, this church ought to look like. Our leaders need to be those who have walked the road before and learned what does and does not lead to a more decent and caring country.
Part number three is that they learn wisdom. As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, the same is true for wisdom. You can lead a person to wisdom but you cannot make them learn it. Jesus learned it. The final verse of the story is that Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. Jesus learned wisdom. He learned it so that when he begins his ministry and is tempted in the wilderness, he is able to see through the temptations and choose the right path. He learned it so that he could teach it to his disciples and, through the Gospels, to countless generations. He learned it such that in the cross and not in violence he could see the salvation of the world. Jesus would spend the rest of his life learning wisdom in order to save the world. Our leaders need to learn wisdom because we live in a complex and complicated world; a world in which slogans and simplistic answers will not work; in which there are no silver bullets that will make everything better; in which there are competing claims and voices, all crying to be heard; in which there is injustice, greed and desperate need; but also in which there is much good, compassion and caring needing to be encouraged. In other words, all of our leaders have been asked to do the impossible; to help create a better world, nation, state and church for all. In this reality, only wisdom will do.
It is a simple prayer, that all of our leaders look for, listen to and learn wisdom. I have already begun to pray this prayer every day, because we will either rise or fall together, and I would rather we rise together in order to offer a better life and future to all. That then is my challenge, that you pray daily for all leaders, that they look for, listen to and learn wisdom.
Rev. Amy Morgan
January 1, 2017
Psalm 148, Luke 2:25-38
Only 8% of people are successful in achieving their New Year’s Resolutions. Most diets fail within 7 days. Only a small fraction of students who start an online course end up completing it.
I’m sure we all have the best of intentions when setting New Year’s resolutions and other goals, but most of us seem to be pretty terrible at sticking with it.
Because the problem is, no matter how badly we think we want something - whether it’s to be more organized or learn something new or spend more time with our family - there is massive resistance to change. The law of inertia tells us that objects at rest stay at rest. So the chances of you getting up off the couch and heading to the gym six days a week are not very good. It also says that objects in motion stay in motion. So the chances of you learning to slow down and enjoy more quality time with loved ones are also not very good.
Inertia is not the only barrier to change. Changes with any permanence and meaning typically don’t happen overnight. There are plenty of folks capitalizing on this moment of self-reflection, offering rapid body transformation, instant return on investment plans, or products that make organizing quick and easy. But most of us know by now that these changes don’t last. We return to our old habits of eating and slacking, we overspend and mismanage our finances, and our beautifully organized closets quickly return to their natural state of disaster. In the end, we lack the resolve necessary to make meaningful and lasting change.
We’re too enamored with the idea of quick and easy change because much about our lives is quick an easy. Who needs to complete an online course when I can Google search anything I’m interested in knowing? Who wants to read the book when you can just see the movie? My dad has an app on his phone that will place his order at Starbucks so that it’s waiting for him to pick up when he gets there. No waiting in line for your cappuccino anymore.
We don’t get to practice the characteristic of resolve very often because there not that much need for it in our world. There is very little that we have to wait for these days.
But there are still some people who have resolve, who know how to wait. Cubs fans, for instance. 108 years. Or Lions fans. You’re all still waiting.
There are others who wait, though. I remember my mom talking about the waiting, many times, for her father to come home from Air Force deployments, sometimes with no idea if the wait would be days or weeks or months or even years. I’ve waited with people in emergency rooms, sitting for hours in pain with unanswered questions, hoping for healing and relief. There are many whose daily commute to work includes many long waits for buses running late, taking hours to get somewhere it would only take a few minutes to drive, if only they had a car, or a more effective public transportation system.
There are many who have resolve, who know how to wait.
But I’m not sure any of us knows about waiting the way Simeon and Anna did. There was no quick fix to the problems faced by the Jewish people of the first century. They waited on God’s promise of a Messiah, the one who would save Israel from the oppression they’d been experiencing for centuries under a rotating cast of rulers and regimes. Israel had thrown her support behind one empire and another over the years. They’d tried playing nice, they’d tried to adapt and fit in. They’d gone the route of violent resistance. And yet, no matter what they tried, they ended up where they were, at the bottom of the heap, taxed beyond bearing, their religion barely tolerated, their way of life eroding.
But there were those who held out hope that the Messiah would come and would be the instantaneous solution to their problems. God had promised that the kingdom would be restored, that one would come from the line of the great king David who would restore Israel. Most Jews, I imagine, pictured a return to the glory days of the unified kingdom of Israel, with military might and land flowing with milk and honey and riches to fill royal coffers. And the Messiah would be the knight in shining armor who would make all of this a reality in no time at all.
But the hope expressed by Simeon doesn’t quite match up with this picture. “A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” could perhaps elude to showing the Romans who’s boss and elevating the Jews above the rest. But then there is this odd prophetic word of warning: “This 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.” This doesn’t sound like a unified and mighty kingdom. It sounds like a resistance movement. It doesn’t sound like a quick fix-all. It sounds unsettling.
This is the hope Simeon held on to. Hope that the whole system would be overturned, not just the powers-that-be in the Roman empire, but all the powers that have ever been, even the powers-that-be within Israel. Any first-century Jew would have looked forward to the coming Messiah, should have celebrated his arrival. And yet, Simeon says, now that the Messiah has arrived, he will be opposed, not by Rome, but by people within the family of Israel.
This is the transformation Simeon had hoped for because this is the kind of change that lasts. Any change expert will tell you that the key to overcoming barriers to change is to upset the system, to reveal the cracks and fissures in the foundation holding everything in place, to undermine long-held assumptions. But that’s only part of the equation. In order to not have everything dissolve into chaos, in order to effect positive, healthy change, you also have to provide a compelling vision of a better future, a goal worth achieving. This is what gives us resolve.
And so that is what Jesus came to do. To transform the creation with lasting, meaningful change, change that takes time, change that comes from our assumptions being undermined and the status quo being overturned.
While many were looking for a Messiah that would return them to the glory of the past, Jesus promised them a world made new.
There were those who celebrated this Messiah, like Simeon and Anna, but there were many who opposed him as well. Many who lost their resolve, or who never had it to begin with. The history of Israel had been so unsettled that, for some, if they could find some measure of stability, inertia would keep them settled there, for better or worse. Others had found a trajectory that worked for them, a way forward within the Roman empire, and inertia insisted they keep moving and not alter their course. But many lost their resolve, not because of inertia, but because they couldn’t wait for the world to be made new. They were fine with following Jesus the Miracle-Worker, Jesus the Righteous Teacher, Jesus the Healer. These were signs that things were changing fast, changing in the here and now. These were quick fixes for the sin that troubled the world. But they lost their resolve in the face of Jesus the Political Prisoner, Jesus the Criminal, Jesus the Sacrifice. They didn’t really want to upset the system, see the cracks and fissures in the foundation, undermine their long-held assumptions. And they failed to see the vision, to believe that though the wait would be long, the world would be remade, heaven would be on earth, love would rule over all.
Not many people know how to wait like Simeon and Anna. But that is what we are called to do. More than 2,000 years later, we wait.
And as a new year dawns, I wonder how our resolve is holding up. This threshold of a new year is the perfect time to look back to the birth of Christ and forward to his return, to ponder the past and anticipate the future. And to ask ourselves what we’re waiting for. What kind of a Messiah do we hope to see, now and in the future?
Is Jesus the one who will give us what we want, make our lives better, make us more powerful? Or is Jesus the one who will upset the whole apple cart?
If Jesus is the one who brings lasting, meaningful change, who is remaking the world into the kingdom of God on earth, then we must have the resolve to wait. And, like Simeon and Anna, we must have the wisdom to celebrate signs of its arrival when we encounter them. And we must be ready to face the resistance to change that continues wherever the power of God conflicts with the powers that be. How strong is your resolve?
Let us pray: Gracious God, give us the resolve to wait, and hope, and work for the transformation of this world. Help us to look for signs of your kingdom coming into this world and to celebrate. Guide us to live as changed people in a world resistant to change. In Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.