"A Long Good-Bye"#86-18
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 30, 2018
By Dr. Dean Nadasdy, Guest Speaker
(Q&A Topic:A Long Good-Bye)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Luke 2:27-32
Luke 2:27-32 - "And he (Simeon) came in the spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus to do for Him according to the custom of the Law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 'Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace according to Your Word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people, Israel.'"
Let us pray. Lord, let us linger a while in Your presence before this year passes. Savior of the world, shine Your light upon us here and give us Your peace. Amen.
Well, the old guy, he had a lot going for him, this Simeon. Luke tells us that Simeon was righteous and devout, a good man. "He was waiting for the consolation of Israel," Luke says. That's the language of messianic hope. The Prophet Isaiah's language of Comfort, comfort, console, console My people. Simeon was waiting for the promised Messiah who would console God's people and all their sorrows. And if that's not enough, we're told that the Holy Spirit was upon him. The Spirit had promised Simeon that before he died, he would see the promised Messiah, the Lord's Christ.
This wise old senior citizen was walking hope, where he went, hope in the Messiah went with him. Maybe he had gone there often before looking at the babies presented by their parents at the temple, wondering if this or that one might be the One. Then one day it happened: Mary and Joseph brought their newborn Son, Jesus, for the appointed ceremonies of purification and presentation, and Simeon knew this is the One. And he stepped in and took Jesus into his arms and blessed God, and he sang his heart out.
We know his song is kind of a goodbye song. It has been sung in the church for centuries at the close of Communion services and evening worship. Old Simeon song says his life is fulfilled because he has seen with his own eyes, the salvation of the world. The baby in his arms he's saying means light for Gentiles and glory for Israel; that takes in everybody. When he finished singing, old Simeon turned to Mary and Joseph and blessed them. He told Mary that the lives of many in Israel would rise or fall on her Child. Her Child, he said, was a sign, a miracle, that would face opposition. He warned that a sword would pierce Mary's own heart. It would not go easy for Jesus. An 84-year-old widow was there in the temple, too. Anna had dedicated her life to the Lord. Just then, at the same moment, she began praising and thanking God for this Child who would satisfy all that waited for the freedom only the Messiah could bring. And she got the word out that freedom was on the way.
So, what do you take from this event? What do you think, Luke, the inspired Gospel writer wants us to know? We should be careful here. This is more than a story about how good and wise senior citizens can be. That may be appealing, especially if you're a senior citizen yourself, but God has more to say here than that. Luke tells this story because it tells us something about Jesus, out of the gates, so to speak, right from the start. For one thing, Simeon's song places Jesus into a greater story that reaches deep into history, to the heart of God, to the fall into sin in the garden, to the call of Abraham, to the exodus and the prophets, to all of that and all the promises God made and kept along the way.
Simeon had been waiting for the consolation of Israel, and now that consolation was in his arms. Of all the depictions of the presentation of Jesus in the temple, perhaps the best known are those of Rembrandt, the 17th-century Dutch painter. He first painted Simeon in the temple in 1631 when he was just 25 years old—in one season, this early painting, the skills of a master. And you can't miss the grandeur and beauty of the temple as he paints it. One senses the big story behind the tiny baby. You can't miss Rembrandt's genius depicting the temple architecture and the many different figures in the temple courts. As you'd expect, the light in the painting radiates from Jesus in Simeon's arms to a whole sprawling space as if to show us this is the light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.
You can't help but sense it, in Luke and in Rembrandt, the bigness of this moment, what God had promised, what God's people had prayed for generations. What the whole world needed, whether it knew it or not, here He was in Simeon's arms. What we celebrate in this Christmas season is big and grand and rich and cosmic and for everyone. As Simeon sings it, this has been prepared in the presence of all peoples. God has come to Earth. The whole world is the object of God's love, a love so deep and so wide that God sent Jesus His Son to save it, to set it free from sin and death. Simeon sang it; Anna shared it with everyone she met.
Yet as Luke records this event, we simply can't stay at this global level. As Simeon sings, this is all very personal. "Lord, now You're letting Your servant depart in peace according to Your Word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation." For Simeon and Anna, Jesus was not just the Savior of the world. He was their Savior. It was global, but it was personal. In his poem, "A Song for Simeon," T.S. Eliot makes this so clear. He has Simeon pray, "Let the infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word grant Israel's consolation to one who has 80 years and no tomorrow. ... Let thy servant depart having seen by salvation." That's personal.
Jesus came to save the whole world, but He also came for Simeon. It's just as Martin Luther preached it. The Gospel does not merely teach about the history of Christ. No, it enables all that believe it to receive it as their own, which is the way the Gospel operates. "Of what benefit would it be to me," Luther said, "if Christ had been born a thousand times, and it would daily be sung into my ears in a most lovely manner, if I weren't never to hear that He was born for me and what's to be my very own?" That's it. Jesus was born for the whole world, but He was also born for you.
Remember I mentioned Rembrandt's early painting of Simeon in the temple. Fast forward with me to one of Rembrandt's last paintings, perhaps his very last. The painting was found unfinished in his studio the day after he died in 1669. It was another depiction of Simeon in the temple. Thirty-eight years had passed since Rembrandt's early painting of the same scene. His life had been a series of gains and losses, good and bad decisions. He had painted himself as the prodigal son. Now he faced failing health and increasing debt. By this time, both of his wives and all but one of his children had died.
Here in this painting, the grandeur of the temple is gone. Rembrandt does not seek to impress us with his skills. It's just one old man painting another old man, Simeon, who cradles his Savior and his arms. Simeon's eyes are half shut, his wrinkled face bathed in soft light. There's another figure in the painting, a woman, perhaps Anna. But most commentators believe, someone else may have added that figure to the painting later. Perhaps, I can only guess, Rembrandt in his later years caught how deeply personal this was for Simeon, and for Rembrandt himself.
Today, before the Christmas season runs itself out, before the year runs itself out, before your life runs itself out, I invite you to step into this scene from God's Word like Simeon. Take the baby in your arms, look into His eyes and let His little hand grab your finger, squeeze His little feet and know that this is the One who grew to be your salvation: the One whose hands and feet were pinned to a cross for you. Let this word, this picture, pierce your heart. This is not just the hope of the world. This is your hope.
In Minnesota, we have a custom known as the long "Minnesota goodbye." It happens when you've been visiting with friends or family and someone says something like "Well, maybe we should be going." The conversation continues though and continues. We just love being with those we love, or maybe it's just so cold outside, we don't want to face it. But a quick bye or wave or hug just never seems to do it. Minnesotans always give the full sendoff, walking you to the door, out to the driveway, to your car, and maybe still shouting at you as you start to pull out on the street. We don't know how long Simeon or Anna lived after this event in the temple. We do not hear from them again in the Scriptures.
This event was so significant for them, though, they didn't just experience it, they had to sing it and praise it in a sort of long goodbye. Their long goodbye today has reached even us, two millennia later—still engaging us, still blessing us. It is true that the life of a senior citizen can be a not so easy long goodbye. We may face the loss of loved ones and friends, perhaps a lessening sense of significance or productivity. We may contend with health challenges, slowing down, losing control, struggling to remember. In all of that, the Spirit of God gives the grace we need to see Jesus with eyes of faith.
The Word in all of its beauty gives us pictures like this one. In our faith-driven imagination, as time passes by, we can picture Jesus and He gives us hope. Time plus faith plus imagination equals hope. Let me say that again: time plus faith plus imagination equals hope. Where we are and where we will be, Jesus is also. And someday, like Simeon, we will see our Savior Jesus face to face with our own eyes, then in all of His glory. The end of a year can be a long goodbye too, no matter how old you are. As Richard Wilbur writes, "These sudden ends of time must give us pause."
We want more time, more time. We can beat ourselves up over what seems to be an unfinished life. We can live with regrets and guilt. We may worry over what the next year will hold for us. This One who is our salvation, came to free us from all that as well. In Jesus, we are fulfilled. In Jesus, all the great questions of life are answered. Where did I come from? God created me. Who am I? I'm God's child. Why am I here? To give God glory as I love God and serve my neighbor. Where am I going? To heaven, by grace, through faith, in Jesus. As this year draws to a close, we take our turn after Simeon. We each hold the baby, and His light, His glory, shines on us.
Here, now, in this Child, we become people of hope—walking hope, singing hope, witnessing hope. No need for goodbyes here, short or long. He will never leave us or forsake us. He's there in the Scriptures. He's there in our Baptism. He is there in His meal of forgiveness. He is there in every word that reconciles or consoles, every act of service and sacrifice. His grace is more than sufficient to take us into another year and into heaven. Just as He did with old Simeon, Jesus gives us peace, and pure, grateful, contagious, get-the-news-out joy. May it be so. Amen.
Please pray with me. Spirit of God, give us eyes of faith to see Jesus. Give us hope in Your Messiah, the Christ Jesus, to save us. Jesus, to console us, Jesus to free us. In His strong Name. Amen.
Reflections for December 30, 2018
Title: A Long Good-Bye
Mark Eischer: I'm Mark Eischer here in the studio with Jeff Craig-Meyer. He's our vice president of Constituency Services here at Lutheran Hour Ministries, and he's joining us for a few minutes to talk about the end of this year, looking forward to the next. Jeff, what stands out to you as special and significant?
Jeff Craig-Meyer: Yeah, thanks for that, Mark. Well, first of all, I think I wanna just be sure to start by bringing greetings on behalf of Kurt Buchholz, our CEO- executive director here at Lutheran Hour Ministries, and I'm gonna try to do my best as proxy on his behalf. But it's a great question that you asked. I think probably the thing that comes to mind, first and foremost, from this last year is the wonderful news of the arrival of our new Speaker.
Mark Eischer: Sure.
Jeff Craig-Meyer: Michael Zeigler, Rev. Zeigler has already been such a tremendous blessing to the organization having come on board this last fall. To your good question, Mark, I would share that this year especially has been just very, very exciting not only from the perspective of a new Speaker, but just a lot of different mission and ministry that's been going on. So, in that respect that the first area of emphasis for us has always been around this topic or concept of energizing, equipping, and engaging laity for outreach. It's been exciting to be able to launch a number of really key initiatives around that point. One was something called LHM Learn, which is now a way in which we can connect and engage people to outreach-related curriculum digitally, so people can take courses online for FREE, no charge at all, so that they can again feel better equipped to understand how to share their faith with others in their contexts and community.
Another thing that's really been fun to see this year was partnership that really came into clarity with Barna. Barna Research has been in the midst of doing Christian-based research both here in the US and, again, around the world for many, many years. We established that partnership in a way in which we could, hopefully, hit some of the key areas and interest emphases that would be at the heart of Lutheran Hour Ministries' mission and vision for the future.
The third area that's really exciting, this is gonna be launching in January, we've been in the midst of a partnership with Group Publishing based out of Colorado, and we're gonna be launching something called Gospel Adventures. This will be made available for predominantly day schools, but then also homeschoolers and others who would be in interest for wanting to have a window into a different country. In this particular instance this year, as we launch this, we're gonna be taking a trip to Peru. We used to call this the Online Mission Trip, and so we've now repackaged that, repurposed it under the topic of Gospel Adventures with support from Group.
Mark Eischer: Lutheran Hour Ministries is uniquely positioned to be able to offer this kind of a resources because we have ministry centers in operation around the world.
Jeff Craig-Meyer: It's quite amazing when you think about the fact that today about three billion people around the world have never even heard the Name "Jesus." We need to be there. We know that. For us, the commitment to being in a number of countries, over 30-plus ministry centers where we have brick and mortar buildings staffed by local people, indigenous leaders in their own right, who can then go out and build relationships in the appropriate cultural context to be able to share, again, the message of Christ.
Mark Eischer: We appreciate the prayers and faithful support of our listeners making this possible, that you are involved with a ministry that is really reaching people for Christ around the world in many, many different ways.
Jeff Craig-Meyer: That's correct. I would go on to say in terms of the other two specific areas of emphasis through the Sent Initiative that we've had, if I might.
Mark Eischer: Mm-hmm.
Jeff Craig-Meyer: One is near and dear, I think, to the hearts of our listeners here in the United States of The Lutheran Hour, and that's continuing to look at opportunities to expand our presence through media, especially here domestically. What's been exciting to be able to share is the continued increase in the number of radio stations that are broadcasting The Lutheran Hour radio program. We've now eclipsed over 1,800 here in North America.
Jeff Craig-Meyer: The other thing that's been really exciting about this year in 2018 was the opportunity to sign a contract with Sirius XM satellite radio and make that another way in which people can continue to hear the Gospel message through The Lutheran Hour broadcast. The fourth area that I'll just speak to then, as well. The three things that I spoke to earlier, energizing, equipping, engaging laity for outreach; our work internationally, globally in terms of our ministry; the expansion of media here in the United States and even more so abroad, as we've shared that with constituents, the excitement of those things and all the wonderful opportunities that have presented themselves by God's blessings, the one thing that has consistently come back to me in conversations with our constituents is this: "What are you doing for my kids and my grandkids?"
The realization that as a ministry, we do offer a tremendous outreach both here in the U.S. and around the world, but for our constituents, the 75,000-plus members that contribute to our organization, the many hundreds of thousands of people who listen to The Lutheran Hour radio program, they're really concerned about that next generation or the generations to come and that they are falling away from the church. It was in that particular context that we've started a new program called THRED, which is the realization that we actually can identify now three mission fields. We know that we have a mission field here in the United States, we have one overseas internationally, but there's a third one digitally.
We can find it on our cell phones, on our computer screens, on websites, social media. It's a scary place to be, frankly, but we understand that there are people who are lost and hurting who are searching for answers in terms of their life, and so THRED, as a program in and of itself, allows us and afford us the ability to engage people in that particular way and help them understand that there is a God, that Christ loves them, cares for them deeply, and that there are many, many other people that can surround them with that same love and care in bringing them back to the church.
Mark Eischer: Jeff, how can our listeners learn more about the opportunities they might have to help support this?
Jeff Craig-Meyer: Well, let me say this before I even go to that. Thank you to all those that are listening right now. It has been a wonderful year of blessing. In fact, it has been for a number of years now. As we know, the 100-year history of this organization has been a tremendous blessing to the church. That doesn't happen without the tremendous support of people who are listening to this program right now. I say that again, thank you.
All that to say, as we said earlier, there is much more to be done. There is much more to do. Two specific ways in which, if you want to learn more about the work of Lutheran Hour Ministries, please visit our website. It's lhm.org, and then the other opportunity if you would want to connect and communicate with us is by phone. We have a telephone number, 1-800-876-9880. We have trained staff who handle phone calls that come in from folks who might have questions or interest that we hopefully can direct them in the right ways so that they, again, can be encouraged to share their faith with others and also feel spiritually fed through the ministry that we're about here at Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Mark Eischer: We've been talking with Jeff Craig-Meyer, vice president of Constituencies here at Lutheran Hour Ministries. Jeff, thanks for joining us.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Nunc Dimittis" by George Dyson. From Safe in God's Faithfulness by Laudamus of Concordia Seminary Chorus (© 2007 Concordia Seminary Chorus)
"Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)