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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Promised Child (Genesis 21.1-8, Luke 2.6-7,21-33)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
December 25, 2011
Some Music Used
Preludes : "Angels We Have Heard on High" (Chris Rice)
  Hymn of Praise: "Angels We Have Heard on High" (GLORIA)
Hymn of Praise: "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" (W KLOBIE LEZY)
The Word in Music: "Song of Simeon" (Michael Card)

Offering of Music: "Away in a Manger" (arr. Joseph Martin)
Song of Praise: "Gloria" (from Angels We Have Heard) (GLORIA)
Hymn of Sending: "Good Christians, All Rejoice" (IN DULCI JUBILO)
Postlude: "Fantasia on 'In Dulci Jubilo'" (Bach)

Promised Child
Text: Genesis 21:1-8; Luke 2:6-7,21-33)

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

This Christmas season we have been following the story of Abraham as he met, trusted, and followed God Most High. God promised Abraham land, children, and blessing – all in order that Abraham and his descendants might be a blessing to the nations of the world. We have seen (I hope!) a number of parallels between Abraham’s wait for the birth of Isaac, the child of promise, and the wait of the people of Israel for the birth of the Messiah, also a child of promise.

And I hope that along the way you have identified with Abraham or with God’s people of old. They, like us, heard the promises of God, were invited to trust, often strayed and wandered, and yet experienced God’s faithfulness. As we have waited for this day – Christmas Day – we have experienced again the wait for God’s timing to unfold. You may have entered into the exercise of once again waiting on the Christ child, or you may be waiting for God’s timing in some specific areas of your own life.

Today, we finally get there. Isaac is born; Jesus is born; and I hope you will see how God is working in and through you in new ways. I want to trace the final bit of the story of the two births with you, highlighting some of the themes running through them. We’ll also meet one other character – Simeon – who lived first-hand that waiting period. We’ll see how he gives glory to God and how he interprets what he is seeing.

Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac (Genesis 21:1-8)

We’ve been reviewing the covenant promises pretty consistently over the past four weeks. In a nutshell, Abraham’s story is the story of God pursuing sinful humanity through one man and one people in order to reach and bless all the nations of the world. It is a foretaste of what is to come more completely and perfectly in Jesus. What I want to do today is highlight several phrases in the text and comment on them briefly. Then we’ll turn to Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and Simeon.

“as He had promised” (v. 1) - TRUST

Look at Genesis 21. In verses 1-2 we read that Sarah conceived and bore a son. I want to highlight two phrases in those verses. The first is “as [God] had promised.” Sarah’s conception and delivery were not accidental, nor planned by human beings. Rather, it was what God had promised some 25 years earlier when He made the covenant with Abram. Bottom-line, God is faithful; and with only a few detours and back-up plans on Abraham’s part, Abraham trusted in God’s Word and promise.

“at the appointed time” (v. 2) - PATIENCE

A second key phrase relates to the first. Sarah became pregnant and delivered “at the appointed time.” And it was both long-awaited and exceedingly miraculous. Surely Abraham and Sarah wanted the baby much sooner. But God’s timing is perfect and lines up with His will, and this baby came precisely when God wanted him to be born. So often we acknowledge the first point – that God is faithful; but we struggle mightily with this second one, that God acts according to His own timing. We would much rather God act on our time-table; but God does not. To wait on God’s timing is to exercise patience.

“circumcised as God had commanded” (v. 4) - OBEDIENCE

Only a year earlier, God had instituted circumcision as a sign of the covenant. Abraham had his whole house-hold, including Ishmael, circumcised in obedience to God’s command. That was done in faith before seeing Sarah pregnant and Isaac born. Now, with the miracle before him, it was a much easier thing to mark his newborn son with the sign of the faithful God’s covenant promise. Nonetheless, in following God’s command, Abraham demonstrated obedience.

“God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me” (v. 6) - BLESSING

What I’d like you to see is how God brings about blessing. God’s intent is to bless the world, most notably through salvation, but also through common grace, witness, truth, and His presence. In this one sentence in verse 6, you get a good feel for that blessing dynamic. God has done a miracle for Sarah: “God has made laughter/Isaac for [her]” – God has blessed her. But that’s not the end of the sentence. She continues, “Everyone who hears (about it) will laugh/Isaac with me.” Others will be captivated by her story, by God’s story, and be blessed by her blessing.

Even more broadly, let me walk back through the previous key phrases with you, because it is a kind of map for how God is pleased to accomplish blessing of the world. God works through the TRUST, PATIENCE, and OBEDIENCE of His people to bless them, and in doing so, extends His word, witness, presence, and grace to the surrounding world.

So let me read those pairings for you again:

God is faithful; and so we trust.
God works in His own time; and so we must be patient.
God speaks His will and Word to us; and so we must be obedient.

And God demonstrates His faithfulness, in His own time, as He has said, through our trust, patience, and obedience and we experience that as God’s BLESSING, which we then extend to those around us.

Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (Luke 2:6-7)

Mary and Joseph’s story, along with all of Israel, is very similar.

TRUST: God had promised a Messiah. The foundation of that promise can be found in the covenant promise to Abraham, but it became more and more explicit through the prophets, particularly ones like Isaiah. God’s people had to trust God to be faithful.

PATIENCE: God’s plan unfolded slowly. Understood to be a restoration of the Davidic monarchy, generation after generation of Israelites were disappointed to not see the restoration of the Kingdom. And yet God’s timing was precise and important. In God’s timing, Jesus was born at just the right time, in just the right way.

OBEDIENCE: Not only did Mary and Joseph hear God’s Word through the angel-messengers and hear and obey, eight days after the baby was born, they took him to be circumcised in keeping with the same command given Abraham in ancient times. They were obedient to God’s Word in many ways, but it is striking to read of both Isaac and Jesus being circumcised on the eighth day as a sign of God’s covenant faithfulness, demonstrated so specifically through those particular baby boys.

BLESSING: Jesus was the greatest miracle and blessing of all. He literally came to be the salvation-blessing for the world. And his birth was entirely God’s promise, God’s timing, and God’s doing; and yet, here we also see how God has chosen to work through the trust, patience, and obedience of human beings in order to bestow His blessing. How accurately Mary could have mirrored Sarah’s words about her baby and said, “God has made Jesus/salvation for me; everyone who hears will know God’s Jesus/salvation with me!”

An Old Man in the Temple (Luke 2:21-33)

Finally, our text ends with the scene in the temple, where Mary and Joseph have taken their eight-day old baby to be circumcised. Again, I’d like to highlight several key phrases, showing Simeon’s own trust, patience, and obedience. He then pronounces blessing on the baby who will bless the world.

TRUST – “this man was righteous and devout” (v. 25)

Simeon was called “righteous and devout” because he trusted in God to keep His promises. And he was not looking for the popular Messiah who would lead the revolution against Rome. Simeon was looking for the “consolation of Israel” – the paraclete-comforter (interestingly later a name for the Holy Spirit) described in Isaiah 61:2 as the one who will “comfort those who mourn.”

PATIENCE – “looking for the consolation of Israel” (v. 25)

Simeon had been looking and waiting all his life. And the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not see death until he had seen the “Lord’s Christ” – that is, the Messiah. (“Christ” is Greek for the Hebrew word, messiah/anointed one.) Simeon had been very patient, trusting that God would do what He said He would do.

OBEDIENCE – “my eyes have seen” (v. 30)

Obedience can be described as listening to what God says. In this case it can also be described as looking for what God is doing. Simeon was paying attention; and he saw God’s salvation. And he got to take part in the obedience-event of circumcising the baby.

BLESSING – “a light of revelation to the Gentiles” (v. 32)

Finally, Simeon puts in words what God has been planning from the beginning. Not only did God seek out Abraham and make a covenant with him, God was faithful, in His own timing, to bless Abraham and the world in which he lived. Likewise, God sought out the people Israel, the descendants of Abraham, and God blessed them in order to bless the world. The glory or “shine” of God’s hand on His people, Israel, was also a “light of revelation” to the nations of the world. In this moment and pronouncement by Simeon, we see God’s plan come to perfect fruition. All that was seemingly lost in the Garden with the Fall of humanity has been reclaimed by God, with the establishment of a way back to Him. God has worked to restore us, and this baby will become the means by which God does that.

God at Work in You

What is God up to now? You know I ask that all the time: “What is God doing in and around you and how can you be a part?” The constant testimony of scripture is that God IS at work in the world. And, God is pleased to work through ordinary people like you and me to accomplish what He is doing. God doesn’t require perfect people; in fact, He seems most pleased to use weak, unlikely, and even rebellious people. But his blessings flow when we trust, have patience, and demonstrate obedience. That’s when we know God’s blessing most in our own lives, and it is when we can best extend that blessing to those around us.

So hear the declaration: God is faithful, God’s timing is perfect, God has spoken, and God is at work.

I invite you to trust, cultivate patience, demonstrate obedience, and experience blessing… SO THAT we may be about the blessing-work that God has called us to.

I’d like to finish by singing “The Song of Simeon,” in which the old man’s words are set to music beautifully by Michael Card.

“The Song of Simeon”
Michael Card

An old man in the temple, waiting in the court
Waiting for the answer to a promise
And all at once he sees them in the morning sunshine
A couple that comes in carrying a baby

Now that I’ve held him in my arms, my life can come to an end
Let your servant now depart in peace
‘Cause I’ve seen your salvation, He’s the light of the Gentiles
And the glory of his people, Israel

Mary and the baby come, and in her hand, five shekels
The price to redeem her baby boy
The baby softly cooing, nestled in her arms
Simeon takes the boy and starts to sing

And now’s the time to take Him in your arms –
your life will never come to an end
He’s the only way that you’ll find peace - He’ll give you salvation
‘Cause He’s the light of the Gentiles and the glory of his people, Israel

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