“Filled With Wisdom and Grace” December 31. 2023
“Filled With Wisdom and Grace”
Isaiah 61:10-62:3/Psalm 148
Again. From Luke 2:22, we read “in accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (23 It’s written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord.”) 24 They offered a sacrifice in keeping with what’s stated in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons”
‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.’ the story of Simeon and Anna in the temple on the day that Jesus was dedicated to the Lord has always held a place in my heart. I can’t rightly say why that is,’ it’s just that there are elements of wonder and joy that cause this story to stand apart. To me, it is a feel good story. I mean, the way that Luke tells this story, we might think that Simeon and Anna, who are both advanced in age, have been waiting their entire life in the same temple for this one singular event to occur. That’s not to say that they’ve both been sitting around in chairs staring at the walls for the last 60 years or so. They both had lives to live and duties to perform, but at the same time there was an urgency to these two, especially Simeon. Once again from verse 25: A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So yes, it’s safe to say that Simeon was excited for this moment.
Like I said, I’ve always loved this story. There’s something about it that warms my heart. But at the same time, I find myself wondering why it was that Luke felt compelled to share this story with us in the first place. Of course, Mary and Joseph would bring their first born son to the temple to be dedicated to God. This was customary under the law and it was a decree that all Jewish parents obeyed, not out of fear of punishment but because they wanted to. So by itself, the dedication of the Christ child was really not that big of a deal. It was customary, it was expected, and It was simply part of the normal course of events in the life of a Jewish family at the time.
Luke made sure to include this passage, I believe, because of the wonderful presence of Simeon; especially his closing prayer which has long been known as Simeon’s Song or Nunc Dimittus, for all the Latin scholars in the room.
It is a simple prayer born out of the joy of finally seeing a promise come true after many years of waiting. The opening line says it all: (vs 29) Lord, let your servant depart in peace, according to your word.” What a powerful statement, and he clarifies this by speaking as he was holding the Christ child in his arms: “30because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for your people Israel.”
“because my eyes have seen your salvation.
You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples” however, Simeons joy is tempered for us by the fact that he is now content to die “because my eyes have seen your salvation” it is a powerful passage; one that is rich in tradition with a wonderful description of a truly righteous man.
But the heart of this story, for me at least, lies in the fact that this is a wonderful example of what it feels like and what it means to give praise to God.
So, with that being said I guess it comes as no surprise that our theme for this, the first Sunday after Christmas Is that of giving praise to our God. Small wonder then that the 148th Psalm Is our selection for today, let me share some portions of this Psalm with you now:
148 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!
3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!
4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the Lord! Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and maidens together, old men and children!
13 Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints,
for the people of Israel who are near to him. Praise the Lord!”
I might mention that the expression “raised up a horn” is a direct reference to the victory dance that a bull makes when he has won a battle. In many biblical writings it is referred to as the horn of salvation. It is the good folks from the Bible project who remind us:
“Remember, the book of Psalms tells the story of the Hebrew Bible. It’s the story of God’s promise to raise up a king who will bring victory to Israel and rescue the world. And if we’ve been reading carefully up to this point, there is little question that the psalmist in Psalm 148 is referring to the promised king.” So, there you have it. I doubt that the horn of salvation will ever show up in a crossword puzzle, but it’s good to know nonetheless.
So what about this apparent obsession that’s so many Old Testament writers possessed for the act of praising God? Is this yet another ‘custom according to the law’ or might it serve us well to pay closer attention to the seemingly simple act of praising God. When do we do it? Why would we do it? And even how do we do it? I understand, this might be a bit much to digest in one bite, so for now let’s settle for ‘the why.’
When we lived in Montana, I had the great joy of being involved in a youth group. My duties consisted mostly of banging on a guitar and getting these kids to sing as loud as they possibly could. It was great fun. As time went by, I found myself taking on other roles as well: teaching the lessons, scripture interpretation, that sort of thing. But there was one thing I always wanted to do but never really had the chance. When we moved to Oregon and the folks in Sheridan United Methodist asked if I would be interested in leading a youth group in combination with kids from the Lutheran Church, I jumped on it. I would be in charge of the curriculum, the activities, and of course, the music.
But I hadn’t forgotten the little experiment that had hatched in the back of my mind in Montana. So I figured I’d give it a shot. There was no bookwork, no fancy videos, and no prepared lessons.
It all started with the question . “Why do we praise God?”
Now when you ask a bunch of youngsters a question like that, their reaction will surely suck the energy out of the room. It’s a tough one, And so I would ask them things like. “Is God that insecure or that vain that he demands we dote upon him day and night? Is that what praising God is all about?”
Of course, no one agreed with that but the question remained: why do we praise God? What’s the point? There were some that answered saying things such as. “Because he’s the creator of the universe,” or “because he sent Jesus to save the world.” These were all perfect answers, but even though I knew better, I was looking for one specific answer; one specific answer to the question of why do we praise God; one specific answer that I have struggled with most of my life and that one specific answer to the question of why do we praise God is because we want to.
The psalmists give us every reason in the world and the prophets out and out demand it, but for those of us who truly follow the life and teachings of Jesus Christ – especially at this time of year- praising God is, as they say, as easy as falling off a log.
“For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people; to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of your people Israel.”
I wasn’t surprised to find that the song of Simeon has been made into a modern day song. I was able to find many versions of this beautiful piece
and I found a certain comfort in knowing that these words might live outside of the written scriptures. In some ways it holds the same status as the words of Mary That we know of as the Magnificat. They are both earnest prayers born out of great joy. They are earnest prayers of gratitude and, yes, of praise.
So why do we praise God? Is it something we do automatically when we find ourselves in prayer? Or is it a response to the warming of our hearts when we are reminded that for the love of us, God sent a savior- he raised up the horn of salvation you might say. In short, God has shown us his favor, and for that I would have to say ‘praise be to God.’
From verse 39 in today’s gospel we read: When Mary and Joseph had completed all that was required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to their hometown, Nazareth in Galilee. 40 The child grew and became strong. He was filled with wisdom and grace and God’s favor was on him.”
He was filled with wisdom and grace and God’s favor was on him.
Today marks the first Sunday in the season of Christmas tide, so we are still in this season of light, the season of joy. So why do we praise God? For the joy of our salvation? for the blessing of the church? For the fellowship of believers? For the Christ child who grew up in wisdom and in grace? The thing is, we praise God for all these things; for all these things, anything, for everything, we praise God because we want to.
Again from the song of Simeon: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end Amen and shalom