Sermon from December 31st, 2017

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“Hope for the New Year!”

Psalm 121; Luke 2:21-40

By Pastor John Bent

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Sermon Text
Happy New Year – almost!  I have good news for you in 2018!  In Lamentations 3 we read, “It is because of the steadfast love of the Lord that we are not consumed for his compassion never fails, his mercies are new every morning, great is his faithfulness.”

The Lord gave that promise to his prophet Jeremiah almost 600 years before Jesus was born. It was easily the most discouraging time in Israel’s history.  The temple, the city of Jerusalem had been devastated, every stone kicked down, every beam burned and the surviving people carried off to the deserts of Babylon. What hope did they have?

Only this, the Lord was still with them. What will 2018 hold for us?  Probably some wonderful things, the Lord loves to bless his people. But probably some tough stuff as well. We still live on this side of Eden. We just don’t know. But whatever 2018 holds, we know the Lord will be with us and that was certainly true for Mary and Joseph.

It was a week after Jesus’ birth, the eighth day to be exact. Presumably some kind person in Bethlehem had moved the little family from the stable into a room in a house. Now it was time to obey the law and fulfill the Jewish custom of circumcision.

This was part of the covenant promise God had made with Abraham 2000 years earlier, “I will bless you and make you a blessing and through you I will bless the whole world.”   The Lord restated that covenant 500 years later to Moses “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Good news!

So Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus the 7 miles to the temple in Jerusalem to present their firstborn to the Lord. The minimum sacrifice was given, showing how poor Joseph and Mary were, and baby Jesus was consecrated, or set aside for the Lord’s service.

It must have been a day of incredible joy for them. They didn’t do it because they had to - they did it because they wanted to. It was the greatest honor of their lives.

While they were there, they met two amazing people - an old man and an old woman who had spent their lives praying, hoping and waiting for the Lord to send the promised Messiah.

When Simeon saw them come in the Holy Spirit revealed to him, “This is the one!” Mary let him take baby Jesus in his arms. And Simeon prayed, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, now dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people.  A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel.”

Simeon wasn’t the least bit intimidated by the enemies of God that surrounded him - Herod and his henchmen, the Roman army, even the false priests in the temple. He knew the Lord was sovereign over all these enemies and he knew this child would overcome them all.

He would be the Savior of the whole world. Then Simeon blessed them and he warned Mary. “This child will cause the falling and rising of many in Israel. Through him the thoughts of the wicked will be exposed. But a sword will pierce your own soul as well.”

His words must have sent shivers of terror through Mary and Joseph.  This tiny baby they were holding would become the center of a storm that threatened the most wicked and powerful political structures of their world. How would they survive?

Then as the little family was leaving the temple, old Anna came up to them. She was 84 years old and the widow of a faithful priest. She also had the gift of prophesy. She recognized Jesus immediately as the answer to her years of faithful prayer and fasting.

It was quite a day for the young family. As they returned to Bethlehem, they had no idea the Magi were on their way. Nor of the terrible storm that was about to break on them. They were consumed with things like changing diapers and caring for a new baby.

Maybe that’s the genius behind God sending Jesus as a newborn baby. There is something about babies that generate hope and joy. They push us beyond ourselves. When we have a new baby, we must not only respond to the needs of the present, getting up 3 times a night to feed the baby and rock the cradle, we need to prepare for the future.

If we were to ask Joseph and Mary, “Did the arrival of Jesus enhance your prayer life? Did it increase your trust in God or deepen your doubts? Did it make things easier or harder? ”   What do you think they would say? They had no idea what was headed their way. But God would be right there with them in the middle of it all. In fact, they would hold him in their arms.  And the hope that was in him would hold back the fear and darkness.

So let’s talk about hope. Imagine Mary and Joseph on their walk back to Bethlehem.  Mary turns to Joseph and asks him, “What do we do now? What Simeon said frightened me.”   Joseph replies, “It frightened me, too, but I know our hope is in the Lord, just as it has always been.  Remember Psalm 121? Let’s recite it together...

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over you coming and going both now and forever more.” Psalm 121

“That restores my hope, Joseph. It makes me think of Isaiah 40:11?  Let’s say it together.” “He will tend his flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart, he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11

You are right, Mary! Whatever happens, we must not forget Psalm 32. “Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’S unfailing love surrounds those who trust in him.” Psalm 32:10

“When, I’m afraid, Joseph, I’m going to remember Prov 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not rely on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.” Prov 3:5-6

“The Lord’s people have often been asked to do tough things, things even beyond our endurance. But he has always helped those who trust him and obey him. Faith, hope and obedience go together, don’t they Joseph?”

“You are exactly right, Mary!  Remember what the prophet Jeremiah told us. “I know the plans I have for you’, says the Lord, ‘plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jer 29:11

Trust, hope and obedience go together. That’s important to remember as we walk into the New Year. Remember Joseph and Mary not only had a new baby, they also had a new marriage, a new life together. But they had gotten off on the right foot.

The desire of their hearts was not to serve or please themselves but to serve and please God. If that were not true, Mary would not have been a virgin and Joseph would not have been a righteous man.

They faced a lot of unknowns as they walked home from Bethlehem. There would be the arrival of the wise men and a midnight escape to Egypt. But they had decided to trust the Lord above all else and filter every decision through the lens of obedience to him.

In most of the trials that are coming our way in 2018, the Lord will show us the way to go if we will seek him. He will show us the right thing to do. We will know the difference between obedience and disobedience. The test will be, “Will we obey him even when our will, our desires, our intuition tempts us to go our own way?”

Will you pray with me?  “Lord the desire of our hearts is to commit our way to you. We know that our way doesn’t get us where we really want to go. We want your will to be done.  We want your kingdom to come as we make the decisions that lay before us in 2018. Help us trust, hope, and obey you above all else in this New Year!”


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