Sermon Text: Luke 2:29-32
Years ago we had an Advent series that focused on the symbols of Christmas. In the 3 Wednesday services, we talked about 10 different things. If you were here, you might remember us talking about the finch ornament, one which my grandma and a number of older people have on their tree. Why? Finches eat thorns, which, of course, are nasty and painful and we want nothing to do with them. Well, years ago the finch was a symbol of Jesus. As finches eat thorns – bad things that harm us – Jesus “eats” sin. On the cross he took it from us and put it on himself. And yes, it was painful for him in every way, but so great was his love that he took that sin; he ate those thorns. Simple decoration - powerful message.
Well, during that series we didn’t focus on what might be the most prominent Christmas symbol (for Christians) besides the Christmas tree: The Advent wreath. Especially here at church, we make a big deal about it. We have a song and read from Scripture each time we light a candle. And each candle stands for something – hope, peace, joy, and love. Last Sunday we lit the hope candle, read about the hope we have in Jesus, and sang about Christian hope. This wasn’t a useless ritual. It was meant to remind us what the season is all about and to help get our hearts/minds in the right place as we celebrate.
Nothing new, right? If you’re 80 years old, you’ve probably watched Advent candles being lit in church for 80 years. And the names of the candles here are slapped all over the walls. So why focus on something we all know about and have been doing for years? Well, think about what each candle stands for. Now realize that each of those candles has an opposite emotion or feeling. We’re going a little out of order, but think about the peace candle. Peace may be hard to define with words, but we all know what it is. Peace in a marriage not only means an absence of fighting, but harmony for the couple. Peace of mind means we aren’t nervous but relaxed. Peace between you and a neighbor means a solid relationship.
So what’s the opposite of peace? There are many words you could use, but let’s go with worry. If you’re worried about your relationship with your spouse, you aren’t at peace. If you’re worried about the job and running through doomsday scenarios, you do not have peace of mind. If you’re openly disputing boundary lines for a new shed with your neighbor and are worried the city will nix your plans, you two are not a peace. Worry and peace really couldn’t be more opposite.
OK, what does that have to do with the candles? Well, do you get it that as we light the positive candle, we can put out the negative one? As we light the peace candle, we can put out the worry candle. But still, what does that mean?
The portion of God’s Word we’re looking at actually takes place after Jesus’ birth. As the law said, Mary/Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple to dedicate him to God and to have him circumcised. Someone was waiting for him. His name was a Simeon, who likely was a church worker of some sort. Somehow and someway God let him know that he would not die before seeing the Savior with his own eyes. That we know. What we don’t know is how long Simeon waited. A year? 10 years? 25 years? 50 years? Longer? For a number of reasons, lots of people thing this time of waiting was not short.
Let’s say it was 50 years. Can you imagine waking up each day hoping that today is the day and for over 18,000 days being disappointed? By year 2, wouldn’t you, if you were Simeon, start worrying that maybe you misunderstood God? By year 10, wouldn’t you worry that maybe Jesus already came and you missed him? By year 25, wouldn’t you worry that maybe you just had some odd dream and God didn’t really talk to you? And on day 364 of year 49 wouldn’t you worry that Jesus will never show up, that you would die before ever seeing him?
You don’t have to answer the questions because I know your answers. And I know them because they are the same answers I would give. Of course we would worry that we missed him, got the message wrong, or that the message wasn’t true. That’s human nature. Worrying in in our sinful DNA. Just take this season alone. We worry about our get togethers. We worry about the weather. We worry about what to get him or her. We worry about busy schedules. We worry about how many people will come to a midweek Advent service during what might be the busiest time of the year. We worry that people won’t like the treats we brought to share after the service when we have our little get together.
But those worries pale in comparison to our biggest ones. We worry about our families, our children, and our marriages. We worry about health issues, be they ours or people we care about. And nothing is higher on the list than worry in spiritual matters. We worry that God can’t again forgive us for a sin we have done 300 times. We worry that God will see right through us and take note of our doubts and fears, things we tell ourselves a Christian shouldn’t have. We worry that maybe somehow we are interpreting the Bible wrong and it isn’t as cut and dry as we say. Add your spiritual worries to the list. And looking at that list of all the things about which we worry, would you ever use the word peace for any of those? Do any of those bring us peace? Absolutely not. In fact, all of them rob us of peace.
But back to our lesson. Finally, the Savior arrived. Prompted by the Spirit, Simeon knew who he was. What happened next? “Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations.’”
Of course you know the word I want to jump out at you. Peace – the opposite of worry. Maybe Simeon did have the worries we mentioned before, but not anymore. He could be at peace. Why? Because he knew the one whom he was holding. He calls Jesus his salvation. He knows that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise of Eden to send a Savior. He knows Jesus is the one who will repair the broken relationship between God and man. He knows that because of Jesus he is at peace with his God. And he knows that because of Jesus, the peace of heaven awaits him, a peace he is enjoying at this very second.
We light the peace candle. We talk about what that means, that we have the same peace as Simeon. When we do that, don’t we also put out the worry candle? We do. That is what Advent, Christmas, and the life of our Savior is all about. We light the good. We extinguish the bad. So, what does that mean for us with Christmas being about 3 weeks away?
It means we don’t have to worry about what are, honestly, little worries that come with this season. So your gift to someone is a dud. Big deal. They know that you love them. So your get together is cancelled due to wind, ice, and snow. Big deal. Have an Epiphany party in January. So your schedule is busy. Whose isn’t? Just make sure to find time for what is truly important, and you know what I mean. These sort of things happen this time of year every year. Instead of worrying about them, realize none of them are really that important, and be at peace with however things turn out.
And we can have that mentality because we have Simeon peace. That is what this season is all about. That’s what angels proclaimed to the shepherds – peace for God’s people. Why? Because the peace-bringer, the Savior, the promised one did his work, and the result is peace. The peace of sins forgiven. The peace of a place in God’s family. The peace of knowing God’s always with us. And the peace of knowing that for the same reason as Simeon, we’ll share an eternal future with him.
I know worry is only going to press on you harder and harder as we get closer to Christmas. But when it does, remember to light the right, the good candle, and snuff out the wrong, the bad candle. Remember the peace your Savior brings to you. Bask in its glorious light. And put out the worry candle. Let its flame die. And you can, because the undying fire of Jesus’ love brings all the peace you will ever need. Amen.