Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus: An Advent Homily (Luke 2:22-38)

Charles Wesley (1707-88), penned the moving words to "Come, Thou long expected Jesus"
Charles Wesley (1707-88), penned the moving words to “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”

Note to the reader: I preached this homily at the Maraisburg Church of the Nazarene yesterday (15 December 2013) near Johannesburg, South Africa. We celebrated worship on the same morning that the nation buried former President Nelson Mandela, following a week of memorial services and loving remembrances.

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SCRIPTURE READING: Luke 2:25-38 (CEB)

I. INTRODUCTION

Have you ever waited so long for something that you wondered if it would ever come about?

Perhaps some of you are now past the average marriage age, and you wonder if you will ever find “the one.” Or in a tough economy with high unemployment, you’ve been searching for a good job for what seems like forever.

It’s Christmas time, and with Christmas childhood memories flood back. One year, my grandma sent a big box in the mail several weeks before Christmas Day. We opened it up, and inside were many packages carefully wrapped, one for each of us in the family. Dad put the gifts under the tree, and of course my brothers and I did what children do. When our parents weren’t looking, we’d pick up our present, shake it to see what noise it made, anything to help guess what was inside.

It seemed like we waited so long for Christmas Day! Finally, the wait got the best of us. Very early on Christmas morning when Dad and Mom were still asleep, I heard noise coming from the living room. Quietly, I made my way down the staircase, and found my two older brothers shining flashlights around the room! Of course, I opened mine up, too, and joined in the fun. Then, we carefully wrapped them up again and put them under the tree. The next morning, when it came time to open presents, we opened the gift from grandma. “Oh look! A flashlight!” we said, pretending like we hadn’t seen it before. It was hard to wait all the way to Christmas.

II.  ISRAEL’S LONG WAIT: BACKGROUND TO LUKE 2:22-38

Whether it’s waiting for marriage, employment, or just opening up a Christmas present, one thing is sure: Waiting can be tough. That was certainly the case for Israel. There was about a 400 year silence between the close of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament. Malachi was the last Jewish prophet upon whom the spirit of prophecy had rested, and he wrote around 350 b.c. In those closing words of the Old Covenant, Malachi 4:5 spoke of Elijah the prophet coming “before the great and terrible day of the LORD” (CEB). Luke clearly considered John the Baptist an Elijah-like figure. In Luke 1:44, we even have the story of Mary visiting Elizabeth, her cousin. Both women were expecting babies, and the yet-to-be-born John leaps for joy when he hears the voice of Mary.

And now after this long silence, the spirit of prophecy is back in full force. The Holy Spirit is speaking again, and this time it’s to an old priest, Simeon, and to an old prophetess, Anna. The Spirit says to them that the long wait is almost over. Look at Luke 2:26:

The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

The term “Christ” comes from the Greek word, Christos. It means the “anointed One.” In Hebrew, the equivalent term is maschiach, the Messiah. Simeon and Anna were about to see the Saviour for whom they had waited so long!

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Reading our Bibles backwards? A pre-Advent reflection

Isa53While attending Nazarene Theological Seminary, I participated in a dialogue with students from a nearby Seminary for rabbis. We gathered around a table and discussed passages from the Old Testament, or what they just called the Bible. In the sentence you just read lies the crux of the matter: Should the Bible have a “New Testament”? Christians says yes; Jews say no.

As the discussion turned to what Christians would consider “Messianic prophecies” fulfilled in Jesus Christ, one of the rabbinic students remarked:

You Christians read your Bibles backwards.

He was right if by that comment we acknowledge it’s practically impossible for Christ followers, on this side of the Cross, not to see Jesus when we look at parts of the Old Testament. The New Testament provides the model. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 presents Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of a prophecy from King David regarding the resurrection of God’s Anointed (the Messiah), that the “Holy One” would “not see decay” (Acts 2:31, NIV). Likewise, Acts 8:26-40 tells the story of Philip the Evangelist. Led by the Holy Spirit into the desert, he climbed into an Ethiopian eunuch’s chariot. The eunuch was reading the description of the suffering servant from Isaiah 53, and asked: “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” (v. 34). Philip used that passage to tell him the good news about Jesus.

Saint Augustine is credited for having said: “The New is in the Old concealed. The Old is in the New revealed.” Like a good two act play, the outcome of the drama can be hinted at through foreshadowing, but the ending is not given away. In the same way, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart estimated that only about 2% of the content of Old Testament prophecy can be considered Messianic prophecies (See Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation [1993], p. 303).  Still, it is enough to bind the Testaments together as the unfolding of God’s rescue plan for sinful humanity gone astray.

This Advent season, we will celebrate the coming of Jesus the Messiah into our sin-sick world. If “reading our Bibles backwards” means thanking God for accomplishing the divine promise to bring us salvation in Christ, then let’s keep celebrating. And as those who look to Christ’s return, let us together proclaim: Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.