Looking for Consolation
If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.
– C. S. Lewis
Some people have written that the church in the 21st century, in her teaching and preaching is completely taken in by the “therapeutic model”.
The church is the dispenser of feel-good, positive thinking, practical advice for living, and pop-psychology.
That approach may be appealing in good times; times of affluence and abundance, but it goes down like thin gruel in difficult times like these.
People who loose their jobs or their homes or their pensions need something much deeper than happy-talk.
People who are lonely and depressed need more than a “how to be happy” recipe.
People who are fearful about the future will not be consoled by positive thinking advice alone.
So, we come to this text whose focus is on two people who are waiting for consolation:
25Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel
Anna: 38looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
In so in many ways they are like all of us.
They are living in hard times, unstable times, uncertain times, as we are, trying to discern what God is doing in these times.
We are going to see that their quest is for truth first, and in that truth they see both pain and consolation.
This text, I believe, is vital for us today, so let us look into it.
The scene opens in Jerusalem where Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to Jerusalem to fulfill their duty to the Law of Moses.
Luke repeats that phrase “the law” – of Moses, 5 times in our text. Clearly it was important to Luke that we take note of this.
One detail to note: their sacrifice was of a pair of doves – which is what people who cannot afford a lamb are permitted to substitute. These are not easy, prosperous times.
Luke then guides our eyes to focus on one man there at the temple in Jerusalem, and after that, on one woman.
Both are at the temple, both are devout, prayerful people, sensitive to the Holy Spirit, (mentioned 3 times, hinted at once more) waiting for God to act – they are, in miniature, everything Israel should be.
They were also old people. This is significant.
Luke did not have to mention their age at all, but he did.
These people have been waiting a long time.
For them, apparently nothing has been happening for a long time. But in that long time of nothing happening, they have remained faithful, devout, and hopeful people.
There is more to their oldness than that: they will not be around much longer. Their world will shortly give way to a new one as the next generation takes its place.
In this way, they are indeed like Israel, in the days before Jesus began his ministry; a new world is coming. The question is, what are they going to do about it?
Those two elderly people, Simeon and Anna are rooted in a tradition; in the story of Israel, in the Old Testament:
They believe, as Mary and Joseph too, in the Law of Moses.
Their spiritual lives revolved around the temple in Jerusalem,
Their hopes were solidly based on God’s promises to Abraham and to David.
In fact as they spoke, the words of the prophet Isaiah sprang from their lips effortlessly.
This is key to the story, key for understanding Jesus, and key for us today.
Most of the people in that temple in Jerusalem thought they understood God’s next move.
In the old days, Israel was an independent nation with a king descended from David on the throne.
Through the prophets, like Isaiah, God promised that in the future he would do something powerful and new to redeem his people.
“That must mean now what it used to mean. Our problem is material – it’s the Romans. God will intervene and restore our kingdom.”
If you are stuck in the old ways of thinking, this is what you expect. So Luke brings us a story of two old people, deeply imbedded in their spiritual history, the law of Moses and worship at the temple.
We should expect that Simeon and Anna cling to the past as strongly as a human can.
But this is why we need this story: they do not. Even as elderly people they are open to God’s work in the world to take on an entirely new shape.
The truth is that this new shape was glimpsed by the prophets like Isaiah.
Isaiah pictured a future time in which God’s work in the world would be different than his work in the past.
Isaiah pictured the world as a dark place in which people were stumbling around in need of guidance – not just Israel, but all the people of the world.
So Isaiah pictured God’s future intervention as a light – “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isa 9:2)
Israel had an important role to play in God’s intervention. Israel was supposed to be ready to throw open the doors to their neighboring nations so that God’s light would shine on them as well.
The Old Testament vision of God’s future consolation of Israel, which Isaiah struggled to keep alive, was that Israel would be, as he pictured it, “a light to the nations.”
God was building a lighthouse through Israel, tall enough to guide all of the people of the world.
God’s plan was never for Israel alone. Israel was the tool by which God was planning to make something huge and new, world-wide in scope.
Why? Because Israel’s root problem was not the Romans. It was not material, it was spiritual. And that problem is shared by all the people of the world.
At root we need to know God and to be transformed by him.
As long as people identified the problem as material, they would look for a material solution.
The question was: could people who were raised their whole lives, like Simeon and Anna, surrounded by that interpretation of the problem and the solution, ever see that the new thing God was doing was so much bigger and deeper?
It feels like we are living in a time as dark as the one Isaiah imagined.
All around us, all of our lives, we have been surrounded by the vision of life that is thoroughly materialist.
Happiness, our culture believes, comes with having things.
More happiness comes from having more things, bigger things, newer things, better things.
And now we are living in a time when things are at risk.
We desperately need that light that God is shining.
And here is where the story Luke tells us is so crucial. Both Simeon and Anna recognize and identify Jesus as that light, as the source of that consolation of Israel that they have been longing for for all of these years.
Somehow they were able to see through the shallow materialist hopes for Israel and even in their old age, embrace the new thing that God was doing.
The vision of life that guides the powers of our world is an earthly vision. It is a material vision.
You know what the “bottom line” is?
We use words like “the bottom line” to describe essence of everything – as if all of life is an accounting ledger.
We need that beacon of light that God is building. We need to have our eyes open to the truly transformed hope of the gospel.
It is this: “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).
We will never be saved by any material value.
When the light of the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought to us begins to shine, it illumines a world of true values;
in which worship and prayer are the essence of faithful living, as Simeon and Anna demonstrated;
in which we see that God’s embrace of all people means that we value our neighbors, as objects of his loving concern – a light to the nations;
in which longing for a kingdom of material security is transformed into longing for a kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace.
The light that Jesus shines illumines a world that is oriented towards comfort, but not first towards truth, and in the end finds neither comfort nor truth.
Seeking comfort first means believing the lie that our deepest needs will be met by a healthy portfolio and good credit score.
The truth is that what we need most is from God, comes only from him:
to have a way to love and to be open to being loved;
to know how to forgive and have peace in our homes;
to know how to rely on the Holy Spirit to keep us from temptation and evil that is always present in us;
to understand ourselves as part of a family, a community of faith and to draw strength and encouragement there;
to have an open heart towards our sisters and brothers in need, and to experience the joy of giving;
know that God loves us, unconditionally;
that in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven, and made children of God
We cannot minimize the real hardship and suffering of economic loss. People are hurting; the pain is real.
We are the ones who respond with giving to people in need precisely because our hearts have been released from believing that we need to hang on to everything we have for dear life.
Our spirits have been set free from that fearful dark world of insecurity because we understand that our security is vouched safe by God who loves us and cares for us.
Our hearts are open to responding to a world of suffering people because we know the joy of believing, with Simeon and Anna, in God’s future.
Our hope is in God alone. Jesus Christ has come; the light of the world – and now we see what is true, and in this is our consolation.