Second Baptist Lincoln
December 24, 2017
Embrace the World
 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.  Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,  Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
 "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you 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 glory to your people Israel."
Today, many of us will go to the homes of family or friends, or family and friends came to our homes. Or perhaps you may spend Christmas alone. If you spend it with family or friends, something many of you share will be a hug. Perhaps from an aunt you haven’t seen in a while or perhaps a hug just to show you care. I know you have heard me say this before, because I recently mentioned it in a sermon. We used to have a tradition in our family on holidays, and that was to wrestle. That’s right; from a family of old wrestlers, my brother and I would wrestle around and see who is the toughest. Well, after several years of adult maturity setting in, which included knowing our physical limits due to aches and pains, the wrestling matches subsided…until the following year! See, a new generation emerged. Young nephews who once wrestled each other have now grown to adult proportions. They had a new challenge in mind. Can we beat our old man? Can we beat Uncle Steve? And so we inaugurated Grandma Katie and Grandpa Les’s downstairs and it became a wrestling arena.I think for both teenage boys and young adult and middle age men, it is a form of expression of both challenge and sport. But while guys don’t reach out and hug each other, we can throw each other around for a few minutes at a time – and in some ways, perhaps that is equivalent to a hug. I don’t know what the wrestling situation will be on Tuesday, but I can assure you that the guy with the pacemaker isn’t going to find out.
This sermon series and Advent emphasis has been about the Christmas touch. How we touch each other’s lives. Theologically, I believe there is something about an embrace that conveys a touch of grace. Jesus challenged his disciples to make their way into the world and love others the way he had loved them. Now, from the start, let me make clear that embracing the world with God’s love is not simply accomplished by giving someone a hug. But, it’s a start. The kind of friendship and acceptance symbolized by a hug signifies what it takes to win the world with love.
Let me tell you about a man who in my book is a world-class “hugger.” His parents called him Billy Frank. His wife calls him Bill. His face is drawn by gravitational pull of years. The wrinkles on his brow betray a life of hard work and stress. His legs are weak from Parkinsons. So, too, are his arms. His hands tremble involuntarily. His voice, once strong, is tired. He’s an elderly man now. For most of his life, this man has touched the world by holding before it the Christ of Christmas. Jesus knows the trembling hands that hold on to him with unflinching tenacity. He recognizes his faithful follower’s tender touch. He understands that the cause for which he came into our fallen world is the cause to which this frail man has committed his life. Since embracing Christ as a teenager, has carried in his heart a concern for all kinds of people in all kinds of places. The races of the world (whose color and accent reveals the Creator’s creativity) have been equally important to him. Since graduating from Wheaton College, this North Carolinian has walked his talk around the block and across the seas. Yes, William Franklin Graham is a living example of what it means to embrace others with the love of God. In Billy Graham, we see a nearly 100 year-old-man (but, nonetheless, enduring) hugger of humanity.
As I think about Billy Graham, I’m reminded of that saintly senior citizen in Luke chapter 2 by the name of Simeon. Silver-haired, sun-tanned, certain of his destiny, old man Simeon lives each day for the touch of God upon his life. Although he has a predictable pattern to his routines, at his age, he is past the day of having to do certain things. But on this particular day, Simeon has no choice. He walks to the Temple, relying on his olivewood cane. Something inside has dictated his destination this day. And as he arrives in the Temple courts, his godly instincts are rewarded.
Joseph and Mary on this particular day have brought their infant son for the ancient Hebrew rite of dedication. Simeon walks toward them. Upon looking down into that infant’s face, the elderly Jew knew his decades-long wait was ended. Taking the child in his hands, Simeon hugs the infant Savior and holds him against his chest. Don’t you just love this picture? Leatherlike wrinkled skin. New pink baby skin. Flesh on flesh. Promise and fulfillment meshed. The picture you see is one that hangs in our living room year round. It is a depiction of Simeon holding and dedicating the Newborn Christ.
Of all the people in the Christmas story, Simeon distinguishes himself as the one person who clearly understood the identity of the Christ child. Recall with me the old man’s noteworthy prayer as he cradled the newborn baby: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you 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 glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29–32). Lest we be confused by what he says, he repeats himself with different words. The Messiah is to be a source of light to the Gentiles as well as a source of glory to those who trace their line to Abraham. Both Jewish and non-Jewish people are included here.
In other words, everybody. Old, young. Rich, poor. The educated, the naïve. Or, in the words of the song we learned to sing in Sunday school, “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” Simeon is aware that Jesus came into the world to bear the sins of all the world. He knew what was in store. He knew what was necessary to purchase the salvation of the world. He knew the price tag was found in the manger.
A pastor and his wife were traveling in Arizona a few days before Christmas. After passing a sign that informed them that they had entered the scenic town of Sedona, they spotted a church half way up the side of a red mountain. Because the pastor enjoyed touring interesting churches, he asked his wife if she’d mind if they took a brief detour. They drove up the winding road to what turned out to be a small Episcopal chapel. It was overrun by tourists enjoying the million-dollar view they discovered from inside the sanctuary. In the basement of the church was a gift shop. The pastor followed his wife into the crowded room filled with religious art representing many nations. Together they marveled at the unique nativity sets from various cultures on the shelves. Especially attracted to one of the creches, the pastor looked in vain for the price. Upon asking the cashier, he was told that the value of each nativity set was indicated underneath the baby. Sure enough, as the couple examined the miniature figurines from around the world, the cost of each set was found under Jesus.
How appropriate, right? How much the holiday we have just enjoyed is worth is not in brightly wrapped packages, programs, or parties. It’s not in the decorations or traditions. As fascinating as the cast members of the original Christmas pageant are, you won’t find the price tag of God’s love under Mary or Joseph or the angels, shepherds, or wise men. It’s not under Zechariah or Elizabeth or even Simeon. But then again, Simeon would have been the first to tell you that. The worth of it all is found only in Jesus. He alone claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life. The way to God, the truth of God, and the only means for experiencing eternal life with God. And yet most people on earth have not heard that claim in a way they can understand. And that’s why it is essential that the worth of Jesus be disclosed in every language to every person of every age.
The trouble with the way most of us enter into and come out of the Christmas season is that we focus on the baby but overlook the reason for his birth. We think of the message sentimentally and in terms of ourselves. We love the carols. We enjoy the customs. We enjoy what the readings and rituals do to jump-start our personal worship. But for the most part, it is a very private celebration. We include family, close friends, maybe a few neighbors in our parties and gift-exchanges and act as though we are oblivious to the fact that we are those who God has charged with passing out his presence to the world.
The implications of the gospel are clear. You can reach out to a new year and face it without fear. When you’ve been touched by Christmas, you’re ready to embrace a world that remains clueless to what the stable accomplished. Amen.