The year ended in similar way to how it began. In January a driver used his car to drive through the streets of Melbourne killing 6 and injuring many more. In December a driver used his car to drive through the streets of Melbourne injuring almost 20 people. Throughout the year there have been many highlights and many lowlights. Some of the highlights for me included our family wedding of our daughter Grace to Chris – and the breaking of the 37 year drought for my beloved Tigers. Included among the lowlights – it was a year where we saw many high profile celebrities and people of power fall from grace because of sexual abuse. Big names from Hollywood were led by Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer. In Australia our much loved Don Burke and also the Lord Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle were accused of sexual harassment. It was a year where we continued to see violence in our streets – home invasions – jewellery store heists – houses destroyed by wild parties – the violence of the gang known as APEX and terrorist cells known as ISIS. There were earthquakes, floods, cyclones fires and diseases including the deadly flu virus. It was a year of challenges for the church as it considered how it would respond to the two pieces of legislation introduced of assisted dying, or euthanasia, and same sex marriage. It was also a year that continued to point the spotlight on the abuse of children in the church and other institutions.
You wonder what 2018 will present. As we look at our past many wonder what is happening to our world. Many Christians believe that Christ’s return must be very close. We are becoming more advanced in our technology, medicine and knowledge but it seems the old primitive nature of humankind has not advanced at all from when Cain used violence to solve his problems with his brother Abel. Our world is no longer the world God created in the beginning which he declared “Very Good” It is for this very reason that God entered into our world through his Son Jesus Christ to show us the way out of it. That’s what St Paul declares in our 2nd reading today: When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. God has adopted us as his children so we are no longer heirs of this world but of the world to come. What Paul is saying is that our future is not here but in the world to come. But as you know, an inheritance is not received by an heir until death comes. And so until our death we are still under the effects of this world and all its ways. And that includes not just the human waywardness but also the waywardness of the world with floods, fire, earthquakes, climate change and all the other signs that our world is coming to an end rather than getting better. Even if this year were an amazing year of success and highlights, 2018 would still be a mystery because none of us know what lies ahead.
As Christians, we rely on God’s goodness that even if the year ahead brings us challenges that we find difficult, we cling to the promise made to Mary and Joseph that their child would be called “Immanuel” God with us. Joseph and Mary also relied on God’s promise to them because they will hear and experience things they never expected. From the very beginning, things weren’t very clear for either of them. Imagine the physical exhaustion they felt, especially Mary – pregnant and travelling to Bethlehem to register for the census. Mary was unwed – she was told she would give birth to the Son of God. Joseph was told the same thing and to trust God even though his first worldly inclination was to divorce her. Their child was born in a poor and needy environment – is that really how God would allow his own son to be born?
They took the infant Jesus to the temple to offer the required sacrifice but were too poor to offer a lamb as required so they offered a pair of doves or two young pigeons. They must surely wonder how God is going to provide for them? How on earth are they going to provide for their child? Mary and Joseph are like so many families today struggling to find money for their ever rising power bills – child care fees – even the bare necessities. Again we are reminded that God sent his Son into OUR world, OUR flesh, experiencing OUR struggles.
As Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple it’s interesting that Anna and Simeon both recognised that this baby Jesus was no ordinary baby. Why did they recognise this special baby among all the other people at the temple that day? Because they had been waiting for and expecting him to arrive: For Simeon we are told: 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 on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. For Anna we are told: She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Simeon and Anna were guided by the Holy Spirit to recognize God’s gift to the world. They had eyes of faith and saw the blessing God was giving.
With all the problems and uncertainties in the world, are people still looking to Jesus with the same enthusiasm and expectation? Or are we fearful and lacking trust in God? Are we confident enough to trust in God that whatever happens in 2018 he is there for us – Immanuel? Or will we continue to rely on our own strength. The birth of Jesus fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies as God is a God of promises which are irrevocable. And that’s what we are to take from Anna and Simeon. They knew that God would fulfil his promise to them that they would see God’s Saviour before they died. Even though they were aged they knew that God would fulfil his promise.
We too sometimes have to wait and go through difficult times. Sometimes that wait will continue till we are in heaven. But Jesus promised as did the angel Gabriel – “I am with you always – till the end of the age”. And it is after our encounter with Jesus today when we receive his body and blood in Holy Communion to reassure us of God’s presence and promise that we sing with Simeon: Now, Lord, You let Your servant go, in peace, according to Your word; For I have seen Your saving love, which You have shown to all of us. So as you go into 2018 go with the promise of Jesus, Emmanuel – I am with you always.