December 31, 2023 Sermon – I’ll Bet You Didn’t Know Rafiki was in the Bible

Our son Matt really dislikes glitter. He rants loud and long when he opens a greeting card and glitter that is no longer stuck to the card comes out of the envelope.

His issue is that it gets all over the place and goes in every different direction.

Kind of like today’s sermon No three points and an illustration. No tell them, them what I said, and say it again. No one topic that I hone in with my verbal laser.

Nope. The glitter is spilling out everywhere. My hope is that you hear something that sticks. Others hear something else.
I will comment on our Gospel passage as we read through it.

Luke 2:21-40
21  After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was
conceived in the womb.
22  When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 
23  (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 
24  and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Luke begins this scene by telling us the Family is participating in three different religious ceremonies.

Circumcision – Prescribed by God to Abraham to denote the people’s part of the covenant: I will be your God and you shall be my people. In Genesis 17, God said to Abraham, “You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you…every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old.”

The family is doing what the People have always done to symbolize God with us. So appropriate, because Luke makes a big deal of Jesus name which literally means God with us. Jesus is with us!!!

Second ceremony: Mary’s ritual purification after giving birth. Perhaps because they couldn’t afford the prescribed sheep so they brought two turtledoves or two young pigeons. This may be an instance of the Holy Family being of humble circumstances financially. God uses us whatever our circumstances.

We may not be the richest people in the world. We may be part of a church that is struggling financially, but that is nothing new to God or People of God. God takes whatever we offer, whatever humble offering we make and uses it.

Romans 8:28, We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

The Third Ceremony: Dedication of the First Born – Historically, the first- born son was offered to the Lord. Here in ritual, Jesus takes up the name Son of God.

John 3:16, ‘ For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal
life. What’s interesting is that Dr. Luke the Greek physician, didn’t get the ceremonies completely correct, but it wasn’t his emphasis. You can almost hear him saying “Whatever!” when someone more proficient in the law and Bible study corrected him.

We probably aren’t as proficient as some when it comes to Bible study, but it mustn’t keep us from reading, using and taking and applying life lessons from the Scriptures.

25  Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this
man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of

Man of God, Simeon was a Pharisee. When I say Pharisee, what is the first thing you want to do? I want to boo! It seems like a perfectly acceptable prejudice. Pharisee, boo!

Matthew 7:1, Judge not, lest ye be judged. Anybody Simeon is a Phar, and he seems like an Old Testament character. But there
is something new and exciting about Simeon. He looks forward. He is not a backward thinker. He isn’t waiting for it to be 1,000 B.C. again. He isn’t worried about the past high times of Judaism. He is looking forward. An Old Testament man with a new and fresh outlook. One of my heroes, pitcher Satchell Paige was famous for saying, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.”

And the Holy Spirit rested on him.

This is the 1st Holy Spirit reference. Very general.

26  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

Holy Spirit reference 2. More specific, but still general. He would live to see the Christ / Savior / Messiah.

27  Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple;

Holy Spirit reference 3. Most specific. He was personally guided by the Holy Spirit in that moment in time. There is no coincidence here. He was pushed into the Temple by God’s very Spirit.

The Holy Spirit works in our lives in general nebulous ways we might never recognize or understand. The Holy Spirit generally guides and leads us. The Holy Spirit also works very specifically sometimes. As Pastor Kim Nofel is very fond of saying, for us as Christians, there are no coincidences.

And when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, The Family “runs into” Simeon. What are the odds? As we assume this is the eighth and last day of Hanukkah – the Temple is packed full of worshipers. It would be like running into that old classmate from Paul Laurence Dunbar High
School, in St. Peter’s basilica in the Vatican on Easter Sunday. What are the odds?

There are no coincidences in the Holy Spirit as Simeon and the long awaited child come together.

28  Simeon took him in his arms

Frightening moment for the parents. Some old guy comes out of nowhere, snatches up my child from my arms. Holds him aloft in the midst of the throng.

Remember Rafiki, the Mandril from the Lion King? This is what I always imagine Simeon does. Holds him high over his head and sings!

(Simeon) praised God, 29  “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace according to your word;

I can go to heaven happy. It is all fulfilled for me. I have seen and proclaim Savior in the flesh. The Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled.

30  for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31  which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32  a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

This Pharisee takes our hearts and minds back to the glory days of the People Israel by proclaiming God’s Messiah has come to bring God’s people glory.

In formal language this learned man hearkens back to the prophet Isaiah 40:5, “Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together…my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” This old-fashioned man proclaims something brand new. God’s Savior is for non-Jews, the Gentiles, and for ALL PEOPLE who believe. Simeon, proclaims Jesus’s salvation for all the world when our Lord is 8 days old.

Did you hear me. Jesus loves me, Jesus loves you – This I know, for the Bible through the voice of Simeon tells me so – tells you so!

33  And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 

I have always been hard on mom and dad for their constant amazement and confusion. Think about how disorienting the first baby of any family is, and add to that the miracles of the Christmas story. Things seem to be calming down, just doing the normal church stuff and then wham! How much is that like life? Just going along to get along, and then WHAM! We recognize God is here.

34  Then Simeon blessed THEM

Pay attention to the pronoun. Simeon blessed “them.” The child’s father and mother. Both receive the blessing.
But then Simeon addresses Mary alone:

And (Simeon) said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 

Maybe he has Holy Spirit knowledge that Joseph won’t be around during Jesus’ earthly ministry? There are no references to his presence later in the Gospels. It is shocking that the Pharisee, Simeon predicts that Jesus will reject the righteous. Jesus will eat with sinners and prostitutes. Luke 5:31-32, “The Son of Man did not come to save the righteous but the sinner.”

35  So that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed

Time and again we read, “Knowing what they were thinking or murmuring amongst themselves” Jesus never lets the righteous get away with their high muckty-muck thinking. He always teaches a lesson and advocates for the those
who not self-righteous. That’s you folks. (Luke 5:21-22; 6:8; 11:17; 20:14)

And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Mary will share her son’s rejection by the establishment. She will have the greatest grief a mother can have, watching her son’s suffering and his death. Mothers are supposed to die before their children. Is it any wonder mothers through the century have had an affinity for Mother Mary?

This is also a message for us. This Christian thing is the most joyful existence imaginable: Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say Rejoice! But it isn’t always easy or smooth. As I heard a preacher once say, “If the mountain were
smooth, we wouldn’t be able t climb it.”

36  There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.

You gotta realize how earth shattering the words we just read are. Prophet Anna. She is only one of 5 in the whole Bible who is called prophet by name and the only one in the NT. This gives her an incredible credibility. And if that wasn’t enough, Luke gives her more as he continues to describe Anna.

She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 
37  then as a widow to the age of eighty-four.

Her great age also puts her on a high pedestal. In the first century Middle East, the life expectancy was between 30-35 years. Now the original Greek is unclear. Anna is either 84 years old or the extraordinary age of 104 years old. We
aren’t sure, but the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of those years puts this Prophet of God in a special category. You need more credentials? She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and
prayer night and day.

Day and night since she was widowed at the age of 20 she worshiped. She lived in the Temple with God for eons. Anna the Prophet, one who speaks with God. Then one who speaks for God.

Her prayers were set Jewish prayers she recited over and over. And prayers from her heart – being in God’s presence whispering to the Lord and listening as the Lord whispers to her. Good lesson: prayer isn’t just talk, talk, talking to God; but being quiet sometimes and listening to the Lord and sometimes hearing the
unexpected or even what I don’t want to hear.

And there is absolutely nothing the matter with praying the so-called rote prayers. So often when I am praying with the dying, I whisper in their ear the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23 or sing Amazing Grace, and their lips move one more
time and we pray together.

38  At that moment Anna came,

Anna just happened by during Simeon’s song. No coincidences – remember? She is in that Church day and night, she’s sure to be around when the Lord’s Messiah appears. As a prophet, she is going to recognize Him when he
comes. And (Anna) began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Unlike Simeon her prophecy is not quoted. She was a wise, but simple woman. As a woman she would have had no formal training or schooling. She most likely praised God and spoke about his Son in the simplest and most heartfelt ways.

When praying and sharing our faith, we don’t have to pray in quotable quotes. The Lord is way happy with simple / sincere prayers rather than saying just the right thing in just the right language. Simeon and Anna simply appear out of nowhere and then disappear almost immediately. God uses us in the particular moment and at the particular times. God uses us no matter our back story does and will use us.

Also being called to a particular ministry at a particular time and place does not mean it is a life-long job. God will use you in the times, places and ways God chooses, “For a time such as this.” Esther 4:14.

New Years is a good time to remember God’s great assurance.

I want to leave you with the great assurance that I am constantly reciting to myself and my family:

Jeremiah 29:11-14, For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD.


ABOUT REV. STEVE NOFEL: Steve was originally ordained in another denomination 32 years ago. He has been a PCUSA pastor for 28 plus years. His wife, Kim, is also a PCUSA pastor. Right after they were married, they moved to her first call in southeast Nebraska. Steve fell into interim / transitional ministry and found his calling. He served as an interim minister for 11 years. Then Kim and Steve became co-pastors for 12 years in Cortez, Colorado. After leaving Cortez, he once again found his niche in transitional ministry. Steve has been serving congregations in Baltimore Presbytery as “Staff Interim” for the last year.