Presentation Of Our Lord Sunday: Living in Expectation Of The Unexpected

Today we are taking a bit of a detour on our journey through the season of Epiphany because on the official, historic church calendar today is "Presentation of Our Lord" Sunday.  

The story that is part of the lectionary reading from the Gospel of Luke today is a story of long-awaited expectation.  

In Luke 2, Mary and Joseph bring the months-old baby Jesus to Jerusalem to be presented at the Temple for a blessing, which was a solemn religious tradition in first-century Hebrew culture.  

As they approach the Temple they encounter two very interesting characters--Anna the prophetess and Simeon, both of whom had been fixtures in and around the Temple for decades.  

Both of them had been waiting for the Messiah, or as it was more formally "the consolation of Israel."  They had lived through a lot of change---the incursion of the Romans, the reign of Herod, war, oppression, struggle, and strife. 

They had watched as the leaders of the Temple made religion a big business that was conflated with politics, and nothing at all like what they remembered from their youth.  And they had spent much of their adult life patiently waiting for the arrival of the Savior, trusting that God would keep God's promises to God's people. 

Even when it didn't seem like it would happen. 

But these two faithful people got to see the desire of their heart... Simeon was moved by the Spirit to approach Mary and Joseph and when he saw the baby Jesus, he knew... and he said this: 

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss[d] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

Anna approaches them moments later and delivers the news that the baby in Mary's arms was indeed the promised Messiah.  

At the end of their lives... after waiting... and waiting... on a random day... they looked upon a tiny baby and saw the face of God with us.  

I got to thinking about this story this week and I started wondering about waiting, and why it's so hard to do.  I mean how long are we willing to wait in expectation for the world to be better, for things to change, for rescue to come...?  

There is so much immediacy in our culture right now that I feel like it's become more and more difficult for us to actually wait on things.  

There is some interesting psychology that surrounds waiting in lines.  In fact, there has been a ton of research done on how to keep people waiting in lines for longer with less anxiety, more patience, and the like. 

Lines at Disney

Disney has learned something very valuable.  "The memory of an event is more important than the experience itself."  

So if they can create positive feelings about the experience, including the unexpected joys of the wait time---it creates a positive memory, which leads to nostalgia, which keeps people coming back. 

Anna and Simeon lived expectantly.  They never lost sight of the hopeful vision of a new world.  And because they constantly lived in expectation of the unexpected---they were ready to see what God was doing when the moment came.  

Today we're going to talk about the unexpected ways God's presence is revealed to us---and why it's important for us to live expectantly.  

We're going to read through a Psalm that would have been sung by people like Mary and Joseph, like Anna and Simeon as they approached the Temple, filled with the expectation of the unexpected God. 

Here's what I want us to know today:  Experiencing God's Presence Is Always An Unexpected Expectation.  

Psalm 84

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
2 My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
    they are ever praising you.[c]
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.[d]
7 They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion.
8 Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
    listen to me, God of Jacob.
9 Look on our shield,[e] O God;
    look with favor on your anointed one.
10 Better is one day in your courts
    than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
    from those whose walk is blameless.
12 Lord Almighty,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you.
 
This Psalm is one of the Song of Ascents---A song filled with the expectation of God's presence.  As I said, it was a song that people who were on a pilgrimage to the Temple would sing on the road, and as the Temple was in sight, towering above everything else. 

The expectation would have been palpable---as they journeyed they would have been filled with excitement.  The Divine Presence was believed to be in the Holy of Holies.  Still something that is believed by the faithful who gather at the Western Wall.  

The song revealed that's not just about the destination, though.  Baca reveals God, too.  The dessert place---not sure where it is---but still streams burst forth in the dusty ground.  There is memory in this song---the collective memory of God's presence with God's people.  

The Temple is special---a place of holiness and communal adoration, a place you'd expect to find God... but God isn't confined to the Temple.  God dwells among us.  
John's Gospel - The Message, the Word took on flesh and moved into our neighborhood.  

Bottom line:  You can expect God to show up in the most unexpected places.  So live in expectation of that.  Live ready.  Be patient and wait, trusting that the unexpected God will never cease to surprise you with where that God will show up. 

Let me ask you a question:  

1. Where do you expect to find God?  Does it need expanding?  

Lots of us thought that we found God when we went to church.  But then that all changed.  What do we do when all of the ways we used to expect the presence of God to be revealed to us are shut down?  

If we aren't living in expectation of the unexpected ways God shows up, we run the risk of missing out on experiencing that presence.  The Psalmist sings of a God who shows up in the worst, driest, desert places in your life... along with the Temple... and ten thousand other places...  

The Psalmist begins to cast a vision for the "courts" of God that is bigger than any man-made space.  God cannot be contained in a building.  God's courts are everywhere.  

2. How can you faithfully live in expectation of the unexpected with this kind of vision?  

How do you maintain your readiness when sometimes it feels as though God will never show up... will never really fix what's wrong in the world? 

Patience and trust don't come easy, but they are vital for us to live in constant expectation of the God who shows up unexpectedly as a rule, and not an exception.  Here's how to foster patience and trust, though... 

Realize it is in the journey where God is often revealed, and not always in the destination.  If you charge headlong toward the future, thinking that is where all will be revealed, you miss out on what is happening around you.  Be patient.  Look around you.  Be ready. 

Trust is something that is built from memory.  You look back at the moments where you felt God's presence unexpectedly... You remember... You retell the stories of your forebears...  

And then you stand ready.  You live in expectation of the unexpected.  

Story of Unexpected God Moment... 


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