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Pastor Jack Langfeldt:

Good morning. Good morning. Merry Christmas to you!

Response: Merry Christmas!

Well, that’s a little bit better. Generally by this time in the year and especially considering the weather, everybody’s about ready to rip the decorations down and haul them out. But this is still Christmas. This is the first Sunday after Christmas, or in the old church, not the ancient church, but they used to call it the first Sunday of Christmas, always comes right after Christmas, even Christmas day. Only normally not a whole week away. So this is still Christmas. How many of you had a good Christmas? That’s good. Ask me next week how mine was, because we do our family Christmas next Saturday, so I’ve got grandsons and granddaughters that are going… But that’s okay. How many of you are ready for the new year?

You’ve practiced writing 2024 a hundred times, so it’ll show up right on the next form you have. It won’t, but that’s okay. We’re in this season where so many things are taking place and begin to overlap with one another. And so we get this odd conjunction of things going on. And one of the things a lot of people will think about or even talk about sometimes is how Christmas or how the holidays affect them. And people sometimes will say, “Did you have a comfortable holiday?” Yeah, I guess so. I wasn’t stuffed in the turkey this year, but what’s the word comfort mean?

We use it a lot. There are people to whom comfort means sitting in a chair, feet up, socks on, hot cocoa in their hand, and a fireplace in front of them, and that’s comfort. And some other people, comfort might be laying in a hammock, swinging in the breeze as the ocean waves break on the sandy shore. They’re both comfort, but that’s one type of comfort. For some people, comfort could be knowing that all of the bills for Christmas and for the year have been paid, that they’ve been able to be extremely generous, and there’s still a cushion in the bank. That’s comfort. And then we get these things where you go to the doctor, something’s happened.

Maybe you’ve been in the hospital and the doctor comes in and he says, “I’ve got good news. Nothing to worry about. You’re all set. Go home and resume your life.” And that’s comfort for some people. But one of the things we sometimes forget is that there are opposites to comfort. We recognize them and sometimes we understand them even better. So in your mind for a moment, have you experienced distress or heartache or heartbreak or torment or anguish this year?

How about loss and grief or maybe loneliness? Those are all the opposites of comfort. They are discomforting things, and that’s a lot of opposites that come into play, and we just don’t always handle them well. So we face pain and grief, the challenges of daily living, and I can tell you the last two months of this year have been very hard on our family, hard on me. We lost a daughter-in-law unexpectedly to a heart attack. My knee has decided it wants me to have surgery, but it won’t tell me when or where nor will the hospital. I’ve got constant pain. I’ve been in constant pain since 2006, but now I’ve got somebody I live with that’s also in constant pain and discomfort. Kind of rattles your life when we go through those things and what do we do about it? How do we cope? Ashley did a wonderful job talking with the children about it. I almost came up to get the blanket.

Yeah, I saw how fast she grabbed it. No, but one of the things that happens is how do we cope with all of the distresses? When Grant read that reading about Simeon this morning, there’s some guidance there, some direction as to how to cope with life in general and especially with discomforts, the pains and agonies and sorrows and losses of life. And it’s a wonderful text when Pastor Chris told me I was going to preach today, I looked at the lesson, the reading, and I’m going, “Oh yeah, I love this one. 30 years out of 43.” But I learned something new every time. And this time I learned something about Simeon that I wasn’t expecting.

If we look back at Luke 2:25, we get this wonderful statement, “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 on him.” See that word in yellow there? Can you all say it with me? Consolation. We don’t use that word a lot in English, but what’s really neat is the New Testament wasn’t written in English. It was written in Greek and the Greek word that’s used there, the Greek word for consolation is paracklesis. I don’t expect you to memorize it, don’t expect you to really remember it necessarily.

But what’s interesting is it is a Greek word that’s brought over from the Old Testament, from what’s called the Septuagint, the Jewish translation and creation of the Old Testament. And it means to be comforted, consoled, and encouraged, can mean one of those can mean all three of them at the same time. It’s just how it’s used in the statement while Simeon is looking for the consolation of Israel. So the consolation, the comfort that God would bring, the encouragement God would give, and then that kind of warm blankety feeling of it’s safe and I know God is with me. That attitude of Simeon’s is very different from a lot of people, whether in the day of Jesus or in our day.

What’s surprising about Simeon is something we see in that very next verse of Luke. We hear Luke say, “It had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” He was waiting for a specific comfort and encouragement and consolation. He was waiting because God said, “This is what you will see.” And what he would see is the Messiah, God’s Son. So when Simeon goes into the temple that day and sees this young family, he immediately goes over to them. Okay. That’s like some of you, you see a friend coming into church on Sunday, and you go up to them right away, shake hands, give them a hug, have a conversation. But Simeon’s situation is a little different. The temple area, which is what Luke says where this takes place, is 34 acres.

You’re going to be able to find your kid in 34 acres? We lost one of ours in a mall one time, and it took us 45 minutes and a security officer and two very sweet ladies to find her. And it wasn’t 34 acres. But Simeon immediately sees Mary and Joseph and the baby, he goes up to them and takes the baby in his arms. Wow. And then with Jesus in his arms, Simeon says this, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.” He’s holding the baby Jesus. And he tells God, “You have given me all of the comfort, the consolation, the encouragement I need. And now knowing that and believing that, you can take me home anytime you want.” That’s a man of faith, man of trust in God.

And he does this because of the comfort he is already receiving from God. But that account in Luke doesn’t stop with Simeon. There’s another person waiting and sees what’s going on and goes over to that little cluster of people. And Luke 2 starting at verse 36 tells us, “There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old. She had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage and then as a widow until she was 84. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day fasting and praying. And coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel.” And as an old lady. And she apparently is not only a widow for decades, but she also doesn’t have any children.

Because if she did, she’d be with them instead of virtually living in the temple courts, the temple area. And she’s had a long life, a life with a lot of discomforts and with a lot of insecurities maybe, but she trusts in the Lord. And so her longtime lack of personal family, her sense of loneliness, her sense of being discarded almost probably, she’s comforted by the baby Jesus, because she’s like Simeon. She recognizes who he really is. This isn’t a little 40-day-old baby.

Well, he is, but he’s also the Son of God. He’s the Messiah. He’s the one who is sent to comfort and encourage and console all of Israel and all of the world and Anna recognizing the child, praising God in front of the child. Then she goes and she does something really amazing. She tells everybody that she meets who is looking for the Messiah, that she’s met him, he’s here now and he is here for us. That’s pretty remarkable. Now, in the Christmas story, we learn a lot of things and we see a lot of things, but one of the things that’s always surprising is the people that go and tell others with great joy what they have seen in the baby Jesus. Anna’s one of them.

Do you remember who the others are? The shepherds. Not on the high caliber country club list, but good guys. And they go and tell the good news to everyone. Anna is that same type of person, someone who gets excited and enthused about God’s love and comfort and being a tool of the Holy Spirit encourages others to do the same. Pretty neat little story, one of my favorites. And I just love it because it applies so well. And that’s probably the point you’re at is, okay, how’s this going to apply to me?

Well, let me tell you, there are a couple of ways this applies to you. First of all, it applies in your own daily life. Are you being comforted and encouraged by the Lord because you have met him? As our mission statement says, have you experienced Jesus one-on-one? That’s the first thing I wish and pray for each of you. And then the second part comes because we have a human. And if you’re shot across the room, it’s working. Okay? That’s me. I’m not a handyman. I don’t play with electricity except to scare my grandkids now and then. I don’t play with natural gas because I don’t want to blow up. And I will play a little bit with plumbing because all you get there is wet and dirty. But I don’t want the neighbors to get wet and dirty. So one of the joys of living in an apartment complex is I call the maintenance guys and they come and fix things. And sometimes as I watch them, because I do enjoy watching people that are fix-it-uppers.

I realize I probably could have done the same job and gotten to the same point almost as quickly because things don’t always go the way they’re supposed to. And that’s okay. But now take that attitude. I can fix it, the handyman attitude, and turn it to your losses, your griefs, your sorrows, your pain. It just doesn’t work because what happens is as we focus on those distresses, discomforts, they build up and it becomes like building a brick wall around yourself. I have literally known a number, probably 20 or more people who after suffering a major stressor, major event, major loss, major grief in their lives, built a wall around themselves so much that they became like a hermit. And that’s not God’s plan.

God’s plan is for us with His help to grow through those losses, those pains, those agonies. The first thing He did for us to help us with that is sending the baby Jesus. And then through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, He grants us forgiveness of sin. And by grace, He calls us His own children. But even that sometimes gets blocked when we start thinking for ourselves and God does not heal our pain and losses in a vacuum. He does not come at two o’clock in the morning, tap you on the shoulder, make you stand up, put an acrylic tube over you and fill it with whatever you need to take away your pain. It’d be great if He did, but He doesn’t. Instead, what He does is He gives you other people to help you, to assist you, to walk beside you.

Christian brothers and sisters that you can rely on, that you can call upon, that you can let take your pain and share it and bear it and care for you through it. But the problem is how do you find somebody like that? Where do you find that brother or sister to walk with you in your distress? Well, sometimes you may already know them. Maybe a good friend of yours already. Great, wonderful. But the other thing God gives us is fellowship groups and small group ministry here at St. Mark does this. You’re in a group with 6, 8, 10, 12 other people. And one of the things that happens as you get to know one another, you begin to take on each other’s joys and pains, needs and thanksgivings. It’s a great place to find that consoler, comforter and encourager.

And so if you’re not in a small group, now is the time to start looking for one. You can do it online through I know we have spots in a lot of groups. Or even better, if you would like to start a new group, let Kelly know and she’ll help you by finding people to fill your group. And so we get this great caring going on. But there’s another thing. It’s not here yet. It’s coming in 2024, but we’re going to be starting a ministry here at St. Mark called Stephen Ministry. How many of you are familiar with that, the Stephen Ministry? Okay, A few of you. Really neat program.

What the Stephen Ministry does is prepare laypeople, that means all of us literally sometimes, to care and help those who have needs beyond which they can no longer cope or need help coping. And it’s generally done in a one-on-one setting. The caregivers are trained to do this. They’ve got some guidelines. They’ve got some things that they are advised to do, some other things don’t do, but the goal is to have them side-by-side with a person in need, providing care and comfort. As I said, that’s coming in 2024, be on the lookout for it as it pops in, but wonderful tool. So if that’s what God wants, if that’s what He gives us, what should I be praying?

Well, there’s a lot of things. Yesterday I spent almost four hours in prayer over this, so that’s a long time. But there’s a simpler solution. There’s a very old Christmas carol, probably one of the first English carols, that states very clearly what we should pray and what we should do. As a matter of fact, it’s when you sang this morning already, and it goes like this, “God rest ye, merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay, for Jesus Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray, O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy.”

The comfort that we pray for is the comfort brought by Jesus Christ our Savior and the need we have is to turn to him regularly. I pray that God’s comfort and joy is yours now and through the year ahead and for all eternity. I invite you to join your hearts with me in prayer. Gracious Heavenly Father, you surprised the people of Judea with the gift of your Son that first Christmas. You surprised Anna and Simeon in the temple with him, and you have surprised us with him wherever we have met him. We ask that you build our trust in him, that we turn to him in our needs, with our losses and sorrows, with our joys and celebrations.

And Lord, we ask that you forgive us for not turning to him but away from him. We ask, Lord, that in your love, you will help each of us to grow in our ability to care and comfort, to console and encourage those around us. And Lord, help us to turn to you when we are in grief or sorrow or anxiety, and help us turn to our Christian friends, our neighbors, those who we know, know us, and that we are open to being, to share with that they may also be your instruments of comfort and encouragement and consolation. We pray this, Lord laid on a cross and rose again for us, that we may have new life and it is in his name, that of Jesus Christ, amen.