"Christmas 02: Simeon's Song" - Tim Suttle

"Christmas 02: Simeon's Song"

by Tim Suttle


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2017.12.31 — Christmas 02 / Luke 2:21- — Simeon’s Song


In April of 2005, LA Times columnist Steve Lopez was walking down the street in downtown LA, when he passed a homeless man playing a violin. 

  • At first it didn’t register. 
  • It was not uncommon to hear street musicians in LA. 
  • But the quality of the music caught his attention & he stopped to listen.
  • The source was an African American man—with rough hands and sad eyes—who was playing a violin w/only 2 strings… he listened for awhile…
  • The two men struck up a conversation that day and soon became friends.


Homeless man —Nathaniel Ayers — was once a promising young musician. 

  • He was classically trained in the 1970s—Ohio University, then Ohio State, 
  • Finally landing a full scholarship to The Julliard School in NYC. 
  • He was a classmate w/Yo Yo Ma… best of the best — career in symphony.
  • But in his 3rd year at Julliard he had to withdraw from school. 
  • Ayers had schizophrenia, & he was in a full breakdown. 
  • He moved home for treatment, which involved: handcuffs, electric shock therapy, thorazine, and other anti-psychotic drugs.
  • After a few years of this, Ayers decided—rather than continue down that road— he would move to LA and make his home on the streets. (movie: soloist)


Now, the columnist who met Nathaniel Ayers that day had some personal connections with the LA Philharmonic… & he took Ayers to a performance. 

  • The symphony played Beethoven’s 1st and 4th Symphonies that day. 
  • The columnist took Ayers backstage to meet some of the musicians. 
  • He shook hands with a man named Robert Gupta. 
  • At the time Gupta was the youngest member of the LA Philharmonic. 
  • The two began talking. … Ayers was excited… His hands were flying.
  • He was talking a mile-a-minute, holding forth about: 
  • Yo Yo Ma, & Hillary Clinton, & how the Dodgers were never going to win the pennant … all because of the treacherous 1st violin passage work in Beethoven’s 4th symphony… a little nutty…


A few days later Gupta and Ayers were sitting together in the concert hall, where Gupta was supposed to be giving Ayers a violin lesson. 

  • Now, Ayers had be refusing treatment for schizophrenia for decades. 
  • Untreated schizophrenia meant manic states & psychotic breaks. 
  • On this day he was agitated, w/a manic look in his eyes, talking about invisible demons, & smoke, & how somebody was poisoning him in his sleep. 
  • Gupta was understandably… a little freaked out. 
  • This was his first exposure to mental illness. 

PT: So, instead of talking to Ayers about scales, and arpeggios, and other didactic forms of violin pedagogy… Gupta began to simply play his violin. [play 24:05 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIdqiis3Mts]


He played the first movement of the Beethoven violin concerto, and I want you to hear a little bit of the song itself. 

  • It’s this famously emotional & difficult piece of music. 
  • With these long intricate runs … this is from a long break in the middle
  • It’s impossibly difficult… building in intensity as the piece progresses… 
  • It’s kind of sad & confusing.
  • You can’t really think your way through the piece. 
  • You just have to sort of let it happen to you. 
  • I’m more of a Tom Petty kind of a guy but… this is a stunning piece of music.


And as Gupta played the first movement of Beethoven’s violin concerto a profound change occurred in the eyes of Nathaniel Ayers.

  • He began to settle down. 
  • He stopped talking a mile-a-minute and became quiet. 
  • As his mind began to engage with the music he sort of normalized. 
  • It was like he was under the influence of a powerful anti-schizophrenic drug.
  • And for awhile he could focus.
  • Then he lifted his own violin and began playing by ear, certain snippets of famous violin concertos… asking Gupta to complete them for him.
  • Works by Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Mozart… [fade out]


PT: It was miraculous… thru music, Ayers transformed from a paranoid, disturbed man walking the streets of downtown Los Angeles, to the charming, brilliant Julliard trained musician that he was. For a few moments there was order in the chaos. 


If you could draw a picture of Ayers’ mind: There were periods his life during which Ayers was functional enough to become a world class musician. 

  • His mind held order.
  • You know, classical music is quite orderly. 
  • There’s pitch, tenor, dynamics, meter, emotion… 
  • There are the physics involved
  • The instrument & the strings, the body & the bow… 
  • It all has to be ordered in just the right way.
  • When it’s so, the sound is simply beautiful. 
  • And there were long periods of his life where Nathaniel Ayers could get to that place of order & beauty.



But there were other times when Ayers’ mind was in chaos, a profound dis-order. 

  • In the grips of schizophrenia Ayers was dysfunctional as a human being. 
  • He couldn’t hold down a job or keep a place to live. 
  • There was this part of his mind that could be ordered—even genius. 
  • And there was this part of his mind that was dark and dis-ordered & chaotic. 
  • And in between the two was music… ^^^^^^^^^^^
  • Gupta discovered that music was a kind of bridge btwn the order & chaos. 


PT: Music was almost like a MAP Ayers could use to move from the world of chaos, to a world of order… music was a MAP that led the way through the perplexing quagmire of schizophrenia to a place of order and even beauty—even it for only a few moments.


Our text for today is sort of a similar story. It’s about a song that helps to bring a new order to the chaotic story of Israel & their God & how Jesus changed everything


You know, in the ancient world they didn’t use MAPs to navigate the world.

The MAP was always a human map – a human guide.

  • You want to know which way to go, you have to stop & ask directions.
  • If you meet someone on the road, you'd talk about where you are (& going).


MAPS in the ancient world actually weren’t even drawn in order to be accurate, or even to be used in navigation

  • Maps were not used to tell the way to go
  • Maps were used to interpret the world
  • Take a look at this map from the Middle Ages (PIC)
  • It depicts Jerusalem as the center of the world.


This map reflected the ancient Jewish belief that JER was=holiest place on earth.

  • And it was holy because that’s where the temple was.
  • And the temple was incredibly important to the people of God.
  • Because the temple was the focus of God’s action & presence in the world. 
  • The temple was the place God still worked in the world.
  • So their maps portrayed this reality.
  • That’s why Jerusalem is drawn at the center.


PT: Maps weren’t geographical, they were Cosmological. 


Cosmology: is the philosophy that deals with the origin, structure, and fate of the universe – how they fit together & function… that’s cosmology.


And the Hebrew Cosmology was a little bit like the mind of Nathaniel Ayers:


HEAVEN wasn’t the place you went when you died (that was sheol)..

  • Heaven was the place where God lived w/God’s angels… a place of ORDER.
  • A wholly other dimension for the God who was wholly other.
  • Heaven was the place where God lived – that’s a cosmology.


EARTH was God’s creation – where God’s goodness could be on display.

  • But, people had jacked it up… earth had been corrupted… 
  • It had fallen into CHAOS.
  • Heaven & earth were separated by this corruption: ~~~~~~
  • Corruption was like a veil between the two realms.


Israel believed that the only place in the world that these two spheres still overlapped & interlocked, was in the TEMPLE: 


  • That’s a cosmological claim
  • So… the temple wasn’t just a church, it was a foretaste of the KOG
  • It was a MAP of the way the whole world was supposed to be
  • We sometimes say: Ought….  Is…   Can be…


That’s why the Israelites loved the temple & fought for it:

  • That’s why they travelled there 3 times a year
  • That’s why it was drawn at the center of the maps.


PT: Because the Temple was the place where Heaven & earth overlapped, and they could get a glimpse of the way the world CAN BE… and this inspired great HOPE …for the day when all of the earth would experience this reality.


Now Jesus was born just outside of Jerusalem, in the City of David, which is called Bethlehem… & he had an interesting relationship with the temple.


One of the first scenes from JS's life concerns the temple… from Luke 2:21


“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. 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 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’”




So, this is the record of JS’s circumcision & consecration as per Jewish custom.

  • …and it might seem like just a religious ritual… but it’s more than that.
  • REMEMBER: Everything that happens at the temple is meant to be a living example of what the world will be like when heaven invades earth.
  • Circumcision wasn’t just a ritual – it was a MAP… 
  • A picture of the way the world CAN BE – this was a huge deal
  • And the way that we know it was a huge deal…
  • Is that they come to the temple to do it.


v.21 – “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child.” Circumcision was a picture of being in a covenant relationship with God.

  • The temple is where people came in order to be in relationship w/God


v.21 – “…and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

  • Jesus was officially named here.
  • He was given an identity before God.


v.22 – “…they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’).” 

  • This is describing the ritual of consecration.
  • Consecration was about being given a purpose before God


v.24 – “… they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord.”

  • the sacrifice is a picture of being forgiven by God.
  • This all happened at the temple


PT: So the TEMPLE is the place where heaven and earth come together. So the people would do certain things at the TEMPLE which reminded them of the way the world CAN BE when God & humans come into contact. 


At the TEMPLE – these amazing things happen! It’s where people who are:

  • Outcasts come into a covenant relationship with God – that’s circumcision
  • Nobodies, become somebodies – they’re given an identity — that’s naming.
  • No purpose are given divine purpose – that’s consecration.
  • Broken & sinful find forgiveness & restoration – that’s sacrifice.


PT: And so… Israel loves the temple because this is the place where God does these amazing things for them. But they are always waiting for the day when God’s plan to put the world to rights will extend outside the temple & will be true of the whole earth. Now we come to the heart of our text for today & the power of a song:

Luke 2:25-33 – Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 


Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’ 


So Simeon has been waiting his whole life because he believes God has spoken to him through the Holy Spirit & told him that he will see the Messiah.

  • For decades… Simeon watched & waited.
  • He prayed & kept vigil … keeping hope alive.
  • Believing that the Messiah would come
  • We don’t know how long he waited – we only know that his conviction was that: with Jesus’s birth, the wait was over!!


Simeon took JS from the arms of his parents & sang this little song (…in verse):

  • Essentially saying: “I can die a happy man – for I have seen Messiah.”
  • It’s a song of New Orientation… it gives a new map of the world.
  • Jesus isn’t an ordinary Jewish boy.
  • Simeon’s eyes might have been looking at Jesus.
  • But they were seeing: God’s salvation… Messiah… a light to the Gentiles… a glory to your people Israel. 


Then it says: “And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and 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, so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’”


Geeze – It’s like he started out so well & he has to end with that?

  • The hope of the world—that’s good.
  • What’s this about the rise & fall of many… and a sword piercing Mary’s soul?
  • Well… Simeon’s been waiting on this his whole life.
  • He’s also been meditating on what this will mean 4 the world.
  • And Simeon says that how a person relates to this Jesus
  • Will reveal the HEART of that person.
  • How they relate to Jesus will disclose their true motivation
  • Many will oppose Jesus’s project.
  • There’s a hint of violence & conflict in the song: a sword will pierce your soul
  • Immediately the mind goes to the cross, his side pierced while Mary watched
  • And we think of how her soul was pierced that day as well.


PT: See JS is not just heaven & order… JS is going to move against the chaos & the dis-order of the world. Jesus is going to be the way order heaven invades earth… the way order comes to the chaos & some people will resist this—even violently.


From that moment on, Jesus had an interesting relationship with the temple.

  • Luke 2:41 says every year his parents took JS to the Temple for Passover.
  • When he was 12 – his parents actually left JER without him… for 3 days.
  • They came back frightened… but he was there in the temple – blowing the priests away with his understanding of the scripture
  • Mary & Joseph were upset.
  • But Jesus said, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 
  • He was closely bonded to the temple even as a boy.


Later in his life JS said & did interesting things at the temple.

  • He drove out the money changers in the temple.
  • He drew attention to the widows mite in the temple.
  • He said “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here,” (meaning himself)
  • He said, “I am able to destroy the temple & rebuild it in three days.” 


PT: Jesus began acting and talking as if the whole idea of the temple & all of the rituals that were performed there & the promises that were hoped for there – Jesus was talking and acting like those things were all pointing to HIM!


Remember what happens at the Temple, this place where Heaven invades earth?

  • Outcasts come into relationship w/God
    • Think of JS’s his rag-tag disciples & how he accepted tax coll…
  • Nobodies become somebodies – get a new identity.
    • Jesus renamed Simon=Peter; Saul=Paul; James/Jon=sons…
  • People find a purpose for their lives
    • Think “Go into all nations & make disciples…” 
    • think of the sermon on the mount… this was their purpose
  • People find forgiveness for their sins
    • Jesus would just pronounce people forgiven… all the time.


PT: It’s like… the moment Jesus was born into this world – the word of Promise that God had made of Messiah & deliverer… The promise which had been kept alive in the TEMPLE thru rituals & liturgies – that word of promise became flesh in Jesus. 

All the sudden: TEMPLE is not the place where heaven & earth overlap – JESUS is the place where heaven & earth overlap. (draw line thru temple, write Jesus)

  • Wherever he goes, people come into relationship with God.
  • People find identity, and purpose, and forgiveness.
  • Jesus was behaving as if God’s kingdom was present in his body. 
  • And it was no longer confined to the temple.
  • God was invading earth through Jesus.


But Simeon was right. Many opposed him. And on the cross, with his last breath he says “it is finished,” & we’re told something happens in the temple – you remember?

  • The veil that separates the people from the presence of God
  • That veil is torn from top to bottom — even in death he transforms the temple
  • Something fundamental changed in the world that day…never been the sam


You see from the very beginning, God has been on a mission of redemption. 

  • God wants a new map of the world. 
  • God is trying to get us to sing a new song that will re-orient our lives.
  • God wants heaven & earth to kiss… to come together… 
  • “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” = his prayer.


The TEMPLE = temporary picture of what it’d be like when heaven invaded earth.

  • Then JESUS came, and Jesus was heaven invading earth
  • Then came PENTECOST  the Spirit of Christ inhabits the church
    • And people invite Jesus into their homes / lives / & suddenly:
    • Heaven began invading the whole earth through people of God!


PT: It used to be the temple was the place where heaven & earth overlapped. Then it was the person of Jesus – that was the place where heaven and earth overlapped. Then Jesus established this new community… the CHURCH … the body of Christ. 


God is invading the earth thru the church: (Draw church like funnel … into world)

  • Paul says, “You yourselves are God’s temple.”
  • Paul taught, “For we are the temple of the living God.”
  • God’s not stuck behind a curtain in the temple
  • Heaven was invading earth thru Christ, first … & now through the church


So, the place where heaven and earth overlaps is the CHURCH: your life and my life – and especially in our common life together.

  • Our common life is the place where heaven and earth overlap. 
  • We have become a portal through which heaven is invading earth bringing order & beauty to the chaos.
  • We sing a new song that can actually reorient the lives of those around us.

Jesus doesn’t just give us a new religion, he gives a new COSMOLOGY… a new map of the world, & what’s happening & where it’s all going.

  • And Jerusalem isn’t at the center, or the temple…
  • Jesus is at the center of a whole new Map… a new cosmology.
  • And he sings a new song… of peace & redemption.
  • And inasmuch as we are “in Christ” we become part of this new life… then: 


PT: We become the Map for the rest of the world to follow. We sing an ancient song that helps reorient our fellow travelers, so that they too can find their way back to God.


So, this poses a very interesting question for each of us. 

If the world is following you, where will you take it?

  • What kind of song do you sing to the people in your life?
  • Is heaven invading earth thru your life?


What kind of song do you sing at work or in school?

  • Achievement? How to get ahead at all costs?
  • Is it all about making money or climbing the ladder of success?
  • Or is it about how to let heaven invade earth through you?
  • However that may be … & it doesn’t have to look like everybody else.
  • The world needs good & kind bosses… workers who bring order into chaos.


What kind of song to you sing at home?

  • Is it song about how you’re so busy you don’t really have time for your kids?
  • So they learn that they are really not worth the time?
  • Is it an angry song—a little Alanis Morrisette—a way to control others?
  • So your kids & spouse learn they only receive love when they please you?


What kind of song do you sing in your neighborhood?

  • A song that says: “Leave me alone—I’m too busy to be friends w/neighbors.”
  • What kind of song do you sing to your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers.
  • What kind of map of the world does your life draw for them
  • Is heaven invading earth through your life?


Here’s how you can tell: when we sing this new song… when Jesus is invading the earth through out lives… then certain things happen.

  • Things that used to only happen at the temple.
  • Then for awhile they only happened wherever Jesus went.
  • After his ascension, they happen wherever his followers sing his new song:




Certain things start to happen:

  • Outcasts come into relationship w/God—homeless, immigrants, broken ppl.
  • Nobodies become somebodies – get a new identity… part of this new family.
  • Strugglers find a new purpose for their lives… part of God’s mission of RED.
  • Broken people find forgiveness and redemption in all 4 directions…


PT: God was once in his holy temple – the place where heaven & earth overlapped. Then God became human and Jesus became the place heaven & earth overlapped. Then Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into the world & he actually said, “You’ve seen me do amazing things. You will do even more than I have done if you will just have faith in me, if you’ll just follow after me… if you’ll just sing my song…”


Then you… CHURCH … will become the place where heaven and earth overlap. Where heaven invades earth & sets people free & brings peace.

  • That’s how you tell what kind of song you are singing.
  • If that’s happening in your life, then you are singing this new song.
  • It’s part of why it’s so important to be part of this church.
  • You know my confidence that I can pull this off in my life is not always high.
  • But I’m very confident that when I join up w/you guys & this ragamuffin church
  • We can do this together.
  • Redemption Church is not just a church.
  • We are the conduit thru which the KOG is breaking into the world.
  • It transforms us first—by Gods love & grace.
  • Then it sends us out into the world on a mission of redemption.
  • And your life becomes the place that heaven & earth overlap.
  • People come into relationship w/god
  • People find identity, and purpose, and forgiveness.
  • God is invading the world thru Redemption Church.
  • You and I get to be a part of that & it’s beautiful.


[ Get ready to play the video—start it on the last line, “something beautiful” ]


PT: When Heaven invades the earth, it’s like a homeless man in the throes of untreated schizophrenia, who tunes up his 2 strings on the violin & he plays the best he can & suddenly order comes into the chaos, life replaces death… and where there was only brokenness… suddenly there is something beautiful. PLAY THE VIDEO