Rev’d Trevor McCracken
Many years ago, I used to work in downtown Auckland
and during my lunch break I would frequently go to watch
the Christian artist and painter Graham Braddock paint
one of his masterpieces. Graham had a small studio and
art display nearby on the enclosed pedestrian over-bridge
to the downtown centre from where I worked at what was
Air New Zealand House on one Queen Street. Today
this building is now a bank and the downtown centre
demolished with that site now having a 39-story tower
block being built.
I am no artist however I was fascinated with Graham’s
artistic work and skill. I often saw Graham start his
paintings with a background of colour that sometimes
was bright, sometimes dull, however you always
wondered what will actually appear in the main part of it.
In other words, what was he actually painting? I would
return a few days later and discover some amazing
picture that was complete or near complete; from out of
the background colouring came something stunning.
In his Gospel beginnings, Luke has painted the
background to a picture and now we wait for him to fill in
the details, tell the story of his picture. We wonder what
story will he tell, and what colour will he give it?
Sometimes stories give the most unexpected answers.
While working for Meals on Wheels that deliver lunches
to the elderly, a mother used to take her 4-year- old
daughter on her rounds. Her daughter was unfailingly
intrigued by the various appliances of old age, particularly
the canes, walkers and wheelchairs. One day, the
mother found her daughter staring at a pair of false teeth
soaking in a glass. As the mum braced herself for the
inevitable barrage of questions, her daughter merely
turned and whispered,The tooth fairy will never believe
Luke in his gospel gives us the picture of Jesus as the
true world leader: The Lord, the Messiah, the Saviour, the
real king instead of Caesar, the most powerful man in the
world at that time acknowledged by many. Luke in the
beginning of Chapter 2 grounds today’s reading clearly
with reference to Caesar Augustus. How easy it would
be for Luke to fill in this picture about Jesus in glowing,
royal colours, giving us a sense of future glory, world
domination, power and majesty. However, Luke does the
Luke chooses sombre colours; and the more he fills in
the picture the more we realise that this is a different sort
of kingdom to that of Caesar Augustus. It is indeed what
God had promised; but, not for the last time, Luke is
warning us that it doesn’t look like what people had
In particular, this is becoming a story about suffering.
Simeon is waiting for God to comfort Israel. Anna is in
touch with the people who are waiting for the redemption
of Israel. They are both living in a world of patient hope,
where suffering has become a way of life. It now appears
that God’s appointed redeemer will deal with this
suffering by sharing it himself. Simeon speaks dark
words about opposition, and about a sword that will
pierce Mary’s heart as well.
So this, Luke is saying, is what happens when the
Kingdom of God confronts the kingdom of this world.
Luke invites us to watch, throughout the story, as the
prophecies come true. Mary will look on in dismay as her
son is rejected by the very city to which he offered the
way of peace, by the very people he had come to rescue.
Finally, the child who is, as Simeon says, ‘placed here to
make many in Israel fall and rise again’, Jesus himself
passes through death and into resurrection, taking with
him the hopes and fears of the city, the nation and the
But if Luke is colouring in the picture with dark notes of
suffering, he is also showing that the kingdom brought by
this baby is not for Israel only, but for the whole world.
Simeon had grasped the truth at the heart of the Old
Testament, which Luke is careful to note that Jesus and
his parents fulfilled. It is this; that when Israel’s history
comes to its God-ordained goal, then at last, light will
dawn for the whole world. All the nations, not just the
Jews, will see what God is unveiling – a plan of salvation
for all people without distinction.
This will be the true glory of Israel itself, to have been the
bearer of the promise, the nation in and from whom the
true world ruler would arise: ‘A light for revelation to the
Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’ This is not
the sort of glory Israel wanted, but true revelation and
true glory none the less.
Luke adds yet another human dimension to the story. By
the time the first two chapters of his gospel are finished,
almost all his readers will have found someone in the
story with whom they can identify. We have the older
couple, Zachariah and Elizabeth in Chapter 1, surprised
to have a child at last, later known as John the Baptist.
We have the young girl Mary even more surprised to
have a child so soon, and her husband Joseph coming
with her to the Temple, offering the specified sacrifice.
Soon we will read in the next section of Luke, that Jesus
himself is on the threshold of young adult life. Now, in
this passage, we have the old man Simeon and woman
Anna, waiting their turn to die, worshipping God night and
day and praying for the salvation of his people. Luke
wants to draw readers of every age and stage of life into
his picture. No matter who or where you are, the story of
Jesus, from the feeding-trough in Bethlehem to the empty
tomb and beyond, can become your story.
Let’s be clear, I am not saying that you should die as a
sin sacrifice for the whole world because you can’t, only
Jesus can and has done this once and for all at Calvary,
but we all have a part to play in the redemption of the
world, our city, our suburb, or street, or home. Everybody
has their own role in God’s plan. For some, it will be
active, obvious, working in the public eye, perhaps
preaching the gospel or taking the love of God to meet
the practical needs of the world. For others, it will be
quiet, away from the public view, praying faithfully for
God to act in fulfilment of his promises. For many, it will
be a mixture of the two, sometimes one, sometimes the
other. Mary and Joseph needed Simeon and Anna at
that moment; the old man and the old woman needed
them, they had been waiting for them, and now thanked
God for them. The births of John the Baptist and Jesus
are already beginning their work, of drawing people of all
sorts into new worship and fellowship.
But what about us? What is your calling in this great big
masterpiece of God, a painting that covers the whole
universe? Your calling maybe within this church or
elsewhere, but rest assured God has a plan for each and
every one of you. You are responsible to discover it.
God is calling his people to fulfil his plans and be placed
in his masterpiece. Tomorrow we start a new year. Are
you willing to say ‘yes’? What is your response?