Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” This is part of Elizabeth’s conversation with Mary just a few months before Christmas, as Mary visits her relative ahead of the birth of John the Baptist. What Elizabeth is saying is that God always keeps His promises. He has never let His people down. What He says, He does. He may not fulfill His promises immediately, but when the time is right, He does.
He promised Israel that He would give them their own land, that they would prosper and become a mighty nation. But as they languished under Egyptian slavery, it didn’t seem like He would. But then He raised up Moses who came and told Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” He didn’t at first, but God kept His promise. The children of Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry ground and left Egypt. Forty years later, they entered the land promised to them by God.
But we know what happens in Israel’s history. They disobey greatly and over time they are divided and eventually overtaken. They are carried off into exile by Babylon’s sad waters. But God promised them comfort. He promised that they would be brought back to their own land, He promised them that their iniquity and warfare would end. And in His good time He fulfilled that promise and they returned from exile.
But most importantly God promised a Savior from sin and death. All the way back in the Garden of Eden He promised one who would crush the Serpent’s head. For 42 generations God’s people wait. Adam and Eve told Seth. Abraham told Isaac. Jesse told David. Jeconiah told Shealtiel. Each generation’s faithful remnant heard again and again the promise: the sin-destroyer would come, He would be born of a Virgin, He would be a shoot from the stump of Jesse. And then the forty-second generation came. Gabriel told Joseph and Mary that the Messiah had come, Jesus, the One who would save His people from their sin. Finally, the fulfillment of what was spoken by the Lord some four thousand years had come.
Today we heard about two more people from that faithful remnant, Simeon and Anna. These aged saints waited eagerly for God to keep His promise. Simeon had been promised by God that he would not see death until he had seen the Christ. So he waited and waited. He went to the Temple. He lived faithfully. Imagine him looking at every baby boy, wondering if that was the one sent by God. Imagine Anna, the elderly woman, fasting, praying, never leaving the Temple, knowing that soon the Lord would fill it again just as He had the first Temple so many years ago. And then the day finally came. God kept His promise. Simeon rejoiced that he could now depart in peace because God had kept His Word. He held in his arms the infant Savior! Surely it wasn’t easy waiting for God to keep His promise. But they waited in faith. They waited knowing that God was not a liar, that He would never break His Word. And finally their faith was rewarded as faith met its fulfillment.
And God has made promises to you, too, promises that He will not break. He has promised to be with you always, to preserve you in this body and life, to give you a way of escape in times of temptation, to help you strengthen your faith, to forgive you when you sin, and to take you to your eternal home. And that’s just a few of the promises He has made to you! And He keeps every one of them. Our problem, of course, is the timing and the appearance. We don’t like waiting on God’s timing. God doesn’t work on our time table. God believes in the fullness of time, or, keeping His promise in the time and way that’s best for you and your eternal life. And because God’s ways are not our ways, it often seems like we’re Simeon and Anna, waiting for what seems like forever for God to keep His promise. We wonder if He’ll really keep it. If he’s really paying attention. If He really cares. The devil’s playground is God’s timing and our imagination. Scripture doesn’t tell us much about Simeon, but imagine how much the devil worked in him! We know that the devil’s objective is to destroy faith. So, for someone as faithful as Simeon, the devil had to be working overtime to get him to reject God’s promise, to call God a liar, to turn his back on God who seems to have forgotten His promise to let Simeon see the Messiah. Which, of course, is the same string of deceptions the devil whispers into your ear when life is difficult. Does God really care? Is God really taking care of you? Will He really keep His promise?
And, of course, the answer is yes. God will not break His promise made to you, just as He did not break the promise mad to Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, and every generation since the world began. Like Simeon and Anna, God teaches us by means of waiting. Patience is never an easily acquired trait. But God helps us strengthen our faith by sustaining us in the times when we must wait. He comes to you in the gifts of the Divine Service to remind you that He is right here with you. He lives up to His name, Emmanuel, God with us, by being with you today in Word and Sacrament. He is with you daily because you are Baptized into Him. At the Font He claimed you and brought you into His family, with all the gifts and privileges that come as a part of being in that family. Through these Means of Grace He shows you how He keeps His promises. Through them He strengthens your faith, which makes those times easier to endure when His answer seems to be no, or when you must wait for the desired outcome.
God always keeps His promises. He kept His promise to forgive you, to rescue you from sin, death, and the devil by sending Jesus Christ to live a perfect life for you, to die in your place, and to rise from the dead, thus defeating your death forever. Because of Christ sin and death have no hold on you, their sting is lost forever. He kept His promise to Simeon and Anna and all the faithful who had gone before that their longing would be rewarded. He keeps His promise to you and by His Holy Spirit sustains you in the true faith. He keeps His promise and rewards your longing for eternal life, for an end to the sin and sadness and frustration that are the lot of this daily life, by taking you to His side. Though it’s hard waiting for that gift given at your Baptism, God will sustain you until it becomes your present reality. God always keeps His promises.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.