Watchfires

Watchfires

TEXT: Luke 2:25-38

When I was a child my imagination was captured by J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels, The Lord of the Rings. I read them more than once growing up, but it wouldn’t be until the early 2000s that they were made into movies and I saw them come to life on the screen. What put them on my mind again was a conversation with Billy Howell about a month or two ago. He mentioned a Christmas Eve sermon where I talked about a scene from the movies. I went to look it up and it was from 2003!

There is a powerful scene in the third movie that reminds me of the story about Simeon and Anna that we have been looking at for several weeks.  In the movie, there are two great human kingdoms separated by great distance and high mountains.  The two kingdoms are not particularly friendly toward each other, but in their past provision has been made for a time of great need.  Near the king’s castle in each kingdom there is a high tower with a great stack of wood and oil.  In the most desperate of emergencies, if there is need to call out from one kingdom to the other, the watchfire can be lit.

Now as big as these stacks of kindling and oil are, and as strong a blaze as they produce, the fire can only be seen for a few miles or so, and only as far as the nearest hill or mountain peak.  So every few miles the two kingdoms have stationed armed guards and kindling stacks.  The guards’ duty is to guard the wood and keep watch for any signal from the nearest watchfire.

Now in the movie – and this doesn’t give anything away to tell you this – the one kingdom of Gondor has a desperate need.  The massed armies of the evil one are approaching and their doom is sealed.  What’s worse, the ruler of Gondor has locked himself away refusing to face the reality of the impending conflict.  So, preparations are slow and indecisive and no message is being sent.  One brave soul understands the great need and scales a cliff to get past the guards and light the first watchfire.

From there, the call for help goes out quickly, for every few miles, watchful guards see the signal and light their own fire.  The flame crosses a great distance, moving from one people and culture to another, and spanning mountain peaks covered with snow.  Faster than any messenger could travel and crossing impossible terrain, the message-light reaches the last watchfire at the king’s castle in the kingdom of Rohan.  The hour of great need is upon the human world, and the king of Rohan summons his people to answer the call.

Now what does all this movie stuff have to do with God, church, the Bible, or Christmas?

It’s in the story of the old man and woman, Simeon and Anna.

Since the dawn of time, says the Bible, human beings have had a great and desperate problem called sin – disobedience, selfishness, unbelief.  Perhaps not as tangible as Tolkien’s hordes of evil, the consequence and implication of our sinfulness are just as deadly.  But from the same dawn of creation, God has promised to help us – to deliver us and save us.  God promised to send a King and a Deliverer to undo the effects of sin and overthrow evil and death.  And this promise has been passed through time and history like the stacked wood of the watchfires of the kingdoms in the Lord of the Rings.  In every time and place, God has preserved the promise along with people to guard and defend and pass on this promise: I will send a Savior in your hour of deepest need. 

And in that string of unbroken watchers stood an old man named Simeon.  Maybe he heard the message as a child or read it from the pages of the Law and the Prophets.  Wherever he heard the message, his faith was bright and strong.  He was old, but alert.  God’s Spirit had revealed to him that he would live to see the coming of God’s Savior, the One who the prophets of old called “A Light of Revelation to the Gentiles.”

Simeon was in the Temple, keeping watch for the fulfillment of God’s promise.  And one day it happened – so strange and unexpected that most people would probably have missed it.  It was just a couple bringing their baby for the temple rites – an offering to God and the baby’s circumcision.  But Simeon wasn’t most people.  He was one of God’s “watchers.”  He watched diligently and faithfully for God’s light coming into the world.  And God’s Spirit gave him the eyes to see the Promised One – Jesus, the hope of the world.

And Simeon did his duty.  He lit the fire of testimony so that those who heard his words and even today read his words can see what he saw. 

          Now Lord, You are releasing Your servant to depart 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 of Revelation to the Gentiles,
          And the glory of Your people Israel.

Anna recognized the moment, gave thanks, and became a ready witness to all who would hear.

Up until that point in history, all the people of the world had were the stacked woodpiles of promise: in the hour of greatest need, God will provide.

With the birth of Jesus Christ, all those woodpiles of history were lit.  The prophecies ring true; the symbols and metaphors make sense; the promises are kept.  And like the watchfires of The Lord of the Rings, God’s promised light for the world has crossed geographical, cultural, historical, and linguistic boundaries to reach people all over the world.

That leaves me finally to say this: some person of faith has lit the watchfire of hope in your life.  If it weren’t so, you wouldn’t be here.  Some teacher or grandmother or father or brother has lived out the Christian faith brightly (or even dimly) before you.  A church family or group of friends has prayed for you faithfully.  Or you’ve read the story or heard the message on your own.  Failing all that, I’ll share it with you tonight: in our hour of greatest need God sent the Light of the World, His Son Jesus Christ, to help and give us hope, to save us, to rescue us.  THAT is the Christmas message; that is the Christian’s hope and the hope for the world.

Jesus Christ is the only hope and light for a world that is indeed a very dark place.  If you have not put your trust in him, I urge you to do so.  If you need to see more and find out more, I urge you to come back or find a church where you live.  I’m glad each of you is here tonight; there is no better way to spend your Christmas Eve than to hear the words of hope fulfilled and promises kept in the Christmas story. 

Finally, realizing that the message of Christmas is like a bright torch lit in front of our eyes, what will you do with it?  Do you believe it?  Will you share it?  Will you carry it with you?  In just a little while we’ll have the opportunity to light candles to symbolize this very act.  In the meantime, consider God’s promise of help in our hour of greatest need and the answer He has given in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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