Luke 2:22-40

Bucket List

By Dr. Jeffrey K. London

It’s the time of year for lists, so why not a Bucket List?   Do you have a Bucket List, a full Bucket List?  You know, a list of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket?”  Sure, it’s a slightly crude way of looking at our inevitable demise, but it does call us to focus on living and not dying.

Simeon had a Bucket List, a very unusual Bucket List.  We’re told that the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would see the Lord’s Messiah before he died.  So it was just that one thing on Simeon’s Bucket List?  No trip to Hawaii or climb up Kilimanjaro; no French dinner in Paris at midnight or afternoon with Meryl Streep? Just one thing — see the Lord’s Messiah?

But then again, that’s a pretty big “one thing.”  And, as it turns out, it was even bigger than Simeon thought.  We’re told that Simeon was looking forward to the “consolation of Israel.”  In other words, he was looking forward to the salvation of God’s people, Israel.  But look at what happens.  The Holy Spirit reveals to Simeon (we’re not told how) that he would see the Lord’s Messiah before he died.  Everyday Simeon would look for a child born the Messiah.  Everyday, as parents brought their children to the Temple for the rites of purification, Simeon would look to see if maybe this one was the Christ.

When Mary and Joseph appeared in the Temple with Jesus, Simeon knew, he just knew, this was the one!

He took the child in his arms and that’s when something happened that no one anticipated, not even Simeon.  Simeon gazed into the baby Jesus’ eyes and declared that this child was not only Israel’s salvation, but the salvation of the Gentiles as well!

We don’t quite catch the magnitude of this statement because we’ve been brought up in the Christian tradition that believes Jesus Christ came for the salvation of all people, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him.”  (John. 3:16-17)

To say the Messiah, the Christ, had come for the salvation of Israel was one thing, but to say the Messiah, the Christ, had come for all people — well that was something else, that was something radically new!

A couple of things to remember here.  Luke, our gospel writer, was a Gentile writing his Gospel to Gentiles.  Do you remember how Luke’s gospel begins?  Luke states that he is writing to the “most excellent Theophilus,” “that you might know the certainty concerning the things in which you were instructed.” (Luke. 1:3-4)  Luke wrote his Gospel to a Gentile audience through a high ranking official named Theophilus.  Incidently, we don’t know who Theophilus was, but we do know his name meant “friend of God.”

So to hear early on in Luke’s gospel that the salvation Jesus brings is for all people is really quite striking.  It really is Good News!  Nevertheless, it appears that Luke goes out of his way to show Jesus’ Jewishness.   Five times in our text we are told that Jesus’ family observed the Law (vv. 22, 23, 24, 27, 39).  Jesus’ life begins with fulfilling the Law and coming to the Temple.  The whole family comes to the Temple for their “purification.” Mary, as a new mother, was to undergo a rite of purification 40 days after she had given birth.  The usual sacrifice offered after the rite of purification was a one year old lamb along with a pigeon or a turtle dove as a sin offering.  (Lev. 12:6, 8)  But if the family could not afford a lamb, two turtledoves or two pigeons could be offered.

The fact that our text mentions a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” tells us that Jesus’ family was too poor to bring a lamb — unless of course we read this symbolically and see the lamb to be offered as Jesus himself.

So, once again, we have to ask, “Why the emphasis on Jesus’ Jewishness from Luke, the Gentile?”  Well, I think it has to do largely with the need to connect Jesus with the God of Israel.  Jesus was not just a son of a god, he was THE Son of THE God!  And not just any god/God, but THE God.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of creation.  The God of the Exodus.  The God of the wilderness.  The one and only true God, i.e. not one of those fake Greek or Roman gods.

It’s through Jesus’ Jewishness that Luke places his gospel in a larger context, a bigger story.  Through Jesus’ Jewishness the story of the Messiah becomes the story of the Law fulfilled and the living out of God’s promised salvation for all people.

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In the movie The Bucket List, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman star as two cancer patients who become the most unlikely of friends and end up spending three months together — each fulfilling a “bucket list” of things they’d always wanted to do before dying.  What they discover is that their bucket lists really have more to do with living fully and faithfully than with dying.  They end up discovering that what gives them the greatest joy are not the selfish, self-centered items on their bucket lists, but the things they took for granted like a meal with family or the love shared between friends.  Jack Nicholson’s character learns the hard way.  It takes the death of his friend for Nicholson’s character to re-engage with his estranged daughter and sense the saving grace that flows from forgiveness.  There’s nothing earth shattering in the movie, nothing terribly profound.  But it does perhaps call into question, a) the value of a having a bucket list; and b) the content of that bucket list.

Our larger context is the Christian faith.  We believe that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  We believe that God’s gift of eternal life begins right here and now.  We know the grace of forgiveness.  We know the joy of faith.  So maybe a Christian Bucket List is something we ought to consider.  Not because we’re afraid to die, but because in Christ we’re longing to live!

Maybe we can learn something from old Simeon.  Maybe the first thing on our bucket list ought to be a genuine hope to see the Christ as well.  If that were on our bucket list it wouldn’t take long to discover the fact that we can and do see the Messiah, the Christ, each and everyday — when we look for him.  We see God’s saving Son in acts of care and compassion, in the love we share as the family of God, in the forgiveness we experience and the forgiveness we extend. Beyond that, our individual bucket lists could contain a whole host of different things, but they would all find themselves flowing from this larger context, a life of faith grounded in Jesus Christ.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to go to Hawaii or climb up Kilimanjaro, or have a French dinner in Paris at midnight or an afternoon with Meryl Streep.  It’s more a matter of discovering the joys of faithful living that come to us through everyday life, through the things we take for granted, and the people we see regularly.

God is at work in our everyday, touching our lives and calling us to greater heights of love, discipleship, and service.  For us, as disciples of Jesus Christ, it’s always been about living, living faithfully and fully — and not worrying about dying — for Christ has done the dying for us.  As disciples of Jesus Christ, it’s not even about a full bucket, but a bucket perpetually poured out in love for God and love for neighbor.


Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2012, Jeffrey K. London.  Used by permission.