Christmas 1 – Luke 2 – December 28th,
In the Name of Christ Jesus our New Born King +
Another Sunday, another song. On the last Sunday of Advent, leading up to Christmas, in our Gospel lesson we heard the Maginificat – Mary’s great song of hope and expectation, the song of trust in what the Lord was going to do. And now, Christmas has come – we have focused in great detail on the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation, the enfleshment of God – the wonder that for us men and for our salvation, God Himself comes down from heaven and is born of the Virgin Mary, and is made Man. The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. And now, on the first Sunday after Christmas, we come across another song, this one more familiar to us, one which we sing whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper – the Nunc Dimittis. The Song of Simeon. And in this song we will see, focus, zero in upon the impact of the Incarnation – what the Incarnation actually means for us.
But before we get to the song, let’s start with the background. And 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. Yes, Joseph and Mary, being good parents, being faithful folk, on the 40th day after His birth bring Christ up to Jerusalem and offer the Sacrifices mandated in the Law of Moses for young boys to get. Do you see what this means? Even as a Child, even before He could walk or speak, our Lord Jesus Christ was obedient to the Law of God. What does Paul tell us in Galatians? That God sent His Son, born of Woman, born under the Law, to redeem us who were trapped by the Law. When Christ Jesus comes to earth, He doesn’t come like a tourist who just wants to see the highlights and then leave; He doesn’t come as some dignitary who is far above us. God becomes Man, becomes one of us, gets into the same boat as we are in. And why? “to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” We are burdened with sin, with seeing and knowing all those things that we do that we aren’t suppose to do, with seeing and knowing all those times we fail and fall short and don’t do what we ought. We are under the Law. The Law is there, constantly reminding us of our sin, showing us the ways our thoughts, words and deeds go astray. And that’s what this law did – it was a reminder to all those new parents who were gaga and loopy over their kid that sin was real, that it required sacrifice and atonement. But here is Jesus, the perfect and innocent One, the spotless Lamb who has no sin, who needs no sacrifice. Yet, He is placed under the Law, takes His place next to us - He is truly Immauel, God with us, here with us under the Law, God with us – and God here to save us. He will be where we are, even unto death.
And as Mary and Joseph bring the boy Jesus in, they come across old Simeon. God had somehow let old Simeon know that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. So old Simeon came to the temple every day, and old Simeon waited, waited patiently in the temple. And then Simeon sees Jesus. He runs up and takes the babe in His arms, and in the Holy Spirit he says the words we know as the Nunc Dimitiss. . . the words we sing whenever we commune – Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace/ according to Thy Word/ for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation/ which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people/ a Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the Glory of Thy people Israel. The song of wonder and glory and joy that we sing, these are the words of Simeon. And why does Simeon say them? Because he holds in his hands, old, wrinkled hands that aren’t as strong as they used to be, Jesus, the promised Messiah. Simeon is dying, yet he holds in his hands the Christ who will be his salvation, who will call forth Simeon again from the grave on the last day. Dying Simeon holds the One who gives him Life Everlasting in his hands. And so, Simeon says, “Okay – I can die.” Lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace isn’t just world weariness, or indifference, or anything like that. This isn’t the aches and pains and sorrows of an old man talking. No, it is something much bolder, much more brash, much more defiant against Satan. Simeon is proclaiming, “Let death come – it will not be a terror for me, for I will die in peace.” Why in peace? Because he has seen it – he has seen Salvation, he has held in his own hands the very Body of God, the fact, the proof that all the promises God had made His people, the promises that God would be among us and live among us and rescue us from sin – Simeon holds the fulfillment, the proof of all that in his shaky hands. What more is there for him? What more does Simeon need to see? God’s salvation is here.
Dear friends in Christ – what do you see when you think of Christ? When your mind comes across Jesus, when you think of Him, what do you think of? What we ought to think of Him, what we ought to see is the same thing that Simeon saw. Salvation. Life. Forgiveness. When you hear in Scripture of our Lord doing anything in the Gospels, doing whatever it is that He does – that is your salvation. That is God at work for you. That is Jesus becoming a human being like you so that you can be a child of the Father like He is. That is Christ breaking down the hackles Satan had chained you with, it is Christ taking the noose off your neck. That is Christ stretching out His own hand and grabbing yours and raising you up, lifting up your hearts with Him. This is what Simeon sees – and by faith this is what we see as well. By the teaching of His Word and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit this is what we will see more and more, this is what our focus will be upon. Christ Jesus our salvation.
We do get another elderly person popping up in this text. We see Anna. Anna’s 84. Anna, like Simeon, has been in the temple a long time. And she sees Jesus, she recognizes who He is. And what does she do? And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel. What does she do, what is Anna’s response? She gives thanks. She gives thanks to God – and how is this done? By speaking, by speaking of Him. The way in which we give thanks to God is by speaking, by talking about Him, by saying, “Look at what God has done for me.” We spell it out. And what does Anna do? She sees folks who need what she needs – she sees folks who need a Savior as much as she does. And so, she spends her time saying, “He’s here – the Messiah has come.” This is thanks.
Dear friends, the words of Simeon and Anna, the words of these two pious servants of the Lord shape our worship, craft and shape how we worship even to this day. Our Communion Service is Luke 2 being played out again, here and now. After the sermon, after the prayers, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Do you recognize what that is? Do you know and understand what it is that God gives to us in the Supper? We enter God’s House, come into His temple, and what do we see? “Take and eat, this is My Body, which is given for you. Take and drink, this is My Blood, which is shed for the remission of all of your sin.” What Simeon waited his whole life for is what we get in the Supper. Simeon held the Body of Christ in his hands, we have Christ’s own Body placed in our hands, upon our tongues. Our Lord comes to us as surely as He came to Simeon – and we see what He brings. Whereas Simeon’s eyes merely saw salvation and held it in his hands, we not only see and touch, but we smell it, we taste it, we taste God’s Salvation. This is how thoroughly God comes to us – He would be our God and have us be His people so He calls us to His House and feeds us on His own Body, the medicine of Immortality, gives us Eternal Life, gives us His life.
And then, we echo Simeon. Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. We aren’t saying, “Okay, that’s enough pastor, let us out so we can beat the Baptists to the Western Sizzlin’.” We are saying – We can face death now, Lord. Death will never conquer us, because Christ Jesus has died for us and risen for us. What ever this upcoming year holds, we leave this place in peace – we are at peace with You, God, and You are at peace with us. You have forgiven us and given us all that we need for this life, You have called us to everlasting life. When You are ready, so are we – for You have joined us to Your Son Christ Jesus – You have brought us into Your family, indeed You have Baptized us, made us part of Your Son’s own Body - - indeed, You have fed us with that Same Body to keep us steadfast in the faith. We are ready for whatever comes, for we know Your salvation and we have it right now. That is why we sing the song of Simeon when we commune.
And after that, just before we get to the Benediction and head out in the world, we pray a prayer that is known as the Thanksgiving. Having echoed Simeon, we echo Anna. “We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift.” We give thanks to God by saying what He has done. And then, “we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith towards You and in fervent love toward one another.” Lord, we are going out into the world – help us, be with us, make us to love others, not just love them a little bit, but love them fervently. We echo Anna, who gives thanks to God and then shows the highest love, by speaking of Christ.
Our worship, dear friends, isn’t shaped by what we want or what we like – it is shaped by Scripture, and we follow its patterns, what it has laid down for us. And this is good, because it evermore focuses us upon Christ Jesus and how He comes to be with us today, comes to be with His Baptized children in His most Holy Word and in His Most Holy Supper. And today, we have seen that pattern, seen the guides which mold how we praise God and give Him thanks. So, having seen the shape of our worship, let us with gladness receive the Salvation our Lord gives us. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King + Amen.