1st Sunday after Christmas – Luke 2:22-40 – December 30th and 31st, 2017
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Newborn King +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Newborn King +
Finally, the time for purification had come. For 40 days, since Jesus was born, Mary had to stay at home. That was the Law. For the first 40 days after childbirth, women didn’t go out in public – probably a good and safe practice for health, but think of it this way. Mary’s been cooped up. And now you finally get to get out, you bring Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to make the appropriate offering for Him, which is appropriate as Jesus has come to fulfill the Law. And then, old Simeon comes up, and he grabs little Jesus out of your arms and starts singing – singing a song that we ourselves sing after Communion to this very day. Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. Lord, I can die a happy man! Of course, think about what the past year has been like for Mary – Gabriel showing up both to you and to you husband – you had an angel tell your husband, “Yes, marry her.” How’s that for a confidence builder? And then there’s the birth, and even the Shepherds showing up and praising God. It’s been a non-stop whirlwind of praise and joy.
And then this old codger Simeon hands you back your son, and then he blesses you, but then he says something quite strange. “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed…” Think about the shock of hearing that. It’s been joy to the world, happy holidays, have a holly jolly Christma… what? Talk about throwing cold water on the parade. This Child is going to cause chaos because of who He is, Mary – and people are going to hate Him. The wicked of the world will rally and fight against Him. And it’s true. Think about Jesus’ crucifixion – you have Herod and Pilate and the Priests all conspiring together – that was something unheard of. The priests hated anyone who was gentile, and Herod and Pilate hated each other until the events of Good Friday – they only became friends afterwards. Christ Jesus ends up being one of if not the most hated person in all of history. Do you doubt me? His very name is a curse, a vulgarity. Even 2000 years later people get killed for following Him – ask the Christians in Muslim countries what it means to follow Christ. He is a sign that is opposed. Wow.
Again, we’re not used to thinking this way, especially not at Christmastime – and I’m guessing poor Mary wasn’t either. Which is why Simeon especially notes that this will impact her – “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also….” Yes, Mary – this hatred that your Son will bear, it will hit home for you as well. It’s going to stab you. How’s that for a change of pace – it’s been joy, joy, joy, oh how great it is that you are the Mother of Christ… then wham. A sword is going to pierce your soul too, Mary. The time is going to come when He won’t be the eager Messiah that you want Him to be. The time is going to come when you will just be embarrassed by Him, when you and His siblings will beg Him to come in from preaching and teaching because He’s embarrassing you – and He will shrug you off. My Mother and My brothers are calling for Me – Who are My Mother and my brothers? These here who hear my teaching are My mother and My brothers. Gut punch. But even that will be topped, Mary. One Friday it will come to a head as this little child, your Son, hangs on a cross. Woman, behold your Son. A sword will pierce through your own soul also.
Why all the pain, why all the angst? “So that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed.” Christ Jesus comes, and He comes Holy and righteous and perfect and good. And we, we are not. We are sinful, fallen men. When people saw Christ, this was something else that they remembered too. And the question was how do you respond to this – when you see God Himself in flesh showing love perfectly, how do you react? And we know what our sinful flesh wants to do. The sinful flesh wants to tear down and destroy anything good that anyone else has. The sinful flesh feels greed and jealousy and hatred and anger. You know that feeling in your gut when you see someone else who has something better than you? That feeling when the other guy gets the job or has the car and you want to beat him? When you see the other gal who has the looks, the whatever, and you want to get all catty? Nothing gets ratings on the news shows like a good celebrity scandal – we love the rich and famous being taken down a peg. Now imagine what your sinful flesh would want to do when it sees not merely something better than you, but One who is perfect. Anyone who looked at Christ while thinking well and highly of himself, as the old sinful flesh is wont to do, would hate Him, and that hate would boil up to the surface – it’s why He even gets killed. And we see this pattern throughout the Bible. Joseph’s brothers throw him in pit and sell him into slavery. King Saul repeatedly tries to kill David, who is his most loyal and faithful servant. The Pharisees, who prized their own holiness, stone Stephen to death. It’s that same old sinful song and dance with Christ, but even more so – because He isn’t merely better than us; Christ Jesus is perfect.
So why any singing, then, Simeon? So why is there any rejoicing? Here is the nuance, and it comes out from Anna, a very old widow lady. Had her husband 7 years, so probably until she was around 20 – and then widowed for over 6 decades. There’s a woman who knows suffering, knows that this world isn’t all its cracked up to be. And she lived in the temple, fasting and praying, and when Christ comes, she gives thanks to God. And note what she does. Anna speaks “of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel.” And there’s the key. There’s the difference. For the folks who were waiting for redemption, for those who knew their own lack, who didn’t think that they were the best of the best, who knew that they were poor lowly sinners in a sinful world, for these folks this Christ Jesus brings joy and gladness, because He brings redemption. God had given Anna the gift of faith, and so she saw her need for a Savior, and then she saw Him, and it was good.
By faith, you have been made to see your own lack. Do you see your sin, do you know it, do you understand that you are a poor, miserable sinner? Then the coming of this Child will be a cause for you to sing, for He comes bringing your salvation. He comes to be righteous for you, He comes to bear your own sin, your own weakness, your own frailty. He comes to die, He comes to rise, all so that you would inherit Eternal Life, that you would spend eternity not in this fallen place, but in a New Heavens and a New Earth, that you would have Eden restored. Life in this world is cold and harsh – but by faith we don’t deny this, we don’t pretend it isn’t this way. Instead, we confess our sin, great as it is, and we look to Christ Jesus who is greater than our sin and triumphs over it. We do not love this world, but we look to Christ who has overcome this world – we look forward to the life of the world to come.
Listen again to Simeon’s song, the song we too will sing in just a few moments after we have held in our own hands the Body of Christ, given for us. “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word.” Lord, I can die, I can die in peace. Death – where is thy sting, O Death? Where is thy victory, O grave? This Christ Child has risen from the tomb, and so even if I die – I will live. Sod off, death! Bite me, grave – you couldn’t keep Christ swallowed down, nor shall you keep me. “For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all people.” God’s salvation is here – and it’s not something hidden, it’s not a secret. I don’t have to spend 25 years teaching you how to operate the hidden divine decoder ring. No, right here, God become Man, who for us men and our salvation. Here He is, here is salvation. And you have made me to see it, God – you have given me the gift of faith, and thus these sinful, dead eyes have seen with joy their Savior, the Lord of Life. There is salvation, there is forgiveness, there is rescue – and there it is – in Christ Jesus, open, proclaimed to all people. Yes, all people, for He is “A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy people Israel.” Even the Gentiles, even stubborn headed Germans, even spoiled Americans millennia later will see this Child and know Him to be their God and Savior; the Holy Spirit will call folks from all nations. And yes, this is the Glory of Israel – not that we Jews were more holy, not that some how not eating pork makes one morally superior (ugh, how’s that for the false pride of the sinful flesh), but that rather look, there is God come as Man, born from the people whom He told He would come. And thus there is salvation for all, thus there is forgiveness and redemption and love. And by faith, dear friends, you see it.
By faith, God has called you here. By faith, you have been made to confess your sins, called to struggle against them and to strive to beat them down even daily by faith. By faith you have been brought here to this Temple, where Christ Jesus comes to you today, bringing You forgiveness and life. Yes, He comes to you this day – He comes proclaimed in His Word – Christ Jesus lives, and you are forgiven. He comes in His Supper – taste and know your forgiveness, drink and know your salvation. Yes, this world is scary, yes, being a Christian means seeing your own sin and that is a terrifying and rough thing, but behold Your Savior, Christ Jesus, who has redeemed you, purchased and won you from all your sins, and lives so that you might live with Him both now and forever. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +