Christmas 1 – December 28th and 29th, 2019 – Luke 2:33-40
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
Sometimes we are too used to Scripture, we just take it at face value and nod our heads at the stories and think, “Oh, isn't that nice?” Because that's what we think the stories in the Scripture are – nice little stories. Stories that make for really pretty cards and decorations and such. And here we have Jesus in the temple 40 days after his birth and old Simeon and Anna are there – and isn't this just a sweet story, pastor? I suppose – in part it is a beautiful story – the setting is this. There's an old guy at the temple named Simeon, and he's been told by God that he will live until the Messiah arrives, so he shows up at the temple every day – and Joseph and Mary bring Jesus to the temple to offer the sacrifice that is required for a first born male – and Simeon recognizes Jesus and sings the words of the Nunc Dimittis that we sing to this very day. You can focus on beauty here really easily – and perhaps on the weekend of February 2nd – the Presentation of our LORD, we'll look at that beauty. But for now, think about this.
So, you're a mother, with your child – your wondrous miracle child – and as you walk into the church, some random old guy run up and grabs him and starts singing. Most of the moms I know get nervous about people touching their kid – and some stranger grabs him? And starts praising God. That is why we hear, “And His father and His mother marveled at what was said about Him.” This is not heart warming sighing or a hallmark moment – this is their jaws hitting the floor what in tarnation is going on do you know who this guy singing is. It was utterly befuddling.
But it gets worse. Old Simeon stops singing, and then He comes up to Joseph and Mary and starts blessing them, fawning over them – which would have been weird and awkward. At worst, the guy is crazy – and at best he's being moved by the Holy Spirit but still moved to some strange things. And then the old guy says, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed, (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed.” And we can hear this today in the midst of our post-Christmas bleery-eyed cheer and smile and nod and say, “That's nice Pastor” all the while not really getting what's going on.
The old man who has taken your child up and is singing and prophesying then turns to you and eyeballs you – this Kid, He has been sent by God (because that's what it means in the Scriptures when you hear that word “appointed” - it is God has established this and ordained it) – this Kid has been sent by God to cause utter chaos in the Israel. That's what the fall and rising of many in Israel would look like – utter chaos. Trouble. Strife. The mighty will fall because of this Kid. And moreover – people will hate Him with a passion – that's what it means that He is a sign that is opposed. He will perform miracles – signs that He has in fact by sent by God – and that will just anger people and make them hate Him all the more. Do you see how what Simeon says, once you get past the fancy-dancy old fashioned bible language, is actually kind of terrifying? Congratulations – your son will cause chaos and people will absolutely hate Him.
And it gets worse. A sword is going to pierce your own soul too Mary – you're going to get caught up in this. In fact, Mary – there will be times that you hate Him. This is one of the things we don't think about or talk about often – but in the middle of His ministry, Jesus' own family gets mad at Him. This is Luke 8 – Then His mother and His brothers came to Him, but they could not reach Him because of the crowd. And He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside desiring to see you.” That word there for “see” there isn't just the simple idea of “we've missed you and want to catch up” - it's the kid who got into trouble coming home and being told, “Mom wants to see you in the kitchen” or your boss saying, “I'd like to see you in my office.” Jesus' family is embarrassed by His preaching – that's why none of His brothers were around when He's crucified. And Mary is terrified of the response that Jesus is getting – she knows that if her Baby keeps running His jibs like He is that they are going to kill and why can't He just be quiet. Think on it mothers – how nervous do you get when your kid does something that makes other folks unhappy? Now imagine your Child so angers people that they plot to kill Him. And Mary wants Him to tone it down – and He won't. And He doesn't. And that will make Mary feel fear and terror and guilt and shame and a heart rending, a heart piercing mixture of emotions. That's what Simeon tells Mary is going to happen.
So... Merry Christmas! Do you get how seemingly incongruous this Gospel lesson is, how it just doesn't seem to line up with the (sentimental feeling inside) that we are promised by Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree? And yet, I would submit, my dear friends, that actually this text fits perfectly for Christmas and is filled with joy – and we hear this wonderful joy and truth when we come across Anna. Who is Anna – well, she's an 84 year old widow who had only been married seven years, and you normally got married around 13, so she's been a widow roughly 64 years. That's rough. And she's a ward of the Temple – she lives there, helps out, they feed her. Everyone knows old Anna. And the Holy Spirit falls upon her when Jesus enters the temple, and she begins to prophesy, to praise God and give Him thanks. 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 Jerusalem.
Oh yes, Jesus will cause people to fall, and they will see that all their so called strength and power comes to naught. Oh yes, Jesus will break people's hearts – especially the hearts of people who are more worried about their pipe dreams and their niceties and folks who want things to be just so. They get mad enough to abandon Him and even kill Him. But you know what Jesus really does, what He came to do? To redeem. To win salvation. To take on sin head on, to punch sin square on its jaw – including the sin that our sinful hearts like to cling to and hold on to. Jesus will deck it, and if that hurts – well, it has to. Because He is going to rescue you from it. And He will rescue you from it by taking on Death itself and dying. And why? Because He came for the rising of many – He came for your rising, so that you will rise from the dead unto everlasting life. And that is a wild, wondrous, joyous thing – but also something that our old sinful flesh finds terrorizing and wants to treat with nothing but utter contempt.
And over the next few months, as we wend our way towards Easter – we are going to see Jesus in action – and we'll hear preaching that shatters sinful hearts, and we'll see the mighty brought low and we'll see the pathetic healed and raised and all of this even unto His own death and resurrection. And it is my prayer that we hear this Gospel with ears renewed by the Holy Spirit. For too long the Church has just smiled and nodded at the Scriptures, at the Gospel of Christ Jesus. And all the while the contempt for Christ Jesus and His Word has grown all around us... but our Lord has promised to use all things for our good, and perhaps hearing, being a bit surprised by the disdain the world has for God and His Word, we might hear that Word a bit more attentively, and perhaps even notice the places where we causally disdain it and skirt on by it. Perhaps in the disdain of the world, we will see a reflection of the ways in which we ourselves are guilty of the same disdain, the same thanklessness.
And there are times that might be painful. There may be sermons to come that pierce through your heart – my own heart included in that. But this is again for your Good, that you would see again and know again that while you desperately need a Savior, you have One in Christ Jesus. You have One who is closer to you than you can comprehend, who has given you all good things in the water of Holy Baptism, who forgives you and will raise you. And this is a profound thing, not something to be hurried past, or treated with hushed embarrassment when around the folks out there who no longer like it. It is a wondrous thing, a jaw dropping thing. A Jesus puts His Body and Blood in our mouths for the forgiveness of our sins sort of thing. Something that lets us live this life in peace and then depart it in peace, all according to God's Word. This is the true joy and wonder of Christmas. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +