Presentation of our Lord – February 1st and 2nd, 2020 – Luke 2:22-33
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
And I bet you didn't know that Groundhog's Day was a Church holiday. It is – the Presentation of our LORD – 40 days after Christmas, when Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple to offer the sacrifice for a first born son – two turtledoves. The Groundhog stuff isn't in the bible – that's just crazy German folklore, but this date remembers the first time Jesus, our true High Priest, entered the temple to be our Savior.
But when He gets to the temple, before the sacrifice, something happens – a beautiful, wonderful event – so wonderful and beautiful that we will sing it again today in just a few moments. There was an old man named Simeon, an old fellow who lived in Jerusalem. And somehow the Holy Spirit had revealed to this pious old man that he would not die, he would not see death until he saw the promised Messiah – the Messiah who would be the consolation of Israel. Can you think what it would be like? Oh, there is old, faithful Simeon, just waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the Messiah. Would that we believed the Word as he did and show such diligence as he did! But at any rate, as Jesus and Mary and Joseph are at the temple, Simeon comes up, and he sees Jesus, he sees this Child – and he takes Him up in his old aged arms, takes Him out of Mary’s hands into his own and starts giving thanks to God, blesses God, extols God and sings His praises – uses words which are familiar to us all – Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel. We know these words – they are the Nunc Dimittis – Latin for “Now Let Depart” the first phrase of this in Latin. We sing them, even to this day after communion.
Let’s ponder them today, for they teach us much, and we learn much from them. Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word. Such an interesting reaction. I can die now. That’s what he’s saying – when he uses the phrase “depart in peace” he’s not hoping for short lines at the airport for his trip to Florida – Simeon is saying, “Alright Lord, I can die now – You can take me.” Is that not a marvelous faith, a wonder to think on and behold? To be that confident, to be that sure – I can die now. That is a wonderful gift – Simeon has no more fear. Now, the world likes to keep us full of doubt, full of fear – oh no, what will the future hold. The world thrives on fear, fear sells. Fear keeps you on the edge of your seat. Fear keeps you in bondage. Sadly, politics this election year will probably just end up being competing ways of spinning fear. Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word. For Simeon, there is no fear – and why? According to Your Word. Simeon has heard the Word, and Simeon believes. Because Simeon believes the Word, trusts that God will be true and will provide Salvation, indeed, Simeon now holds salvation in his hands – what is there for Simeon to fear? Eh, I can die now, the grave holds no more fear for me – I hold the One who will call me forth from the grave. This is the peace that Christ gives, this is the peace and release from fear that is ours – that we know we have and receive every time we receive our Lord’s Supper. Think on this – you have communed – Christ Jesus has given you His own Body and Blood for your forgiveness – what else is there to fear? What tops that, what is bigger or more powerful than Christ Himself given for you? Like Simeon, you too see and hold and indeed even taste your salvation, and are bold like him. You are right to sing his words, make them your own as well – because you have what he had – you likewise trust in the Word. This is the peace of the Lord that is with you always, because in Him you have an eternal peace, and peace that nothing in this world can take away.
Simeon’s song continues – For my eyes have seen Your salvation, that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples. We know the old adage – seeing is believing. We can hear things, even from good, reliable sources – and we can even know that something is true – but until we see it for ourselves it doesn’t quite hit home. Our eyes are a useful tool – a wonderful gift given to us by God, even if now a days our eyes can all too often be wandering eyes, looking where they ought not, casting covetous glances all around. Old Simeon knew that the Lord’s Word was true – that when the Lord spoke it was as good as done, you can take it to the bank. And Simeon believed – and yet, when this old man sees the Christ Child, he breaks forth into joyous song. He has seen it – He has held the Christ Child in his own hands – he knows it to be true.
Simeon’s response doesn’t surprise God – because God knows how Simeon, how we, how our minds work. We like having tangible things to hold on to – and God deals with us in this way. Think on the Old Testament. God would give the children of Abraham, the children of Israel signs of His covenant. There was the sign of Circumcision – think on how tangible a sign that was – proof that you were part of God’s salvation. You had Passover – you had the glory of the Lord in the pillar of Cloud and Pillar of Fire. God gave the people of the Old Testament things to hold onto, things to grasp.
And now, even today, He prepares salvation in the face of all people in a way that we can grasp. Consider your baptism. We know what it is – it is not plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word – the old comforting words of the Catechism. Have you ever though how kind and loving God is just in how Baptism works? God takes His Word and attaches it, combines it with something that we can see and touch – water. And since those waters of Holy Baptism have been applied to us, we know that God’s Word has been forever well and truly applied to us. Let doubt be done away with, and as for Satan with his accusations that God wouldn’t love one as you, he can take a long walk off of a short pier, for you are baptized, and you have the physical proof that God loves you. It is a historical fact, you are baptized. Period.
Same wonder with the Supper. It is the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and the wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink. Just as Simeon held in his hands the Body of his Savior, the Body of his God made flesh – so shall you in the gift of Holy Communion. What David prophesied in the 34th Psalm you will receive today – Taste and see that the Lord is Good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. Christ Jesus Himself will give you salvation, the highest refuge, in His Supper. Again, something tangible, something that we can wrap not just our minds but our hands around – something that we can taste, can smell, can see – God overwhelms us with His love and forgiveness through all our senses – so that we see and taste and smell and believe.
Simeon’s song concludes A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel. And with Christ, the old testament came to a close. Israel’s job was done, they had produced the Messiah. No longer would they need to be separated off from the other peoples of the world – God tells Peter he can eat pig now, Paul shows that the ceremonies of the law aren’t required. The whole reason for all these things – the dietary laws, the sacrifices, was so that the people of Israel would be separate and distinct from the rest of the world – they would be God’s reminder to all people that He would send a Messiah, a Savior. The people of Nineveh knew this – they repented of their sin and looked to God. The wise men from the East knew that God was sending a king – but they didn’t quite know how or who. God fearing Gentiles from all over knew that God was going to act in and through the people of Israel – and now that is fully revealed. Behold Christ, the Savior of the Nations. Behold Jesus, the Lord is Salvation for all. And Israel is glorified in Him. Luther in the 1520s writes a book entitled “That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew” – and in this he points out that God did not choose to be born of 'pigheaded, crude, drunken Germans' – but He deigned to be born of a Jewish mother – indeed, a glory for that line and heritage and race that no other can claim. Behold, this little Jewish Boy is the God and Creator of all things – the God and Creator who restores His Creation and brings the gifts of heaven to earth.
This is the Child the Simeon holds in his arms, this is the child who grows and goes to the Cross and suffers and dies and rises again to win us salvation. This is the very Body that our Lord gives to us this day for forgiveness. With this in mind, seeing this, we rejoice with Simeon, and with all the saints of every age who are with the Lord now, this day. This is the salvation Christ Jesus has won, and He brings it here to you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World. Amen.