Sunday, January 01, 2012

Luke 2:22-35; First Sunday after Christmas; January 1, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

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 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “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.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “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 may be revealed.”” (Luke 2:22–35, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Ok, so Christmas is long gone... well, at least in some ways it feels that way.  It's New Year's day and those of you who are here, and not sleeping off New Year's Eve are probably not thinking much about Christmas.  But here in the church it is still Christmas, after all in the church the Christmas Season continues until Jan 6.  So it's been a whole week since you opened your gifts and there's been time for the luster to wear off, and maybe even a few of them are broken, don't fit, or not exactly what you wanted.  Well, your friends and family meant well.  They just missed the mark.  There's always next year... or you can use that gift receipt and try to get something you want for yourself...  In that way, Christmas is always a disappointment.  When we focus on the stuff (and who doesn't!) we are setting ourselves up for it.

Now that's quite a contrast with Simeon.  This is the last real Christmas story in scripture and one of the most important.  He sees the True Gift for what it is, and rejoices.

Here's the picture.  The temple is crowed as usual.  Mary and Joseph are dutiful parents.  They have brought the baby Jesus to the temple to do what the law requires.  Every first born male child in Israel was to be dedicated to the Lord at 40 days old.  This was all set up by God in Exodus (13:1).  It has to do with the Passover.  All those years ago in Egypt, the angel of death took every first born child that was not protected by lamb's blood on the doorpost.  Since God provided for the first born of Israel to be redeemed by the blood of a lamb, he claimed them all has his own.  "Consecrate them to me!" God said.  "Remember that I am the one who redeemed you out of slavery in Egypt." 

And so faithful parents for all those generations packed up the first born and made the offerings at the temple.  Joseph and Mary sacrifice the two doves, because they didn't have the means to sacrifice a lamb (this was allowed for in the law, Lev 12:8).  But when God appears in human flesh nothing is quite that simple.  The couple and the baby enter the temple but they are immediately interrupted.  A man, Simeon, takes the baby from the parents.  Now Simeon is no ordinary man.  He is full of the Holy Spirit.  A devout believer, waiting for the Messiah, "the Consolation of Israel."  That is the "comfort" of Israel.  Think of the words from Isaiah 40. 

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1–2, ESV)

Think forgiveness of sins.  Simeon is holding in his arms the forgiveness of sins for Israel!  He was faithfully waiting, who knows how long.  And he was uniquely gifted to know that he would not die until he had actually seen forgiveness with his own eyes.  So, holding him in his arms and  filled with joy he sings... "Lord now let your servant depart... I've seen what you promised.  I can die in peace."

Now I don't know if you catch what's going on here or not.  In fact, it's been kind of a theme in the Gospel of Luke so far.  It actually beings in the fields, with shepherds watching sheep.  The angels appear and scare the beejesus out of them.  After all the shouting is over (yes the angels probably didn't sing the Gloria they spoke it!).  It ends up like this.  The angel said:

And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”” (Luke 2:12, ESV)

Really!  That's the sign?  A baby in diapers!  There's nothing special about that.  And the manger thing is very easily explained.  In fact, there may have been other babies in Bethlehem in mangers that night.  After all it was a crowed town, unable to hold all the visitors.  A manger in an inn would be a perfectly logical place to place a new born.  The sign is nothing.  The baby is doesn't seem like much.  In fact, everyone who hears the story the shepherds told, "wondered" at it, as if to say, "That's the sign?  But that's just a baby!"

That's all that Simeon has too!  A baby, in the crowded temple, among many other babies who were there for the same reason.  Nothing unique.  Nothing special.  Nothing miraculous.  In fact, a bit under-whelming wouldn't you say.  Kinda like the gifts you got for Christmas.  Kinda like the things you went out and bought for yourself.   Kinda like the let down every day of your life because things just don't live up to their promise.  Nothing special.  Nothing unique.  Nothing miraculous.
But, Simeon has eyes to see it differently.  He has eyes of faith.  For him, the baby he is holding is salvation, comfort, and forgiveness.  He sees past the plain everyday looking things to the reality of what is there.  He sees the baby Jesus, but he sees something else. 

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “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 may be revealed.”” (Luke 2:34–35, ESV)

It's a perfect picture of what Jesus would do.  He would be rejected by everyone even to the point of death on the cross.  Jesus, the humble baby in his arms was the "suffering servant" spoken about in Isaiah (53).   But don't forget he also sees baby Jesus as God's salvation for Israel and the whole world. 

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4–5, ESV)

There was nothing in Jesus that would point you to that conclusion.  To look at the baby, in diapers, in the temple was to see what had happened thousands of times over the years.  But, Simeon sees with the eyes of faith.  This is the promised Savior of the world.  The biggest thing in a humble package.  And don't forget why Jesus is there.  He's to be consecrated to the Lord.  Set aside for God's purposes.  It all comes full circle from the Passover.  All the male children were saved by the blood of the lamb, so they are dedicated to the Lord.  Now God-in-the-flesh, baby Jesus, is dedicated as the Lamb of God who sheds his blood to redeem people from slavery to sin.  You can't see it by looking.  But you can see it with the eyes of faith.

Now about Christmas and presents and disappointment and a New Year with failed resolutions already in the works.  When we look back at our Christmas joy from here it just seems a bit foolish, or maybe a bit misguided.  After all, Christmas comes and goes and nothing really changes.  People are still poor.  Car accidents still take lives.  Politicians still lie.  You and me, we can't live up to our expectations.  Our relationships are difficult, at best.  A little Christmas joy didn't really change any of that.  At least that's what it looks like.  But that's only when you see it with your sin-filled eyes.  If you look at it with the eyes of faith you can see something different.  Baby Jesus does make a difference.  His birth is joyful because he is the "Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world."  When we look with the eyes of faith, our...
eyes have seen [God's] salvation [which he has] prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to [God's people]."

You see (you know) that the little joy we have a Christmas is joyful only because it points to a greater joy to come.  Everything that Jesus did, beginning with his birth, his circumcision, his dedication in the temple, his first miracle, his life with his disciples, his passion, death and resurrection are for the purpose of the great restoration yet to come.  The new heavens and the new earth.  Perfect and sinless human bodies.  Perfect and sinless human relationships.  Joy-filled reunions with all those who have died in faith before us.  Not to mention power over sin and Satan right now.  All of it ours, right now, in the forgiveness of sins won for us by the baby grown, crucified, dead, buried and raised on the third day.  All of it seen in the eyes of faith, if not by regular human sight.  It's what makes Christmas more than a fleeting, month long festival of avarice and selfishness.  It's what makes Peace on Earth something real instead of only a human wish.  It's what make Good Will Toward Men something that is true even in the face of bloodshed and violence.

Oh, and don't forget Simeon's song.  Yep, we are going to sing it today.  And not only that but if you look at what God places in the cup and on the platen you'll see...

[God's] salvation [which he has] prepared [for you].

There it is again, something that doesn't look like much.  But with the eyes of faith you see Jesus, God's salvation, in his very body and blood, hanging on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, and placing himself in your mouth to give it to you.  It's God making his promise true for you right now, forgiving your sin, restoring your relationship with him.  Showing you that all that is promised is yours right now.  It's the joy of Christmas.  It's the joy of Christ.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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