Monday, January 01, 2007

Sermon: Sunday After Christmas

31 December 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 2:22-40 (Isa 11:1-5, Gal 4:1-7) (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

On the heels of his beautiful account of Christmas, St. Luke paints a glorious picture of the old meeting the young, of the wise meeting Wisdom face to face, of the Old Testament yielding joyously to the New. We also see the obedience of the law giving way to the One who fulfills the law.

Just before our reading, we see Mary obediently circumcising Jesus on the eighth day. She patiently waits until 40 days to return to the Temple in accordance with the law that she be purified by a sacrifice. The law called for a lamb and a pigeon. She was too poor to afford this sacrifice, so she was permitted to offer two pigeons (but, of course, the Lamb was truly offered, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world).

In the course of keeping the law, Mary and Joseph meet an old man. By today’s standards, he would probably be considered eccentric. The Lord has spoken to him, promising that he would not die until he would see the Christ, the Messiah. And the Lord does even better than his promise, for old St. Simeon not only sees the Christ, he cradles him in his arms!

What faith Simeon has – for instead of viewing this encounter with the Christ child as an evil omen of his impending death, he sings for joy! Simeon does not fear death, for he knows the Christ child he now holds will destroy death. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word.” This passage can be understood that the Lord is releasing Simeon from his slavery. And far from giving him a sense of dread about death, he is emboldened to recall the Lord’s promises.

Simeon’s eyes do not merely see Jesus, the Son of God and of Mary, the stepson of Joseph, the tiny baby in the Temple – he also sees “salvation.” To Simeon, salvation is not an abstract concept, but lives and breathes in his very arms. He also says something about the baby Jesus that we also say in the creed: Jesus is light. The purpose of this light is to bring revelation to the Gentiles, that is to say, to all the nations. And this revelation is the glory, the pinnacle, the very fulfillment of the Old Testament people of Israel.

Simeon is not afraid of death, for as the Psalmist asks: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?”

All of this is bound up in the wriggling baby held in Simeon’s wrinkled arms.

Joseph and Mary marvel. For their eyes tell them this is an ordinary child. But what Simeon describes, what the “angels from the realms of glory” revealed, what the “shepherds in the fields abiding” proclaimed, was that this completely human child is also God.

Blended with Simeon’s joy and praise is a prophecy of bitterness. The Christ will divide Israel, and will be spoken against. A sword would pierce the heart of the Blessed Virgin as she would watch her beloved Son, flesh from her flesh, die ignominiously on the cross. Certainly, the many prophecies, like this one, that Mary treasured in her heart, that is to say, the Word of God, sustained her in her pain and grief, preserving her from doubt and despair, even as she awaited the resurrection of her Son and Lord.

St. Luke also introduces us to another beloved aged saint who seems to be holding onto life until she too sees and adores the Christ Child. St. Anna, the faithful widow who serves the Lord around the clock. She is now in her eighties, and the Lord also reveals to her that this “Infant lowly” is also the “Infant holy.”

Both Simeon and Anna suffered the inevitable results of the fall in Eden. They had aged. They were awaiting death. Their time was coming to an end. But instead of falling into depression and despair, instead of looking for a fountain of youth in a powder or pill – they immersed themselves in the Word and service of God. Both lived to see the coming of the triumphant Christ. Though they would not live to see his ministry, his death, nor his resurrection, they knew that this was the “fullness of time” spoken of by Paul in our epistle.

Simeon had it right when he speaks of his status as an emancipated slave. “Even so we, when we were children,” says St. Paul, “were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” And being born under the Law, Jesus was given over to circumcision, to sacrifices and feasts, and to the burdens of the Law that he was destined to fulfill. Why? Simeon understood why many years before St. Paul was inspired to explain it to us: “to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.” St. Simeon was no longer a slave, but a son. He has been “released,” as the Lord was now letting him “depart in peace.” Simeon was now free to die – not as a slave, but as a son. Not as a subject of the law, but now as one who has overcome the condemnation of the law.

And similarly, from the moment of her contact with the Christ child, Anna gives thanks to God and “spoke of him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” She understands that Jesus is her “kinsman-Redeemer,” the One who is the “Rod from the stem of Jesse,” the “Branch” that “shall grow out of his roots.”

It’s no wonder that Joseph and Mary were amazed. All of this fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets bundled into a swaddled baby. That, dear friends, is the wonder and the miracle of Christmas. That the Almighty God, the conqueror prophesied by Isaiah, the salvation of the world, the light of revelation, the glory of Israel, the Redeemer – should come into the world born of a poor woman, subjected to the minutia of the law, and whisked away to Nazareth to grow up.

Our world looks at devout elderly people with contempt and scorn, people to be ignored and put out of sight. Our self-centered culture views children as of low priority and equally to be put away for reasons of convenience or choice. Our society looks down upon people of humble means like Joseph and Mary. And yet, these are the very vehicles of the grace of God. Underneath the “meek and mild” appearance is the very might of the living God, who has come to destroy death and crush the skull of the devil, to deliver us from the effects of sin, to give us victory and eternal life.

And so we join St. Simeon in song this day, as we too touch the very body of the Christ child. He comes to us in space and time, under humble means, to unite himself to us in a mystic communion that draws us into heaven and into eternity. Of course, the world is filled with scorn, and the defeated devil is filled with rage, but our faces beam like Simeon in the physical presence of our Lord, who has redeemed us, is our Light and our Salvation, and allows us to depart in peace whenever our Lord calls us from this life to be with him in eternity. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?”

“Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people. A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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