Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sermon: Wednesday of Christmas 1

30 December 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 2:33-40 (Isa 11:1-5, Gal 4:1-7)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Simeon and Anna should be considered the patron saints of patience.

Both are elderly and advanced in years. Both cling to the promises of God. Both center their lives in the Lord’s Temple. Both have made it their life’s ambition to see the Lord fulfill His prophecies of the Messiah, the “shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots” that is promised to “bear fruit.”

Sts. Simeon and Anna are at the very end of a long train throughout the millennia of people waiting for, longing for, praying for, and hoping for the Advent of our Lord. Like the new year being represented by a baby, and the old year being personified as an old man, Simeon and Anna are hanging on in this life to hand the baton off to the Child who will not only ring in a new year, but a new age.

And what a joy they experience as the promise is fulfilled!

St. Simeon, acting under the discerning eye of the Holy Spirit, instantly recognizes the Christ Child, and offers a blessing of Him. In Simeon’s actions we see a preview of our Lord’s “happy exchange” in which Jesus swaps His righteousness for our sins. For as “righteous and devout” as Simeon was, he was not perfect. He was suffering the results of sin in this fallen world, being harassed by age and waiting for his own death. And yet, this imperfect man blesses the Perfect Man. This man who is near death offers a benediction upon the one man who does not need to die, and yet who volunteers to do so, even for the one blessing Him.

And having seen the Lord according to the Lord’s Word, Simeon is ready to depart in peace. And it is fitting that we close our Divine Service, after having seen and experienced the Christ Child ourselves in His flesh and Blood, by praying again with St. Simeon his psalm of praise, his comforting canticle of being ready to depart this veil of tears knowing that the world is being recreated anew, and that our dying flesh is being redeemed by the “Light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”

And yet after his song, Simeon is not yet done. The Lord still has one more word to speak through him. He prophesies that the Christ child will cause the rise and fall of many – even as John the Baptist spoke of valleys being raised and hills being brought low – and that Christ would be opposed. St. Simeon warned Mary of her own soul-piercing pain that she was to experience thirty years later at the cross. But Simeon also speaks of revelation as well.

And having seen and having said what the Lord called him to do, St. Simeon was now ready, in peace and joy, to depart.

At the end of this age, and at the beginning of the next, we also encounter another elderly saint, who likewise patiently waits for her Savior to come. She is St. Anna, a widow who devotes herself to the Temple, to prayer, to worship, to fasting, and to serving God “night and day.” She too encounters the Christ Child and “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.”

Notice that St. Anna did not pursue a life of pleasure and self-gratification when the Lord called her husband to himself. Anna went to where her Lord was to be found, in the Temple courts, offering herself as a “living sacrifice” as St. Paul implores all of us believers to do. She did not pine away or agitate that she was not permitted to preach in the public assembly and not allowed to assume the Levitical priesthood – rather she rejoiced in the priesthood shared by all believers. And rather than preach sermons, she spoke of the Lord to people in her daily discourse where the Lord placed her.

St. Simeon centered his life on the Word of the Lord, the Word revealed to him in the form of a revelation from God, a promise that was to be fulfilled in Christ. And Simeon encountered Christ in the Lord’s House, in the very flesh, and was blessed to proclaim the Lord’s Word there – not only for the benefit of the Holy Family, but for our larger holy family: we the Lord’ brothers and sisters, we the children of God, we who have been made heirs, we who have been given the right to call God “Abba! Father!” and to pray to Him as “our Father who art in heaven.”

St. Simeon knew where to find the Word. He did not know how it would take shape, or when the Word of God would be fulfilled. Yet he took it on faith and patiently waited. But he waited in the House of the Lord. He prayed and heard the Word. He partook of the worship of the Lord’s people in the very presence of God. And in the fullness of time, he sang (and taught us to sing) his hymn: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word.”

Likewise, St. Anna knew where to find the Word. She did not treat the House of the Lord as just one more thing on her social calendar. She did not see the Temple as an institution designed to give her money as a widow. Rather she patiently devoted herself to the Lord’s House and to the Word. The Temple is the place of the sacrifice, where the lambs of God were offered as a preview of the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.” She enrobed herself with the divine sacramental presence of the Lord and placed herself where the Lord is found in His Word according to His promise.

And though Sts. Simeon and Anna were aging, and though they watched year after year of the Lord’s promises seemingly not fulfilled, they waited patiently on the Lord. They prayed. They kept their eyes open. They surrounded themselves with the holy things, and remained in the holy places. They did not interpret the Lord’s timetable to be license to do whatever they pleased, but rather gave of themselves willingly to watch and pray, to hear the Word of the Lord and participate in the sacrifices, to offer thanksgiving and praise, and to teach others about the Lord’s Word fulfilled and brought to fruition, which sprouted forth in the body of Jesus Christ.

Whether we are elderly or not, we wait. Whether we are married, single, or widowed, we wait. And like Sts. Simeon and Anna, we too have received the Word of God, we have been given the Word made flesh, we have been baptized and brought into the living stones of His House. We have been given the opportunity to hear the prophetic Word proclaimed, to partake of the body and blood of the Lord, to hear the Word of forgiveness and life, and to be made ready to depart in peace.

Let us patiently continue in the House of the Lord, in the Word of the Lord, and in the flesh and blood of the Lord. Let us “give thanks to God and… speak of Him to all who [are] waiting for… redemption.” Let us likewise bless God and be a blessing to the world, proclaiming the salvation seen by our eyes and “prepared in the presence of all peoples.”

Let all together praise our God
Before His glorious throne;
Today He opens heav’n again
To give us His own Son,
To give us His own Son.


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

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