Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sermon: Christmas 1 – 2012

29 December 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 2:22-40 (Isa 11:1-5, Gal 4:1-7)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We are on the cusp of the year of our Lord 2013 – but 2012 still has a couple more days to go.  Around the world, we will see the symbolism of the new year as a baby in a diaper, and the passing year as an old man with a beard.  This is an almost universal way of depicting the passing of time.  And without meaning in life, that is all time does: pass.  The numbers change, the calendar pages flip, and we all get one year older.

But, dear friends, to us Christians, the passage of time is not just a matter of getting older, rather we are one more day, one more month, one more year closer to the consummation of creation: the final coming of our Lord, the end of time itself, and the completed restoration of paradise without sin, death, and the devil, without contention, strife, and conflict, without hatred, fear, and want, without pain, sadness, and death.

That is why we Christians can identify with the smiling, hopeful baby in the new year cartoons.  We are a people of hope because we are the people of God!  We are people of the promise because we are the people of the Word.  And the Word was made flesh, and His face, the face of the smiling hopeful Baby, is also the face of a kind and merciful God whose countenance shines upon us!

And yet, the old man of the world’s symbolism is also a symbol of hope for us Christians.  What more beautiful illustrations are there, living historical flesh-and-blood icons of faithfulness and patience, of tenacity to the Word and promise of God, of the sanctity of time itself spent in waiting patiently on the Lord and in the Lord’s presence?  What greater illustration do we have, dear friends, than the elderly saints Simeon and Anna?

For old Simeon waited patiently “for the consolation of Israel,” a man upon whom the Holy Spirit visited, and upon who rested the Spirit’s revelation.  He was promised that he “would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”  And like Abraham of old, he was nearing the end of his course of life on this side of the grave, and yet he still waited patiently and faithfully for the Lord’s promise.

And like the Old Man of 2012, Simeon meets the young mother Mary, her husband Joseph, and the baby Jesus, the Son of God, the Lord’s Christ.  The blessed Virgin and her husband had come to the temple – another symbol of the old passing away (for the True Temple was in the womb that Jesus opened, and the true presence of the Holy Spirit was in the Holy Child in her arms).

Thousands of times before, temple sacrifices were made in honor of the firstborn son, a foreshadowing of that one final sacrifice of the firstborn Son – after which there would be no more need for animal sacrifices, nor for a temple made with human hands.  For the Lord Himself not only opened the womb of His virginal mother, but also opened the tombs of all His adopted brothers and sisters!  The Lord opened the heart of the Father to be moved with pity and mercy and forgiveness for all of us poor, miserable sinners who have been rescued by this one final sacrifice.

And St. Simeon was given a revelation of God in the flesh.  Simeon took the child Jesus “up in His arms” and spoke the holy words that are the Word of God, words used in the Church’s liturgy: “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 like the Old Man of the Old Year, Simeon is ready to pass from the old to the new, to see the Old Testament drawn to a tired close, and to witness the New Testament emerge with vigor and youthful energy.  And what’s more, in Christ, Simeon will not merely slink off to die, rather he will find renewed vigor and life – eternal life, in fact, by virtue of the Christ Child, the sacrifice presented in the temple, the atonement offered upon Golgatha, the Victor who will emerge from the grave, the One who is coming again “with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”

Simeon, in his ripe old age, “when the fullness of time had come,” had seen the “shoot from the stump of Jesse,” witnessing with his own aged and expectant eyes the “branch from his roots” that shall “bear fruit” – and this is the very fruit of the womb of Mary, the true “male who first opens the womb” and who “shall be called holy to the Lord.”

Simeon’s eyes have “seen [the] salvation that [God has] prepared in the presence of all peoples.”  And as the prophet wrote seven centuries prior concerning the Lord’s Christ, “He shall not judge by what His eyes see, or decide disputes by what His ears hear, but with righteousness He shall judge the poor.”  The Lord’s Christ does not judge us according to what the eyes and ears see and hear, but rather by the gracious righteousness He has come to give us, through washing and regeneration, through the Word, through forgiveness, and through the administration of His true body and blood that was sacrificed on the cross.  St. Simeon receives a revelation of just who this Lord’s Christ is!  He is ready to “depart in peace.”

There is another elderly saint to complete the picture of the old giving way to the new, of hopefulness and steadfastness, of a lifetime of service to the Lord that culminates in giving “thanks to God and [speaking] of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption.”  St. Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, the longtime widow who enjoyed the blessings and comfort of holy marriage for only seven years, and yet who at age 84 “did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.”

Like St. Simeon, St. Anna has seen that which was revealed to her by the Holy Spirit.  Her patient service was not in vain!  Her prayers and tears did not go unheard and unheeded!  She is not just a symbol of a passing year, a relic of days gone by, an old lady to be put away and ignored.  She too has new life because of the shining countenance of the Lord’s Christ, the Holy Child who has been brought to the temple to become the temple, who has been carried to the sacrifice to be the sacrifice, who is truly the “male who first opens the womb,” the “holy to the Lord.”

For the Old Testament, the revelation to the children of Israel, the testimony of the Law and the Prophets are not being outmoded, thrown away, and kicked to the curb.  Rather they are being brought to fruition, being fulfilled, being renewed in vigor in the presence of the faithful, young and old alike!  For “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Dear friends, St. Simeon and St. Anna were redeemed from death, released from the burden of the law, and received into the fullness of righteousness through this same Christ Child, through this same flesh and blood, through this same incarnate Word who is present for us here in this time and in this place, the same Lord who makes our very bodies to be temples of the Holy Spirit, the same One for whom we wait patiently to come again, waiting as redeemed and forgiven sinners, waiting as worshipers in God’s House, waiting as those who put their faith and their hope in the Words and promises of God!

And like Simeon and Anna, “you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”  And so let us, along with Mary and Joseph, with Simeon and Anna, with the saints and witnesses of every time and place, living and dead, known and unknown, men and women of every tribe and tongue, “[bless] God, our “Abba, Father,” and sing, “Lord, now you are letting Your servant depart in peace,” as we “give thanks to God and speak of Him to all who [are] waiting for the redemption.”

And when we see the symbolism these next few days of the Old Man 2012, let our thoughts and meditations turn to elderly saints Simeon and Anna, and when we see the smiling baby in the diaper representing 2013, let us remember the true Child of Hope, the one wrapped in swaddling cloths, who blesses us and keeps us, whose face shines upon us even as His countenance is lifted up upon us from the cross.  Let us ponder this new year 2013 Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord, in the Simeon-and-Anna-like hope and expectation of seeing the Lord’s salvation in the flesh, Him whose “righteousness shall be the belt of His waist, and faithfulness the belt of His loins.”

A blessed new year in our Lord to you, dear friends, to the whole Church on earth, and to the entire world, “in the presence of all peoples.”  Amen!

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