2020-12-27 Christmas 1
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
The song of Simeon. It’s a Sciptural passage so important that it became part of the the Divine Service Liturgy. But it’s a “Christmas Carol” of sorts. The Nunc Dimittis, literally “now you send forth,” refers to the first few words spoken by Simeon who meets Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus at the temple. We don’t really know a whole lot about Simeon, other than that he was “righteous and devout” and that he was waiting – not for another piece of Christmas cake, not for another glass of eggnog, not for the prophetess Anna to run out and start the car because it’s –30º – he was waiting for the consolation of Israel. Further than that, the Holy Spirit was with him and had revealed to him that he would not “see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (LK 2:26).
In many ways Simeon represents all of humanity in the waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” But what is that? Consolation is all about comfort, sympathy, compassion, relief, support, encouragement, reassurance. In short, Simeon is waiting for God to console humanity, to provide compassion and relief for sin and death. It was the hope and promise from long ago that God would send His Messiah. Simeon was given the promise that he would not die until he saw God’s salvation plan come together. Much like building a house or finishing a 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle! He would not die until he saw it with his own eyes, until he saw God’s plan fulfilled!
This child, a little 8-day old Jewish boy, of miraculous but humble birth, is God’s salvation in human flesh! He has come to be the Savior of the whole world, not just to a fortunate select few, but for everyone – including those who reject Him. The only option for Simeon is to burst into jubilant song!
“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!” (LK 2:29-32).
Mary and Joseph stand there, in slack-jawed awe, marvelling at the words of this new “Christmas Carol” – not unlike the Shepherds who marvelled at the song the angels sang on the night that Jesus was born. This amazing little baby has fulfilled God’s Word and shines forth the light of salvation for the Gentiles and shows the splendid glory of God for the people of Israel! … But that’s not all that Simeon speaks of this new born baby Jesus.
I don’t like to let many people know this, so it’s just our little secret. But, I once went to a baby shower. … Now usually, these things are attended by women only, unless the baby happens to be a boy. However, I got sucked into going literally “where no man has gone before!” So off I go to sit in a circle of chairs surrounded by diaper cakes and boxes of baby wipes, and forced to gush all over the cute blue baby clothes, adorable toys and then proceed to hear all the gory birth details! <shudder!>.This is no place for a man, let me tell you!! Fortunately I was able to redeem the experience by feasting on all the goodies, sandwiches and dainties that always accompany such events! When said shower was over, everyone cleaned up and went home, happy and content. A true “Hollywood” ending to a very nice story!
But there’s no Hollywood ending for baby Jesus! Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph and then says something rather odd, something out of the ordinary. “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel” (LK 2:34). Something is seriously different about this child. He comes to bring peace and pardon for sin – both much needed gifts – yet He will be met with hostility and anger. Mary had her little lamb – and the first place she brings Him is to the temple, a place of sacrifice. He is destined for the falling and rising of many!
This adds another dimension to Christmas, does it not? I mean, we unwrap this beautiful baby Jesus Christmas present and realize that He isn’t just about having a birthday party once a year! He’s not all peace, joy, love and happiness. He’s not all sugar plums and gum drops. He was born to reconcile all people to God and heal our relationships with each other – to bring about the consolation of Israel. But the thing is, in order to heal we must first realize and admit there is a sickness. It is against our sinful nature to think this way though. We always seek to justify ourselves and be blind to our own wrong doings. It’s hard to “see the salvation of God” when we won’t open our eyes to the truth!
And this is how the majority of people go through life: eyes closed to sin and blinded by death. But it is a reality that will confront us all eventually, if not sooner. But who really wants to talk about sin and death at Christmas time?! It’s supposed to be all about joy and happiness, Turkey and twinkling lights! Why drag up all this sin and death speak? The answer is: “we can’t have Christmas without the Cross.” We can’t have Christmas Trees without the Tree of Life. We can’t have Mary’s little lamb without the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
The cross is how God brings about our consolation. The precious blood of Christ was shed for you and me, to let the whole world know that God has had mercy on us, forgiven us our sin and opened to us the way of everlasting life. The cross is the light that lightens the Gentiles and displays the true glory of Israel. The same sword that pierces Mary’s soul at the death of her Son, pierces ours as well. Yet it is by His wounds that we are healed and by them we know the grace, forgiveness and love of God truly belongs to us by faith.
We are now much like Simeon and Anna, waiting at God’s temple and watching for our Messiah to come again. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Cor 13:12). But as we wait, God still continues to give us His gifts of consolation and pardon right now, in the midst of sin and the midst of suffering. He gives us His Word which tells us He is always with us. He gives us His Sacrament where we embrace the incarnate Christ in our hands in bread and wine as Simeon embraced the Christ child in his arms. We sing Simeon’s “Christmas Carol” together with angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven. “Lord, now You let Your servant go in peace” – this does not mean “Super! This service is almost over we get to go home, put on sweat pants, eat turkey buns and watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!” It means “Now I can die in peace with God’s blessed assurance. I have seen with my own eyes the true Salvation of Almighty God and I know without a shadow of a doubt that it is mine in this little child!”
Like Simeon and Anna we receive this wonderful little bundle of joy and we leave with that wonderful “Christmas Carol” on our lips. “Let Your servant go in peace.” And peace is what He gives as we fall to our sinful selves and rise in His grace and salvation all of which are yours and more in Christ Jesus your Saviour. Thanks be to God! Amen!