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2023-12-31 Christmas 1

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

Well, dear friends, we are at a cross-roads this morning. Do I still wish you “Merry Christmas” or is it “Happy New Year?!” Liturgically, it’s the First Sunday after Christmas. On the Gregorian calender, it’s New Year’s Eve! So we have some of you still wanting to behold the new born King and some of you eager to kick your new year’s resolutions into high gear! But today is also the 7th Day of Christmas complete with 7 Swans a Swimming - just not in swimming in Saskatchewan! ’Tis the Eve before our Lord’s presentation at the Temple where He would first shed His precious blood for His people in the rite of Circumcision that we remember on January 1st. But today, our Gospel text focuses in our Lord being presented at the Temple to offer sacrifice in accordance with the Law of Moses: “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord” (LK 2:23). 40 days have passed since the birth of our Lord in the Gospel, and now Mary and Joseph return to the temple to “redeem” their firstborn son. And instead of swans a swimming, we have 2 turtle doves, an offering appropriate for a poor young family.

And then, from out of nowhere, we get introduced to a guy named Simeon. He’s kind of like the priest Melchizedek of the Old Testament. All of a sudden, here he is. No back story or context really. St. Luke tells us “this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (2:25). But that’s it. We don’t know if he came from the Holy City of Moose Jaw or Regina, we don’t know about his job or educational training. We assume he is a priest because he’s hanging out at the temple. But the Bible doesn’t tell us specifically. We assume he’s an old man too but we’re not sure of that either! He simply shows up and then he’s gone again.

But we are told that Simeon was waiting. He was waiting for the Messiah. He was a spiritual guy, filled with the Holy Spirit and he was given a peculiar promise directly from God: “26 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” (2:26). Wow! Now talk about a revelation from God. Simeon, you will be the one to see the Messiah before the end of your earthly life. Can you imagine getting up every morning and thinking, “I wonder if today is the day?!” How would Simeon know who the Messiah was? What should he be looking for? A valiant warrior? A business man? A baby?

But day after day we can imagine Simeon there, watching and waiting for the Messiah. Maybe he is old by now. Long beard, arthritic hands, bushy eyebrows. Maybe he sensed that the time was drawing nigh. Then, in walks Mary and Joseph carrying the 40 day old baby Jesus. Commoners in every way. No glitz. No glam. Just peasants from Nazareth. We’d probably have written them off as hillbillies smack dab in the middle of big city Jerusalem, strolling into the Temple courts. Simeon’s eyes fall upon the King of kings and by the power of the Holy Spirit, he knows. This is the one he’s been waiting for!

The long days and weeks and months and years of waiting are finally over. Here, right before his very eyes is the long promised Christ. He walks right up to Mary and Joseph and asks to hold the baby. Simeon picks up the infant Jesus and the overwhelming moment blows his mind! “I am holding the very salvation of the world in my arms!” At such a sight there is no other possible response than to praise God from Whom all blessings flow! And Simeon does exactly that. He breaks forth into song, a song so wondrous it has become a permanent part of our Divine Service Liturgy. Complete with funky Latin name and all, the Nunc Dimittis now makes this moment ours, right after Holy Communion where we with Simeon hold Christ in our hands.

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (LK 2:29-32). Light to reveal the Lord’s salvation to the Gentiles, this is the glory of Israel. Simeon sees in baby Jesus the fulfillment of all the hopes and fears of all the years, they are met in Jesus. He fulfills the 3 fold promises given to Abraham: your name shall be great, the father of a great nation, and through you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.

Mary and Joseph they marvel at this Number 1 hit new single from Simeon! And, like Melchizedek, he blesses them. Then he says to Mary: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (LK 2:34-35). Say what??? That’s a weird thing to say to a new mom. But Simeon was prophetically telling our Lord’s parents what was going to happen to this precious little baby. He was going to grow up and be crucified for the sins of the world. Mary His mother would watch in horror as the spear pierced the side of her Son. It was then that the Simeon’s promised sword would pierce her soul too.

And yet, this is all according to God’s plan. His incredible plan to redeem His people. His plan to save us. You and me. This is how our Lord would defeat death. This is how He would bind up and overpower Satan, the strong man who held us in captivity. Death could only be conquered by death and this is exactly why our newborn King has come. This is why the wood of the manger cannot be separated from the wood of the cross. This is why the cave of the Nativity is fulfilled by the cave of the tomb where the crucified Lord of life would be risen from the dead. This is where our Messiah is truly proclaimed King of kings and Lord of lords.

But before this, our Lord is visited by the Wismen from the East. The Magi roll into Jerusalem and say “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Simeon’s prophecy is coming true yet again. The Gentiles are drawn to His light, following His star. They go to Bethlehem, the place of the promised Messiah’s birth. The name Bethlehem literally means ‘house of bread’ or ‘house of food.’ It was a town situated in a good and fertile area. It was a place abounding with abundance. In fact that’s what Ephrathah means “fertile.” In Martin Luther’s Day they would have called such a place a “lardpit!” Smack dab in the wilderness and desolate desert places is Bethlehem, abounding in grain, abundant in grace and mercy. It is here that the Wisemen lavish costly gifts to Christ our Lord: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold for a King. Frankincense for a sacrifice. Myrrh for anointing the dead.

Such costly gifts go hand in hand with the abundance that Bethlehem produces. For our Lord has promised “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. … 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (JN 6:35,51). From abundant Bethlehem comes the abundant Bread of Life that gives us abundant blessing. In our very hands we hold the Christ as Simeon did. In the bread and wine of Holy Communion we eat and drink the salvation of our God. And now, we go forth in peace, knowing that our Lord’s Word has been fulfilled. The light of God’s Kingdom has shone upon us and revealed to us the rich and abundant grace of Christ that forgives our sins fills us with good things now and forever more. Amen!

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