1st Sunday after Christmas
December 30, 2018
“It’s All Over…Or Is It?”
God’s grace, mercy and peace be to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the newly-born King. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Luke 2.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Well, it’s all over for another year, right? No more halls to be decked. No more yuletide carols being sung by fires. No more bells to be jingled. No more chestnuts to roast. Christmas is over. The presents are open. Many have their Christmas trees down, gift cards redeemed, and mistletoe safely stowed for another year.
But not so fast! Hang on there, little Grinchs. Technically, Christmas is not over. You see, in the world’s eyes Christmas ends sometime shortly after the presents get ripped open. But not so in the Church. Christmas is both a day – December 25th – and also a season. It is short, yes, but a season nonetheless. The Christmas season is 12 days long (hence the song “Twelve Days of Christmas”), lasting from December 25th until Epiphany on January 6th (next Sunday). What has begun – Christmas – will be completed next week (Epiphany). So for now, we’re in the middle; what God has started we now wait for its completion. See where I’m going with this yet?
There was a man named Simeon who was in the same situation; what God had begun, he waited for completion. The Bible tells us very little about Jesus’ infancy and teenage years. It tells us even less about Simeon. Here is what we know from today’s Gospel as we set the scene.
You already know what happened previous to this: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1) and then comes the angels, shepherds, swaddling cloths, and the whole 9 yards of the Christmas birth narrative. Now, 40 days had passed since Jesus’ birth. How do we know? Because Luke records that “when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22). The Law of Moses says that after a woman gives birth she was ceremonially unclean for 7 days, then had to be isolated for another 33 days (Leviticus 12). Hence, 40 days had passed since our Lord’s birth. 40 days is significant: it is the period of rainfall that flooded the world in Genesis 6. It is the years of wandering for Israel. 30 years later, it is the number of days of fasting that Jesus will eventually endure prior to His temptation (Matthew 4).
Now, after 40 days, here comes Simeon. We know that he was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation or deliverance of Israel (2:25). We know the Holy Spirit was upon him (2:25). And we also know 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).
Well…here He comes. Joseph and Mary arrive at the same time that Simeon just happens to be in the Temple in Jerusalem. Coincidence? I think not. The Holy Spirit has brought all the “players” to the same place at the same time for a reason. Simeon has just met the Christ Child face-to-face meaning that he could one day die at peace knowing that God’s salvation of Israel would take place for sure. Simeon, who had longed for Israel’s deliverance, could depart this world – he could die – knowing that everything was going to be okay because he had seen God’s salvation.
Did you recognize the words of Simeon? You should. This song of Simeon is also called the Nunc Dimittis; the title is formed from the opening words in the Latin Bible called the Vulgate, “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord”. It is a beautiful song that was sung for decades in The Lutheran Hymnal and still appears in Divine Service Setting Three: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.”
Simeon knew that what God had started by way of promise He had now fulfilled in sending His Christ to redeem – save – His people…all people Gentile and Jew alike. And then, like so many others in the NT, as mysteriously as he entered the scene, Simeon disappears from the pages of Scripture.
So, with the sermon nearly over and with the calendar year nearly over, can the same thing be said about you? What is it that you are waiting in life to see? Are you anxiously awaiting better health, a better job, a better home, better family? In short, are you waiting around for things to get better? Well, I hate to burst your bubble, because if that is the case for you, you may have a LONG wait.
Nowhere in scripture does God promise “better” lives. Nowhere does He promise riches or fame or glory or success. Nope. In fact, you should expect the opposite: suffering, pain, loss, grief, and persecution. Habitual sinners such as us shouldn’t expect glory this side of heaven.
But here’s the thing that Simeon teaches us. What God has begun He has also fulfilled in sending the Christ Child Jesus. What God promised in the Old Testament begins its fulfillment in the manger of Bethlehem will one day 33 years later be accomplished at Calvary’s cross and eternally finalized at Easter’s empty grave. That is the kind of information good enough to live AND DIE in. let that sink in a little bit. No one I’m sure will set a New Year’s resolution to die, but if we did we could do so in complete peace knowing that according to God’s Word we sinners have forgiveness and life everlasting because of what the Christ does for us. God never promises a “better” life, but he does promise a forgiven life…an eternal life.
Over? Nothing is over. Simeon’s life is over, sure. But you and I? Well, we’re in the same boat as Simeon in a sense. It’s not over for us just yet. We have seen what God has promised AND completed.
And in the meantime, as faithful people we get a wonderful reminder from Paul in today’s Second Lesson what we should be doing: “Put on…compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other…above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:12-17 ESV).
May God enable you to do just that throughout 2019 and always.