Merry Christmas! Yes, we are still in the season of Christmas right now!
In our gospel reading this morning, we see that it is now 40 days after the birth of Jesus. According to the Jewish custom, this was a special day. The mother would be able to come back to the temple. This ceremony was called the “purification” of the mother. More was involved when the child was a firstborn son, which is the case for Jesus.
The origins go back centuries earlier to the time when Israel came out of Egypt at the time of the exodus. If you remember, what compelled Pharaoh to let God’s people go was the final plague: death of the firstborn. All throughout Egypt, in every home, the firstborn was going to die. But the Israelite homes were spared. They were passed over. To always remember that their lives were spared, every firstborn son from then on was to be dedicated to the Lord. Set apart for His service, even if only ceremonially. This is why baby Jesus is taken to the temple in Jerusalem.
There are lots of people in the temple on any given day. People hanging around. People coming and going. Pilgrims from out of town, coming in for this or that festival or bringing their offering or doing other act required in the law of Moses. On this day, a couple from out of town are coming in to do the firstborn son ritual. No big deal. It happens all the time. Nobody would pay any particular notice. There are some older folks there in the temple as well: retired, pious, devout worshipers, who love to be in the house of God. Again, nothing out of the ordinary. But this is no ordinary day.
The couple with the baby boy are Joseph and Mary. They got their 40 day old firstborn son with them. A baby by the name of Jesus. He was like any random Jewish baby boy but at the same time he was more than that of course. He is the eternal Son of God. Fully divine. The Messiah. Only you couldn’t see that with the naked eyes.
Except for Simeon and Anna. We remember that Simeon was an old man waiting to see the Messiah. He didn’t see any miracles, he didn’t see any sign, he didn’t see any wonders. He simply saw the baby Jesus and said: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which has been prepared for all people.” He just saw the Christ child. He believed and that was enough. No miracles. No signs. No wonders.
Then we have the story of Anna, who was 84 years old. She was a widow and poor. For her also there were no miracles, no signs, no wonders. All she saw was the Christ child and she too believed.
Both Simeon and Anna recognized this child as the Messiah. They spotted him when Joseph and Mary brought him in. But again. It wasn’t like he was glowing or anything. The only reason they recognized baby Jesus as “the one” was because it was revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. God had made a special promise to Simeon that he would get to see, physically see, the fulfillment of all the promises made to Israel before he dies. He would see the fulfillment in the coming of the Christ. And now here he is, arriving as a little child, presented in the temple. Simeon and Anna are standing in for all of Israel in seeing the fulfillment of all of the prophecies and all of Israel’s history coming now before their eyes.
Salvation bundled up in this little baby boy. Even his name, “Jesus” in Hebrew “Yehoshua” literally means “The Lord Saves,” “The Lord is Salvation.” That’s what this baby is coming as: Our salvation. Our deliverance. Sent from God to save us from our sins and to deliver us safe and sound into God’s eternal kingdom. Simeon now gets to hold the Savior in his arms and see him with his eyes.
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Simeon is basically saying, “What a way to go! My life is complete now. I have seen the fulfillment of God’s promises. What more is there but to have the peace of knowing the Lord has sent the Savior promised from long ago.”
Simeon is even given a foreshadowing of how the salvation is to be accomplished. He tells mother Mary: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also).” This is the shadow of the cross. Many will oppose and speak against this Messiah when he grows up. Christ would endure hostility and rejection. He would be nailed to a cross, a sight that would pierce mother Mary’s soul with sorrow, as she sees her own son suffer and die. But that's how our salvation is secured. The baby in Simeon’s arms would do it. You have salvation and peace now, resurrection and life forever, in Jesus’ name, through faith in him. The Holy Spirit worked this faith in Simeon, and he is working it in you, too, through his word of promise, the gospel.
And so, what a way this is to go! Like Simeon, you are ready to depart this life, whenever the Lord decides to call you home. You know your place in God’s eternal kingdom is secure, secured by Christ’s death and resurrection and made yours when you were joined to Christ in your baptism.
Our scripture readings and the theme that runs through our service this morning is about praise.
The fullness of time has indeed come (Gal 4:4) and indeed, how can we keep silent (Isa 62:1)? For we have seen God’s salvation, prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:31-32).
The First Sunday of Christmas is all about praise. Anna the prophetess who couldn't keep silent upon seeing baby Jesus, our Salvation. Simeon who praised God now that God has fulfilled his promises in front of his eyes.
We are invited to praise God as well like Anna and Simeon. Why? Because Salvation is born, salvation is here. No more fear.
At the same time, perhaps praise is futile, even offensive, in the midst of this pandemic. The many lives that were lost just from this virus. There is no praise, but only lament. Like Rachel, like many who have lost loved ones, we can only mourn. Grieve. Weep -- at such unspeakable loss but also because of the presence of unchecked, uncontrolled, unfathomable power in our world.
Yet, maybe, even in the midst of such sorrow and pain, the only thing left is praise. Praise of our God whose power is known and experienced in the vulnerability of humanity. Whose love is felt in pain and loss. Whose hope knows no limits. We give praise in the face of perverse power. We give praise to shout out an alternate perspective/reality/worldview that chooses love and inclusion and compassion over hatred and exclusion and heartlessness. We give praise to affirm our belief that the world can be different, has to be different, and that that difference is known in bringing about the kingdom of God here and now.
We need to be like Simeon and Anna who respond to God’s presence and resists the presence of evil. We need to be like Simeon and who had the courage to trust in our God who is indeed present and powerful when the world in which we live suggests otherwise. Why? Because "my eyes have seen your salvation you have prepared in the presence of all people" Our salvation and our peace are secure in Christ. Now we’re ready to live, to move into 2021 with a confidence and a peace that the world cannot give. Now we’re ready to risk loving people, which is always a risky proposition, since it means giving of ourselves, forgiving those who have hurt us, and serving others at the point of their need. Now we’re ready to confess Christ with our mouths, telling others the good news that we ourselves have received. But we can do it. God has given us peace, a real peace and a sure salvation that are strong enough to live on and love on. We’re ready to go. “On into 2021!” in the strength and confidence that are ours in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
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