First Sunday after Christmas
December 30, 2012
Text: Luke 2:22-40
The old man had been waiting, waiting, waiting… not impatiently, mind you, as we are prone when we are waiting, but in hope, the kind of biblical hope that is sure and certain as death and taxes, nay, more certain, because such a hope is built on the rock-solid foundation of the promises of God. The Holy Spirit was upon the old man (Luke 2:25). One cannot hope in the biblical sense without the Holy Spirit, after all. But this man had the Holy Spirit in the way of the prophets. The old man was an Old Testament man, though he appears here in the New Testament, in the Gospel according to St. Luke. He was an Old Testament man, because he waited in hope for the consolation of Israel, for the promised Messiah to come and save His people from their sins. Yet this Old Testament man would see the New Testament come to Him in the flesh. He had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (v. 26). And so it was on this day that the old man, Simeon, came by the Holy Spirit to the Temple to behold a Baby (v. 27). Now, there were lots of babies in the Temple with their parents, doing what the Law of Moses commanded, “as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’” (v. 23; ESV [cf. Ex. 13:2]). The parents were redeeming their first-born sons with the required sacrifice, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons (v. 24). So the other folks in the Temple paid no attention to this particular Baby. He had no halo over His head. His parents were not glowing with divine radiance. The detachment of angels assigned to guard His tiny foot from striking against a stone (Ps. 91:12) were invisible to the naked eye. Yet Simeon knows. He has no trouble identifying the One. The Holy Spirit always directs His people to Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit is always pointing us to Christ as the One who reconciles us to the Father. Simeon walks right up to Mary and Joseph and takes the Baby into his arms and blesses the God whom he now holds: “Lord,” he prays to the Baby Jesus, “now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation…” (vv. 29-30). I’m holding salvation right here in my arms. You’ve prepared this salvation, this Baby, not just for the Jews, but for all people, the whole world, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (v. 32).
The Nunc Dimittis we call Simeon’s song, and we sing it, too. When? After we, also, see our salvation in the flesh and hold Him in our mouths as He feeds us with His true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord Jesus is just as present with us as He was with Simeon. In the bread and wine we see by faith the very same Jesus Simeon held as a baby in his arms and saw with his own eyes. It is a marvelous truth. Joseph and Mary marvel at what Simeon says about their Son (v. 33). And we marvel, too. How can this be? We don’t know. We simply trust what the Lord says. This Baby is the Savior of the world. It is He who fulfilled the Law for us. It is He who died on the cross for our sins. He is risen and lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. And He gives His true body and blood in His Supper, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, for the forgiveness of our sins. It is for all the people of God, no matter what their nationality. It is for Jews and Gentiles alike, this salvation, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
As a result, we, like Simeon, can depart in peace. This doesn’t just mean we can depart from the Communion rail in peace, or from the Church in peace, but from this earthly life in peace. It’s a strange saying to our fleshly ears, but Simeon praises God that now he can die without fear. Anna, too, joins Simeon in this confidence. The daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (v. 36), she, too, had been waiting, waiting, waiting… with the kind of biblical hope that is sure and certain, built on the rock-solid foundation of God’s promises. She had been married as a young woman only seven years, and then was widowed until the age of eighty-four. So devout was she, she made her home in the Temple, “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (v. 37). Her hope did not disappoint her. The Holy Spirit was upon her, too. In the presence of the Lord, she could not contain her joy. She did not hold back, but confessed with great rejoicing that the Christ had come. “And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God,” to little Baby Jesus, “and to speak of him,” of Jesus “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel” (v. 38). Now, she, too, could depart in peace, not just from the Temple (from which she hadn’t departed in years), but from this earthly life. She, too, could die without fear.
Praise be to God, you and I, beloved, can depart in peace. We can die without fear. Because our eyes have seen the salvation God has prepared for us in Jesus Christ. We have beheld Him in His Word, in our Baptism, in His body and blood in the Sacrament. I believe it was Kenneth Korby who once said, “We go to the Lord’s Supper as to our death, so that we can go to our death as though going to the Lord’s Supper.” It’s not a morose statement, but a statement of biblical hope and joy built on the rock-solid foundation of God’s promises. Death can come to any one of us at any time. But when we close our eyes in death, that is not the end. We open our eyes in heaven, in the presence of the Lord Jesus, seeing for ourselves what we once beheld only by faith. And we know that the risen Lord Jesus who has distributed His risen body and blood into our mouths has marked us for resurrection. On the Last Day He will call us out of the grave. We won’t stay dead any more than He stayed dead. We’ll rise, to live forever with Him in resurrection bodies fashioned in His resurrection image. That’s the promise of the Lord’s Supper. That’s why we can depart in peace and with joy. As Luther sang in his hymn-version of Simeon’s song: “In peace and joy I now depart Since God so wills it. Serene and confident my heart; Stillness fills it. For the Lord has promised me That death is but a slumber” (LSB 938:1). I will wake up. I should fear the grave no more than I fear my bed.
Because Jesus conquered the grave for me. That’s what Simeon prophesies to 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 your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). He’s talking about Jesus’ rejection and crucifixion. The sign is the holy cross and our Lord nailed to it. The sword that pierces Mary’s soul is her beholding her Son lifted up on Golgotha. Imagine that poor mother’s grief. And hearts are revealed by that sign. For the cross is foolishness to unbelievers, a scandal, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. But to us who are being saved it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. Jesus Christ takes our death, that we might live. He pays for our sin, that we might be accounted righteous before God with the very righteousness of Christ. Physical death is not really death for the Christian. We have spiritual and eternal life in our Baptism, and we will be bodily raised from the dead on the Last Day. “Lord,” we pray to Jesus whom we have received in the Supper, “now you are letting your servant depart in peace.” We can die without fear. Christ, the sacrifice, has been offered to redeem us.
And that’s what the sacrifices in the Temple, the redemption of the firstborn, the pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, is all about. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all of that. All the Old Testament sacrifices point to His once for all sacrifice on the cross. The Old Testament people were saved by faith in the Christ who was coming. We in the New Testament are saved by faith in the Christ who has come. The Firstborn of Mary, the only-begotten Son of God, is given for our redemption. Just as the blood of the lamb marking the doors of the Hebrews in Egypt saved their firstborn when the angel of death passed over, so the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, marks us and saves us from death. Baptized into Christ, now we’re all the redeemed firstborn of God, holy to the Lord. We depart in peace, out of the Egypt of sin, through the Red Sea waters of Baptism and the wilderness of life in this fallen world, into the Promised Land of heaven and the resurrection, eternal life with Jesus Christ. The gift is already ours in Christ, but for now we’re waiting, waiting, waiting… But we wait in hope, the biblical hope built on the rock-solid foundation of God’s promises. Beloved, that hope will not disappoint us. The Holy Spirit reveals to us in His Word that we will not see death without seeing our salvation in the flesh, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.