Sermon for the 1st Sunday After Christmas

Luke 2:22-40 (First Sunday after Christmas—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

December 27, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is from the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 2:

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “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), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

What if Mary had written a letter to her cousin Elizabeth after the events of our Gospel lesson?  It might have read something like this.

My Dearest Elizabeth,

Greetings to you!  The Lord be with you.

I pray that this letter finds you, Zechariah, and baby John doing well.  Your little boy must be growing so fast.  I know my Jesus is.  It is hard to imagine that he is already more than 40 days old.  He’s growing and becoming strong.  The favor of God is upon Him.  But, it seems just like yesterday that we were in Bethlehem’s stable and I gave birth to my first born son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger because there was no room for us in the end.  It seems just like yesterday that Bethlehem shepherds came and found us and the babe lying in a manger after God’s angels told them that their Savior had been born and found Him in such humble conditions.  But time marches on.

Speaking of time, Joseph and I have completed our legal obligations according to the Law of Moses.  We went up to Jerusalem to present Jesus to the Lord as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord,” and so we offered a sacrifice to the Lord of two young pigeons.  Such is the poverty in which we will raise this child that we cannot even afford a bigger sacrifice.  Sometimes I wonder why the Lord chose me in his grace to bear this child, knowing that neither I nor Joseph had very much to offer Him except I love and care.

As it turned out, the most intriguing thing happened at the Temple.  As you know, there are lots of people at the Temple.  We went there to fulfill the Law and to offer prayers to the Lord, never expecting to have intimate contact with anyone.  Yet we were met by two individuals, two very special individuals that I am convinced the Lord placed in our path.

The second of the two we met was a prophetess named Anna.  She was quite elderly and a widow.  As it turns out, the poor dear lived with her husband seven years until his death.  She has been a widow for 84 years.  She never departs from the Temple, worshiping and fasting and praying night and day.  At the hour we were there she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Jesus to all who waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.  Joseph and I were amazed.  We would have been completely dumbfounded had it not been for the first individual we met. His name was Simeon.

The Holy Spirit led Simeon into the Temple in order that he might see our little Jesus.  He asked to hold Him, and when Simeon had taken Jesus into his arms, he blessed God and sang, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)  It was so beautiful that the Holy Spirit had given Simeon this insight into who Jesus is.  Simeon saw Jesus as the revealer of salvation.  His eyes were opened to salvation, a salvation that is a light of revelation to all nations, Jews and Gentiles.

Joseph and I responded with wonder at the words Simeon had spoken.  We knew that they were words of prophecy, spoken through the prompting of God the Holy Spirit.  Joseph and I know the miraculous circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth.  He was conceived in the womb by the power of the Holy Spirit.  He is the Son of God.  He will save people from their sins.  The shepherds confirmed what we already knew and believed when they told us the angelic message they themselves had received, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. . . . Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”

Then, Simeon blessed Joseph and me and then spoke to me directly, “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.”

Again, more Spirit-inspired words of prophecy, to be sure.  There is a reason for the poverty of this Child.  His humble birth is a sign of foreboding.  Many Jews will fall and rise as they meet Jesus.  He will be a stumbling block to everyone, including family, because of the nature of His future ministry and the nature of His kingdom.  He is the Son of God.  “His is no earthly kingdom; it comes from heaven above.  His rule is peace and freedom and justice, truth, and love.”

How hard it was to hear these prophetic words!  How difficult to know that this now 40-day-old Child would be spoken against, opposed because His words and actions will not meet human expectations.  As His mother and as a member of the house of Israel, I too will feel the pain of Jesus’ words and the pain of His sacrifice for the sins of the world.  How difficult it is at times to have such knowledge of my Son.  How hard it is to know the rejection and trouble He will face.  Just imagining the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s words brings me to tears, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; . . .  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3-5)

Yet even as many will be scandalized and crushed by Jesus’ words, actions, and sacrificial death for the sins of the world, many also will see by faith that Jesus is the Savior, and will be saved.  Even Joseph and I look to this Child in faith, knowing that He is our Savior too.  He is God’s Promised Messiah who will take away the sins of the world.  Israel will be saved; Jerusalem will be redeemed, as Simeon and Anna have spoken by the power of the Holy Spirit.  All I can do is trust in the Lord.  All I can do is trust in Him who is my Child, my Savior and my Lord.

My prayer is that many will trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior too.  God’s amazing love has sent Him from His heavenly throne to be born in humility and poverty.  God’s amazing love has sent Him to be rejected and spoken against so that He might take away the sins of the world, yours and mine.  Place your trust in Jesus, who is Christ the Lord.

With all my love to you and yours,