First Sunday after Christmas (C)
December 30, 2018
Text: Luke 2:22:40
Merry Christmas! Yes, it’s still Christmas, the first Sunday after the Nativity of Our Lord, the 6th Day of Christmas, complete with geese a-laying, reportedly a catechetical reference to the six days of creation (and even if the idea has been debunked that the song is catechetical in nature, why not use it that way?). Anyway, put away your Santas and Rudolphs if you like. I understand we’re all a little weary of that. But Christians, don’t put away Christmas. It’s kind of nice that the world has moved past their brand of celebration. This holy time belongs to the Church. Keep wishing people a merry Christmas. When they look at you weird, use it as an opportunity to confess the birth of Christ our Savior. Teach them that for the Church, Christmas is not just a Day, but a Season, and, in fact, a worldview, and a way of life. Everything has changed because God has come in the flesh. Everything has been turned on its head. The proud are scattered. The mighty are brought down. The humble are exalted. Sinners are forgiven. The hungry are filled and the rich are sent away empty. The dead are raised up and the poor have the good news preached to them. God is a flesh and blood man. He comes, not in wrath, but as a Baby, born to save us from our sins by dying on the cross for us. And He is risen in that same flesh and blood, and He lives and reigns in that same flesh and blood, so that He may raise us from the dead, to new and eternal life in our flesh and blood. This good news, this Gospel, makes for a merry Christmas, indeed.
This morning the little Lord comes into His Temple. Now, the first thing that should strike us in our text is how His parents follow the custom of the Law, which is not to say Law in the Lutheran Law and Gospel sense, but Law as in Torah, the Instruction of the Lord. They’re following the Word. The Word has engendered a custom, given a habit, and that is to bring the Baby to the Temple to present Him to the LORD. We heard in our Old Testament (Ex. 13:1-3a, 11-15) how the Firstborn is holy to the LORD, and thus to be redeemed by sacrifice. Mary and Joseph offer the sacrifice of the poor, a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. This custom and these sacrifices, of course, point to Jesus Himself. He is THE Firstborn, not only of Mary, but of the Father, His only-begotten Son. He is holy to the LORD. He is the Holy LORD. And He is the Sacrifice. The firstborn of all flesh died in Egypt as the climactic event in the Exodus, except for those whose doors were painted with the blood of the Lamb. Jesus is both Firstborn and sacrificial Lamb, by whose blood we are saved. Death passes over us because it did not pass over Him.
And now we are to follow the example of Mary and Joseph. We bring our little ones into the House of God. We bring them to Holy Baptism, to be painted with the Lamb’s blood and cleansed from their sins. Ours is not to bring a sacrifice for them, but that they receive a Sacrament. And then we are to keep bringing them. We bring them to the Divine Service. No, we don’t send them away to some kind of children’s church or playtime. This that we’re doing here is as much for them as it is for anyone. They belong here, with us, hearing the Word, receiving the gifts, growing up into the solid food of doctrine, and eventually, as they are taught and can examine themselves, to the Lord’s Supper. We bring them to Sunday School. We bring them to Catechism. We teach them the faith. That is our custom. It is the custom of the Torah, the Instruction, the Word of the Lord. The Church is for children who hear the living voice of Jesus and believe it. It’s we adults who have the problem. We need to become like children, that we may inherit the Kingdom of God.
The next thing that should strike us is Simeon and Anna, both advanced in years, both waiting their whole lives long for this moment. We have here the bookends of human life. The Baby Jesus and the elderly Prophet and Prophetess. The climax of it all is the confession that this Child is the Lord’s Christ, the Savior of the world. The old is now passing away. Simeon and Anna are Old Testament figures. Their office has come to an end. For the new has come, righteous and having salvation. Jesus, the Lord, has come into His Temple.
Old Simeon takes the Child from His mother’s arms… and it is probably no small miracle that she lets him. He lifts the Baby into the sky and prays, “Lord!”… And by the way, who is he talking to? He’s talking to the Baby, of course. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace" (Luke 2:29; ESV). “I can die, now. Happily. Because with my own eyes I have seen Your salvation. In the flesh. Held You in my own arms. You are for me, and you are for all. You are the Light for revelation to the Gentiles. You are the Glory of Your people Israel.” We sing His song, too. We’ll sing it again today. When? After we’ve held this same flesh and blood Child in our hands, in our mouths, under bread and wine, and thus with our own eyes and ears and tongues have beheld our salvation in the Person of Jesus Christ. Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis, is a Communion hymn. We can die in peace, because we’ve seen our salvation. Our sins are forgiven. And it is always a Christmas hymn, because it is about God our Savior clothed in skin.
Simeon tells us how this salvation will happen. This Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many, and for a sign that is opposed. What does that mean? It means that Jesus is the Great Reversal, the fulfillment of Mary’s Magnificat. The movers and shakers of the world, the powerful and elite, the somebodies are nobodies before God. And all who reject this sign, the Savior, will fall eternally. But the nobodies, the lowly, the despised, the sinners and the rejects, have in this Infant a God who regards them, loves them, declares them to be great. He forgives sins. He gives life. He gives a Kingdom. But be warned, Mary. He will do all this by suffering. By dying. A sword will pierce your own soul, also. You will be at the foot of His cross. Remember that Christmas has no meaning apart from Good Friday. This Child is born to die. And to rise. In His conception and birth, He takes up the tools necessary to effect our redemption… He takes up our flesh and blood. Simeon prophesies all this in His blessing.
Then dear Anna, married only seven years, then a widow until she was eighty-four… She cannot contain herself, for the true Bridegroom has arrived. Sure, He has some growing up to do, but the Wedding Feast has begun as far as she is concerned. And she cannot help it, she must speak of this Child to all who are waiting for the redemption of Israel, to all who were looking for and trusting in the Lord’s Christ. Here He is, this precious Baby. Anna speaks to us still. He’s worth the wait. He’s worth it all. Cling to this little One in faith, dear Christian. He will deliver you. And you will have joy. In the meantime, follow Anna’s example, and speak of Him to all. Capture for yourself some of that joy that cannot be contained. After all, you’ve held Him, like Simeon. You’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good. God grant us all the zeal of Anna, and her patience as we wait upon Him.
This is precisely what He gives to us as we receive Him where He comes to us, our flesh and blood God. Baptism, Preaching, Supper. It has become almost cliché to us, so I don’t want you to miss it. The mystery of Christmas, that God makes His dwelling among us in the flesh, is fulfilled every time we gather around the altar to eat His body and drink His blood. The same thing that happened to Simeon in the Temple happens to us here. That is why we bring our children here. That is why we remain here worshiping, fasting, praying, feasting until we are old. Because here our eyes see our salvation. Our ears hear Him. Our mouths are filled with Him. And being filled with Him, we confess Him. Beloved, as long as we gather around the altar, it is always Christmas. For Jesus comes in the flesh to make us His own. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Merry Christmas!