First Sunday after Christmas (C)
December 26, 2021
Text: Luke 2:22-40
Merry Christmas! It is December 26th, and the world has already moved on from its celebration. Good. Their version of the holiday, which is to say, the Holy Day, is mere tinsel and glitter, paper and bows. It is a jolly old elf, lights on the tree, an excuse for gluttony and excessive drink, and for the entertainment of covetousness and greed.
But you? This is only the Second Day of Christmas for you. You have ten more days to go. You, who have kept the Advent Season of anticipation, waiting upon the Lord, waiting for the consolation of Israel to come. Or even if you haven’t kept it. Even if you dove right in after Thanksgiving, or perhaps Halloween. We all do, to some extent. But that, again, is for the world’s celebration of the “Winter Season,” or whatever. I’m not against Christmas cookies and gingerbread lattes in November, and for some of you, there is the obligatory company party. But now that the world is done, the Church enters upon Christmas as a holy time, without all that distraction. It is a time of joy in the hope fulfilled at Christmas. For Christ has come. Jesus is born. The Son of the Virgin, and God’s own Son. Born for you. To be your Savior from sin and death. To defeat for you the very devil.
Jesus has come, and in our text, He has come into His Temple. And we should not miss what is going on here. After many years of Israel and Judah rejecting God in favor of idols, the prophet Ezekiel saw a vison of the Glory of YHWH departing from the Temple through the East Gate (Ez. 10). But it wasn’t just a vision. It really happened. The God whose glory is to dwell with His people, withdrew His presence when His people abandoned Him. And then came the Babylonians, who destroyed the Temple, and the Ark of the Covenant disappeared forever.
But what happens when Jesus comes into the Temple for Mary’s purification and the redemption of the first born? Ah, the Glory of YHWH has returned. God graciously deigns once again to dwell with His people. The fulfillment of the Ark, the Temple of Jesus’ flesh, has come into God’s House. The Word became flesh and tabernacled, pitched His tent, among us. And we have seen His glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). The One the people had longed for has come, the promised Messiah, the Savior. And that is to say, it is Christmas!
Now in these Twelve Days of Christmas and beyond, as we see what the world does not see, that our life and salvation has come in the birth of this Child, we are like Simeon and Anna, and we learn from them how to celebrate.
First, note how they both keep the Season of Advent, and for them, it isn’t four weeks, but their whole life long. Both of them have been waiting, hoping, praying, anticipating. But always in the sure conviction that God would make good on His Promises. That is to say, they were waiting in faith.
Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel. He was waiting for Messiah to come and save him from his sins. Luke tells us he was righteous and devout. That is, he was a good Christian, righteous by faith to be sure, but also what we might call “outwardly righteous.” He was full of the good works that are the fruit of faith. He believed and kept the Scriptures. He heard them and learned them eagerly. And he put his faith into practice. And he did this, not to become righteous before God, but because he knew his righteousness was coming in the Person of the Messiah.
Anna, also, was waiting. A prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the Tribe of Asher, married only seven years before she was widowed, now advanced in years, a woman of 84. She essentially lived at the Temple, waiting, and worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.
So, from Simeon and Anna, we learn how to wait upon the Lord. Hear and believe the Scriptures. Learn them by heart, and put them into practice. Do good works, the fruit of faith in the coming Savior. Be always in God’s House, in His saving presence. Worship with fasting and prayer. Fasting, which is a physical expression of prayer, especially as we wait upon the Lord. It confesses our emptiness apart from the Lord’s fulness. Our helplessness. Our hunger and thirst for a righteousness that comes from outside of us. It is a prayer for God to come and fill us, even as it disciplines the body. And prayer. Never neglect the gift of prayer. The liturgy. The corporate prayers here in God’s House. And your own prayers with your family and in private. Call upon the Lord. Ask Him. Lay your needs before Him. Intercede for others. Pray for your family, for the Church, for your brothers and sisters in Christ, by name, and, of course, for your pastors. And wait. Anticipate. Know with sure conviction that God will make good on His Promises, and come, and deliver.
And so He does. When Jesus comes into the Temple, what does Simeon do but grab our Infant Lord up into His arms and rejoice and sing. For in this little bundle of flesh and bones is the One who fulfills the Law perfectly for Simeon and for all of us. This little Baby is the Lamb of God who takes away Simeon’s sin, your sin, and the sins of the whole world. He is the Paschal Lamb, the Sacrifice of Atonement, the Propitiation for our sins. He is the Son of God. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And now that he has seen Him, and held Him in his arms, Simeon sings and confesses that he can depart in peace, that he can die now, with joy. Because the Lord has fulfilled His Word. Simeon’s eyes have beheld his salvation, the salvation prepared for all peoples, the Light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the Glory of God’s people Israel. Yes, the Glory. The Glory has come into the Temple once again. Simeon can die, because he knows that he will not die. In this little Lord Jesus, he lives. And that eternally.
So you, when you behold that little bundle of flesh and blood all wrapped up in bread and wine, you take Him in your hand and on your tongue, and you rejoice and sing. You sing Simeon’s song. The Nunc Dimittis. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:29). That is even what the pastor says to you after you commune. “Depart in peace.” It doesn’t just mean go quietly back to your pew and sit down. It means you can live in peace, with God and with one another, because all your sins are forgiven. And you can die in peace. You can die now. Because your eyes have seen, and your tongue has tasted, your salvation. This Light has enlightened you. And the Glory of God’s people tabernacles once again in His New Israel, the Church. And He takes up His abode in you. You can die now, because you know that you will not die. Christ died for you, and in Baptism, you died in Christ. Now Christ is risen, and so in Christ, you live. And that eternally.
Anna is so overcome with joy at the sight of Jesus that she can’t keep quiet. She gives all thanks and praise to God, and she speaks of the precious little Savior to everyone who will listen, all who likewise were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem, for divine help and consolation, for a Savior from sin and death and condemnation. So you. Especially this time of year. You come to services, and you spend extra time in Scripture and prayer at home, and you give all thanks and praise to God. And you just can’t keep quiet. You speak of Jesus to anyone who will listen. You send cards with Bible verses and words of Christian hope and joy. You sing carols. You give gifts. And not just tinsel and bows. You give Christ. You speak His Word. You love with His love. Receiving Him in the Supper, you bear Him within yourself wherever you go. It is all such joy.
There is, though, one more component of the Christian celebration that we learn especially from Simeon. That is that the cross looms large over the whole business. This Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, the fall of all who reject Him, the rising of all who believe. He is a Sign that will be opposed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, Mary. You will behold Him tortured, naked, bleeding, and hanging on the Tree. But He came in the flesh for this very reason. This is why Simeon could die in peace. This is why Anna rejoiced and confessed. This is why you can live, and die, confidently, come what may. Because Jesus died for your sins on the cross. The full atonement is made. And Jesus is risen, and lives, and reigns, this Child, this Babe, the Firstborn of Mary, the Son of God. Christmas and Good Friday and Easter go hand in hand.
It is only now the Second Day of Christmas, and there is so much more rejoicing and merriment to make. There are Twelve Days of Christmas, and then… more Christmas! Epiphany, January 6th, and the visit of the wise men. And 40 days after Christmas, this event in our text, called the Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of Mary. We also call it Candlemas, historically the day Christians brought candles to offer for use in the Church, a confession that the Light for revelation to the Gentiles has come in Christ, and that the Glory of the LORD dwells once again with His people.
And the reality is, every Lord’s Day is a celebration of Christmas, even as it is a celebration of Easter. For here you have a direct encounter with Jesus Christ as you hear His voice, eat His Body, and drink His Blood, the very Body and Blood born of the Virgin Mary, given and shed on the cross, risen and living, for you. And so… Merry Christmas! The world has moved on, but not you. Keep celebrating. Keep singing. The Glory of the Lord has come into His Temple. Here you see His salvation. And He dwells with you. Take, eat. Take, drink. Christ is born for you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.