1st Sunday after Christmas
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those one whom God’s favor rests! In the name of Jesus, our newborn Savior, dear friends in Christ, are you making any New Year’s Resolutions for 2018? Newsweek recently published an article of 15 top ideas to help you in setting goals for 2018, here they are: eat more fish, make meaningful connections, take a warm bath, go to bed early, volunteer, make your own meals, give up soda, hit the gym, don’t eat after 9 pm, pick up a book, eat salad once a week, spend more time outside, get a coloring book, use social media less, and save for the future. A new year presents us with the opportunity to not only reflect on the past year, but to look forward into the next year. So, are you setting any goals or making any resolutions for 2018? Almost every popular list of resolutions people have for a new year are exclusively to do with a person’s outward life. But, as Christians, we know that there is something much more satisfying, much more rewarding, much more lasting than making some outward changes to our lives. Are there any inward or spiritual resolutions that you will be making this coming year?
We obviously don’t know what lies ahead in 2018. Will there be a sudden change to our lives? Will we face some major expense? Will there be some big thing that will happen on the world scale? Will we have some major health issue? Will a close loved one pass away? Will this be the year that we pass away? While we don’t know what will happen in 2018, wouldn’t it be nice to have to peace of Simeon and the joy of Anna? Well, the good news is that because of God’s resolution about us we can have the same peace and the same joy.
Joseph and Mary have taken the baby Jesus to the temple. And while they are there a man named Simeon came up to them. We’re told that Simeon was righteous and devout. The word “righteous” indicates that he was a true believer in the promised Savior. Through faith in the coming Savior God credited him with the righteousness that Jesus came to win. He was also “devout.” That indicates that his faith was evident in his life. He wasn’t just a “religious” person, he honestly lived to serve God giving thanks for the salvation that God had come to win for him.
There was something special about Simeon. It had been revealed to Him by God the Holy Spirit that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah. On one particular day, moved by the Holy Spirit, he entered the temple courts and went up to Joseph and Mary and took the baby Jesus into his arms and praised God with the words of what has come to be called the “Nunc Dimittis” which is Latin for the first words in Latin, “Now you depart.” “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
Now, we often assume that Simeon was a very old man and what he is saying here is that he can now die because he has seen Jesus. But we’re not told that specifically. It could be. But that’s not really the focus of his song of praise. For many centuries the Christian church has placed this song of Simeon right after people have received the Lord’s Supper. And that’s a very fitting place. The word translated “dismiss” has the basic meaning of “set free” or “release.” It could be used to set a prisoner free or to a slave being given freedom from his master. Simeon was set free from this intense yearning and waiting to see the Savior from this special promise that the Holy Spirit had given him. Now with the child Jesus in his arms he has seen the salvation that God brought into the world and that spoke peace to his heart.
The same is true for us. Every time we receive the Lord’s Supper we are receiving in a miraculous way the very same body and blood of this Christ-child, the same body and blood that was nailed to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. And what is our response to that? We may go in peace knowing that our sins, personally, have been forgiven. We have seen our salvation.
Joseph and Mary marveled at what Simeon said about their little child. But then he turned to Mary and said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” The purpose of a sign is to tell or reveal something. Jesus has come to reveal God’s grace and salvation for all people. The purpose is fulfilled when people believe and receive Jesus as their Savior. They rise from sin, guilt, death and hell to life, faith, becoming children of God, and heirs of eternal salvation. But he will also cause the falling of many. There are only two reactions to Jesus. He is really the great divider in all humanity. Either you believe in him or you don’t believe in him. Unfortunately many don’t believe in him, many reject him, many don’t want Jesus to be their Savior. Because of their rejection many will face the ultimate falling- spiritual death now and eternal death hereafter. And a sword will pierce Mary’s soul too. Did she remember this as she stood at the foot of the cross watching her son go through inhuman, unbelievable, excruciating pain suffering an eternity of hells for whole mass of all humanity?
Then we hear about Anna who was very old and came up to them gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Can you picture this elderly woman excitedly going up to people telling them about the Christ-child who was born to be their Savior?
Do you have that? Do you have the peace of Simeon? Do you have the joy of Anna?
Here we are on the eve of another new year. Tonight, we will bring 2017 to a close and usher in 2018. We reflect on the joys, challenges, difficulties, struggles, experiences of 2017. We look forward to a new year. What will 2018 bring? We don’t know what lies ahead. We can make our plans, we can make our resolutions, we can anticipate, but in the end, we don’t know what the future will bring. And not knowing can lead us to fear, can lead us to worry, can lead us to anxiousness.
So, how do we have the peace of Simeon and the joy of Anna? How can we, too, say with Simeon, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace”? How can we? Because our eyes, too, have also seen our salvation. Simeon never saw Jesus perform a miracle. Simeon never heard Jesus preach a sermon. Simeon never saw the cross or the empty tomb. But Simeon saw through the eyes of faith that this child was God’s answer. This child came in order to make all things right. This child came to undo what sin had broken. This child came in order to crush the serpent’s head. This child came to win the forgiveness of sins. And knowing that, Simeon could depart in peace. He knew that God had fulfilled His promise to send the deliverer, the rescuer, the redeemer, who would take care of everything that made death terrible. He knew that the punishment for his sin was upon the Messiah and that by the Messiah’s wounds he was healed. He knew that though his sin was as scarlet, because of this Christ-child they would be as white as snow. He knew that death was now the entrance to life eternal. What did he have? Peace.
And you do too. No, we don’t know what lies ahead. We make our plans, but we don’t know how or if they will succeed. We often are left with many questions in this life that is so affected by sin. But through the eyes of faith, we too, have seen our salvation. This baby, this Christ-child, came in order to provide the ultimate answer. He came in order to make us right with God, forgiving our sins and winning eternal life for us. Knowing that we have such a God who would go to such lengths in order to save us really makes our whole lives one long joyful Christmas celebration in which the best present of all will be opened last of all when at last the Lord allows us to depart in peace. Amen.