First Sunday after Christmas

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Luke 2:22-40

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

It is the fortieth day since His birth.  Seven days from His birth to His circumcision and naming; 33 more days of purification until the presentation of the Firstborn Son in the temple, according to the Law of God in Leviticus 12: “[W]hen the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before [Yahweh] and make atonement for her.  Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood.  This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female.  And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering.  And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean” (Leviticus 12:6-8, ESV).  And so Mary keeps the Law of the Lord, bringing the sacrifice of the poor as an offering for her sin.  But what she does not fully know is that those pigeons or turtledoves are not the only sacrifice she brings.  The baby she carries in her arms is the true, sin-atoning sacrifice.  Even more, He is the priest who offers Himself to make atonement for Mary’s sin and yours.  And it is not Mary or Joseph who first recognizes this.  It is that strange pair, Simeon and Anna.  The one an old man, living by the promise of God and waiting for death; the other an old widow, fasting and praying, day and night, in the temple.  Both waiting for the “consolation of Israel.”  “Console, console my people, says God.  Priests, speak into the heart of Jerusalem, console her” (Isaiah 40:1, Septuagint).  Now, finally, He has come into His temple, proclaiming good news to the poor and consolation for the grieving (Isaiah 61:2).

Now, finally, the Word of the Lord to Simeon is fulfilled.  This Child is Simeon’s peace and Simeon’s salvation: “Now dismiss your slave in peace, Master, according to your Word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You prepared in front of the face of all the peoples: a light to be a revelation for the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).  Simeon recognizes in the infant Jesus the completion of his hope and the fulfillment of everything that he had been waiting for.  Who knows how long he had been coming to the temple, shuffling slowly into that place with hope in his heart and light in his eyes, scanning those crowds for the One whom the Lord had promised he would see.  Did he feel something different on this day?  Did he know that the Holy Spirit was guiding him to the temple at this time?  We do not know; but we know that his eyes were open when he saw that holy family coming with their poor sacrifice, outwardly no different than so many others with newborn children.  But this Child!  “He took him into his arms and blessed God” (Luke 2:28).  And Anna, of the tribe of Israel called “Happy,” widow for nearly sixty years, hears old Simeon’s words.  She is “standing near,” like the angel with the shepherds, and she cannot help but tell anyone who will listen that her Bridegroom has finally come.  St. Luke shows us the whole picture: there in the temple are Simeon, Anna, and the Holy Family.  Verse 25 begins with Simeon waiting and looking for the consolation of Israel.  Verse 38 ends with Anna praising God and speaking of His Son to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.  These two witnesses are no longer looking ahead and waiting for a future redemption; they point instead to the holy consolation which is here now.  He is the One presented in His flesh before Him who is already His eternal Father.  He who is brought with sacrifice to the altar in the Jerusalem temple is the One who is marked for sacrifice on the cross outside of Jerusalem.  “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf…he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:24, 26b, ESV).

And so you have come also into the temple of your God, along with Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph, and all the company of heaven, who wait even now for the completion of their redemption, the consolation of resurrection.  And if Simeon were here, he would do what we are about to do: stretch out his hands to receive the holy Christ.  And he would do now what he could not do before: receive the Body and Blood of the holy Christ into his mouth, hidden beneath the covering of bread and wine, even as He was once hidden in infant flesh.  If you are an old man, far along in years like Simeon, here is the burning heart of your life.  Perhaps you are tempted to despair, to bitterness or idleness.  Repent; and lift up your eyes.  Should God choose to take you to be with Him to await your resurrection, you can go in peace.  You have seen your salvation; the Christ who was on the cross is here to put His Body and Blood into your hands and mouth.  And if you are an old woman like Anna, here is the lively flame of your life.  Perhaps you are tempted to neglect your prayers, to engage in gossip and busyness without accomplishment.  Repent; and lift up your eyes.  Here is the God you worship, the one of whom you speak, your redemption.  And if you are young, neither Simeon nor Anna, here, too, is the eternal light of your life.  Perhaps you are tempted to believe in your immortality, to live fast and hard in the here and now, because death seems so far away.  But your death could be as near to you as to the oldest one among us.  Repent; and lift up your eyes.  Here is Christ, your strength.  Whether instructed in the Faith and so holding Christ in your hands, or waiting for that blessed day, He is your salvation, prepared here before your face.  This is your foretaste of the eternal Feast to come; it is a gift to you from the Lord of heaven and earth, who is worshiped in a temple made of flesh.  “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace” (LSB 199).  Do not doubt; the Lord grants your prayer.  The peace in which you depart the Table is the same peace in which you will depart this life.  Indeed, it is here, before your longing and hungering eyes, that your Lord seals His promise of eternal life to you.  Here you see His salvation, the fruit of the one sacrifice for your sin and the sin of the whole world, the consolation for which you have been waiting.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/26/08


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