Sermon – January 1, 2017

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Luke 2:23-40 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 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 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” 36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

This is indeed a rich Gospel reading. It says Jesus’ father and mother marveled at what was said about him. What are the marvelous things that were said? Where were they spoken? Through whom were they spoken? Let us listen to those words that we might marvel too.

This took place in the temple when Jesus was presented to the Lord and Mary performed the rite of purification. Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the house of God. The temple was where God dwelt, it was God’s house. Where else would you expect to find Jesus. Later Jesus himself would marvel that his mother and father could not find him when he was in the temple, “for this is my Father’s house.” As if to say, “This is where I belong. Here in this church, on this altar of sacrifice. This is my Father’s house, here I must be. This is the altar where I must be sacrificed.” It is fitting that we should find Jesus in the temple. It is fitting that we should come to the Lord’s House every Lord’s Day to find Jesus. For it is here in this house of God that Jesus dwells; here he comes to be with us in word and sacrament.

On that day there was an aged prophet worshipping in the temple, a holy man of God, to whom the Spirit of God had revealed that he should not see death until he had seen with his own eyes the Lord’s Christ. All the prophets had looked into the future hoping to get a glimpse of that most beautiful promise. But Simeon had the singular honor among the prophets of seeing him, not only by faith in the promise, but with his very own eyes. Jesus told his disciples, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it,” (Matthew 13:15). Simeon believed the word spoken to him by the Holy Spirit. As we must believe the word spoken to us.

Simeon believed the promise of God and now he saw it fulfilled. Now he was ready to die. He took that new-born babe into his arms and worshipped God. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to our word.” What peace is found in the sight of the Lord! The desire of the nations has come and we have beheld his face. How fitting it is that with these words we depart from the Communion Table of the Lord. For there, at that table set by Jesus himself; there, where we are fed the body and blood of the Lord’s Christ, we too see our Salvation as that Salvation is placed on our lips. We see in those elements of bread and wine the Savior, who is Christ, the Lord. The one of whom the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will.” The one whom the gentiles visited and brought precious gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh. “Lord, let us now depart in peace according to your word.” Hold to that promise spoken to us in Holy Scripture, for having eaten that flesh and drunk that blood we too are ready to depart this world and be with God for all eternity. “Lord, let us now depart in peace.”

What is this marvelous thing spoken by this aged prophet? “My eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the eyes of all people. A light for revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Such wonderful things to say about this baby he held in his arms. This no one could believe. These adulations seem to be too great for a tiny baby, especially one so poor. His mother was poor and humble, his father was poor. But, right there in the temple was a multitude of people that day, who did not believe. Our Gospel tells us only that Jesus’ mother and father marveled, but omits mention that anyone else there who heard those words believed. Most people do not believe the words of Simeon even in our day, because they despise the poor. Perhaps you too look down on the poor, spurn them, scorn them, consider them of lower rank or importance than yourself.

I tell you, look at the poor and what do you see? You see Jesus. This poor, weak, tiny, babe is the poor. He made himself poor for you. He took poverty for himself in order to make you rich. You must not despise or spurn the poor, for in doing so you despise and spurn Christ himself. Those who look down on the poor are the goats on Jesus’ left hand on the Day of Judgment when Jesus will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me…. Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did not do it to me. (for I am the poor of this world.)”

But Jesus’ mother and father marveled at these words. For by the word “marvel,” the gospel writer tells us they had true faith. For faith is the certainty of things not seen. When they looked at Jesus, they too saw only a poor, weak, baby. But faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of God. When they heard these words, they were filled with faith. Faith that this unlikely, little baby was the salvation of the world. Faith that he was the light of the gentiles and the glory of the nation of Israel in spite of his humble appearance. Many in our world today do not believe, but spurn Jesus the Savior. None who reject this word will be in the kingdom of God. You are not a Christian if you do not believe these words and hold them dear to you.

Then the prophet blessed them, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, and said, “This child is appointed for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed, and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” He is appointed for the rising and fall of many in Israel. As Mary had already confessed, “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he has sent away empty.”

But the one who would be brought down most was Jesus himself. From Heaven Above to Earth I Come: he came down from the Father in heaven and humbled himself as a poor, humble child, born in a cattle trough. King of Kings and Lord of lords, He humbled himself to become our servant, even unto death on a cross. A sword indeed pierced the heart of his mother as she gazed upon his dead body hanging on a cross. A sword has pierced our hearts as well, the sword of the Law which condemns us to death and eternal punishment. The Law that reveals the thoughts of your heart and exposes your sins.

But the one who was pierced most deeply was Jesus himself. He was pierced to the depths as he prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup depart from me.” His heart was pierced when his friends abandoned him and ran, when he was betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter. His flesh was pierced by thorns, nails and the sword. He was pierced to the deepest parts of his soul when he was abandoned by his own Father on account of our sin to suffer the torments of hell for us.

And by his pierced soul he heals our souls. He has raised us from the dead. He has forgiven your sin. He has become the light of your salvation and the glory of every Christian man, woman and child.

The power of the Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, spoken by the Prophets and Apostles, proclaimed by preachers, and joined to the Sacraments creates such a faith in you. Marvel, then, in these words, for this babe is your Salvation. He is your Light who shows you the way to eternal life. He is your glory and he is the crown of righteousness which shall be placed on your head when you depart from this realm into the eternal kingdom.

Lift up your heads in joy and song, for your eyes have seen your salvation. Marvel at these words of peace and hope. Cling to them to the very end, regardless of what your eyes see, for the Word of God is sure and trustworthy. No matter how weak and poor he appears, no matter the scandal of the cross, no matter what the world says, you pick up the babe of Bethlehem and embrace him in your arms. Then you will truly join Simeon and sing: Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen thy salvation. Amen.