December 30, 2018
Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia
The post-Christmas letdown stems from misunderstanding Christmas. Even those of us who celebrate Christmas as Christians are not immune to this. We are heavily influenced by cultural expectations of sentimental joy. When families again separate, when the everyday challenges return, the holiday of Christmas recedes. Struggles can again bring us down. Or, worldly ambitions take our eyes away from Christ. We end up thinking like this: “The story of Bethlehem, shepherds, and angels was nice. But it’s not the stuff of real life.”
Into this steps a man and woman older and wiser than us. The man is named Simeon. The woman, Anna, is that rarest of people, a prophetess. Each tells us an important truth about Jesus. Each also shows us how Jesus was not only for them the stuff of real life, but the center of all human life.
Simeon had received a promise that he would not die before he saw the Christ. Christ and Messiah, by the way, mean the same thing: Anointed One. While anointing was a common practice among the Hebrews, the Prophets foretold a particular figure who would rescue the Jewish people not only from earthly enemies, but a cosmic figure who would gather Jew and Gentile together and deliver them all from death.
Just before today’s Gospel, Simeon takes up the infant Jesus in his arms and says, “This is the One! Now I can die in peace.” And he sings the song we sing every Sunday after Communion.
But then we get today’s Gospel, where Simeon says that Jesus is destined, or more literally put into place for this purpose: the fall and rising of many people. Fall and rising means judgment and salvation. This is all centered around the crucifixion of Jesus. Simeon foresees that Mary will be there, watching her Son die. Could there be anything more awful for a mother? This is why Simeon says, “A sword will pierce through your own soul.” And in that event, “the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
What you think about the crucifixion of Jesus reveals what you think about yourself. John the Baptist, we heard last Sunday, emphasized that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Both he and Jesus issued the call that rings down to the present day: Repent! Bear fruits of repentance that are genuine!
This is the judgment of the world, that you and I need to repent, need to turn away from the evil we are drawn to. We need to change our minds when we think, “I am great and these other people are idiots”; or, “Yes, I know God’s Word says this is wrong, but times have changed”; or, “I will use my words to destroy someone’s reputation because I am right and I think they deserve it.”
If you say, “Yes, I am a sinner, I am riddled with corruption to my core and I need this Lamb of God,” then this is your fall, you accept the judgment of God. The Apostle told the Corinthians, “If we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged” [1 Cor. 11:31]. And then we hear the pious Simeon tell us that this Child, Jesus, “is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel.” Those who fall under the judgment and say, “Jesus, have mercy!” come also to the rising, to the absolution, to the salvation. All this prefigures the destiny of the Christian person: the fall into death followed by the rising from the grave.
But if you will not judge yourself, if you will not say with Simeon, “This Child is my salvation”; if you say, “I can take care of myself, I need no Jesus,” then this Child will be your fall, your stumbling, your judgment.
Simeon and Anna both show us what our lives should look like. The details will be different; Anna is a widow, without a call to be wife and mother – but the verbs tell us the orientation of the heart, which will shape how our callings are lived out. Simeon, we learn back in Luke 2:25, is “waiting for the Consolation of Israel.” Anna is among those “who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”
Their life’s identity was in waiting and looking for what God had promised. Now how does the Nicene Creed end? “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” This is the same kind of expectation that should shape the contours of our life. Yes, I may be going through a rough spot. Yes, I may be feeling good about my finances. Yes, I may be down that someone close to me died. Yes, I’m looking forward to getting together with an old friend. Yes, it may be frustrating that the person who is supposed to help me isn’t. But amidst all of life’s vacillations, one truth stabilizes everything and gives me hope: The Word became flesh, was crucified and rose again, and on this basis “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
Anna told the faithful in Jerusalem that in the Child of Mary, redemption had come. Redeem means to purchase back, like purchasing a slave and returning him to freedom, or buying a prisoner of war and returning him home. St. Paul today taught us that this is why Jesus was born: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” [Gal. 4].
That’s who you now are. The world may say you are worthless. The Law points its finger at you and cries, “Sinner!” Your body says, “You are getting older; you’ve lost a step, and soon you’ll be dead.”
But the birth of Jesus says, “Not true! Your Redeemer has come!” Dr. Luther said, “A Christian is a happy, confident, redeemed person who is sidetracked neither by the devil nor by any trouble. For he knows that through Christ he is master over all this.”
So we can laugh at trouble, and stare down even the devil. For the Redeemer has been born! I will be happy and confident. I will rejoice and be glad, for I am looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. This is most certainly true! +INJ+