Sunday, December 30, 2018
Joseph and Mary took Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the LORD
There are certain things that we want to be predictable. We want water to come out of the faucet when we turn the handle. We want the lights to come on when we flip the switch. We want the car engine to start when we turn the ignition switch. Even in this crazy age and time, we want certain things to be boringly conventional. We want our paychecks to be there on time. We want no unexpected expenses. There are certain things that are just fine the way they are. And no surprises please.
Maybe that’s what makes Christmas such a wonderful event for so many people. Maybe part of what makes our celebration of Christmas so meaningful is that it’s easy to find Jesus on that holy day. We expect Him to be in the stable, lying in a manger. And Christmas never disappoints, we always find our Savior “away in a manger,” “in a lowly cradle,” “on Mary’s lap … sleeping,” with the camels and donkey nearby.
It’s comforting to know that Jesus is just right there for us. We want the Baby Jesus there in the manger, where He can, ‘look cute;’ ‘remain helpless;’ ‘not challenge us to very much.’ In short with Jesus in the manger, we can have our cake and eat it too. We can have a predictable, little, cute, helpless Savior, One Who won’t push us very hard.
Let’s consider God’s movement for a just a bit. You see, the Gospel writers didn’t dwell on the manger scene for very long at all. Among all four Gospel writers, very little time is devoted to the stable and manger. As important as it was, announced by the angels as it was, accompanied by wondrous signs as it was, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John invest just a small amount of ink on the topic. Matthew devotes one verse that speaks of Jesus’ birth. The rest of chapter one speaks of Joseph’s dream to go ahead and marry Mary. Then the next chapter continues with the visit of the Magi. Luke devotes 20 verses. Mark and John don’t even speak of Jesus’ birth directly. So, you see, even the scriptures don’t mention that fact that the Savior remains in the stable very long at all.
Our Gospel lesson today starts out with Jesus at the ripe old age of 8 days. Just a short time after His birth, his mom and dad are already taking Him to the temple. And there, they have an encounter with two old servants of God.
The first one, a temple priest named Simeon. Simeon was a pretty ordinary servant of God. We probably would’ve never heard of Simeon except for this encounter with the Christ Child. The Baby in the Manger that was seen by Simeon as an altogether different person. He wasn’t just cute and adorable. Simeon had so wanted to see and hold in his arms and even describes Him as “…the reason that many people in Israel will be condemned and many others will be saved. He will be a sign that will expose the thoughts of those who reject Him…” and to Mary, Simeon said, “A sword will pierce your heart.”
We don’t get this viewpoint at the manger. Jesus came to change the world. He came to challenge us. He came to change lives filled in sin. He came to infuse us with God’s aroma because our souls are saturated with the world’s stench. That sure doesn’t sound like the Baby we met at the manger. Simeon knew what this little Child that he held in his arms had been called to do. We read and many of us are familiar with Simeon’s Song. Listen to the words: “Lord, now You let Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word. For mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people. A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy people Israel.”
Simeon’s journey to see and hold the Baby Jesus had been fulfilled. He had gotten to see and had been privileged to hold in his arms the Salvation of God for humanity. It brought joy to the old man. It brought peace to the old man. It brought hope to the old man. His eyes were able to see into heaven because they had seen Jesus. His journey had ended.
We need to be on a journey to find Jesus. But there are those who don’t look for Jesus. There are those who have no room or time for the Savior. But this is crazy. Not seeking God is destructive. It’s like a person refusing to breath, it results in death. Not seeking God is contrary to the very image that we were created to bear, His image! To think that we don’t need God is the height of arrogance.
Connecting with Jesus is the vital quest of all of humanity. Many of those around us don’t know this. They spend lots of time searching for something, something of which they’re not quite sure. They know that something seems to be lacking. Something is just a bit off. We just feel a longing inside. There’s an emptiness there that doesn’t go away. The shiny gifts and the new home and nothing but nothing seem to make it go away.
And nothing will help. That longing can only be satisfied by God. The Bible tells us that we’re created in God’s image. We have a need to commune with God and find rest in Him. David writes, “O God, You are my God, Earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You…” (Psalm 63:1a) Does that sound like we need an encounter with God.
Until that encounter happens, nothing will satisfy us: not riches, not reputation or power, not possessions. We cannot find rest until we find our rest in God. If you don’t know what’s missing in your life; if you’ve been looking for something, let me tell you what it is: Your need, is to fill a God-shaped hole in your very soul.
Do you think that God knows about this need that we have? Do you suppose that Christmas is how God gives our journey a face, and a name, Jesus Christ? Do you think that God gave us Christmas in order to give us a place to be found? The answer is yes! So where do we find Jesus after Christmas? Where do we look for Jesus after the angels have stopped singing and gone back to heaven? Where do we find Him when the shepherds have returned to their fields? When the holy Child of Bethlehem had left the stable and manger, where do we look for Him?
Let me point you to a cross. He was murdered and brutalized for our transgressions. He was pierced for our inequities. Simeon told Mary that she would bear the pain of watching Jesus die, a sword would pierce her. And it did as she stood at the foot of the cross and watched Jesus finish the work that the Father sent Him to do. That’s why Jesus came: To die in our place, to purchase our forgiveness, to bear our punishment. But the story didn’t end at the cross and grave. He rose on the third day. You see He was more than a helpless infant. In the resurrection we see the rest of Jesus’ persona: Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Whew! Quite a change from the Baby in the Manger and the 8-day-old boy that Simeon saw in the temple.
And you can believe me when I say, Christ can still be found here, in His Temple, among us. You can meet the very Christ that once lay in the manger, the One Simeon held in his arms right here. We find that Jesus in His Word. We find that Christ in the forgiveness that we receive. We find Christ in His holy Sacraments; Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He comes to us through these means of grace. That Jesus, yes, the One born in a manger, He comes to us, He comes to our hearts. He comes to fill that God-shaped hole in our souls.
For months we’ve looked forward to Christmas, and now it’s come and gone. Or has it? Maybe, if we’re talking about the lights and the tinsel. But if we’re talking about meeting up with our Savior, then Christmas is more than just a single day in the year. You see, Jesus is God with us, Immanuel. He is the Incarnate Son, present with us forever, until the end of time. He is here, as He has promised to be, wherever two or three of His people gather in His name. He is here where His Word of forgiveness and life is spoken. He is here for all who are searching. He is here in our hearts.
“Lord, now You let Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word. For mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people. A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy people Israel.”