Sunday, December 27, 2015
We’ve been preparing for weeks. With Advent services and Advent candles on the wreath, and nativities at home and here at church. And with trees, and lights, and cards, and cookies at home. We’ve prepared gifts, and we’ve prepared food. Rather, I should say, some of us have prepared food, others of us have eaten it. The songs have been sung, the gifts have been given, and the presents unwrapped. And now here we are on the other side of Christmas.
Luke’s gospel for this first Saturday/Sunday after Christmas assigned for today continues by telling us what happened on the other side of Christmas. Our lesson from the Gospel of Luke is the presentation of Jesus and Mary in the temple, which takes place 40 days after His birth. On the Church calendar that contains a list of feasts and festivals, this event, the presentation of Jesus falls on February 2.
In order to give you some frame of reference for the time. Jesus is being presented in the temple and is being dedicated to God, since His is the first born child and a Son, Leviticus 12 explains this for us. She, that is the mother, is unclean for seven days, she must bring the boy to the priest for circumcision on the eight day and after thirty-three days later brings Him back for the rite of purification for the mom. Hence in this lesson we are forty days after. Mary is coming to the temple for a sacrifice of purification. Childbirth rendered a woman as unclean. 40 days was the time you had to wait and one had to wait for the appointed time before the sacrifice could be made that rendered her clean again.
Also in Leviticus 12 it tells what is to be done at this ceremony, bring a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or dove. 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. It’s here that we have evidence that Joseph and Mary were poor, at least at that time in their life, because they brought the sacrifice of two pigeons or turtledoves. That was the sacrifice allowed or prescribed for the poor. Had they been a little bit more established or not poor, they would have brought a lamb. And of course Jesus being the Lamb of God, well, you get the picture.
Simeon is in the temple, and he’s old. He’d been given a promise from God that He wouldn’t die until He saw the Messiah. Mary and Joseph are entering the temple. He spotted over the crowds and upon seeing them, he takes little Jesus in his arms, and says those words we know so well, the words we sing after communion and of course at funerals.
Lord, now let your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled. Mine own eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the sight of all people.
Two things are happening here. First - the promise was that he would live long enough to see the Messiah. And I would question, how is it, that he knows that this little baby, this Jesus, is the Messiah? The answer of course is The Holy Spirit is showing it to him by faith. For, as our text says, he was a righteous and devout man. We read this and because, we know all about Jesus, we know that He is the Messiah. But Simeon didn’t know about Jesus. Jesus had just been born. The only way for Simeon to have known that this baby was the Messiah was the same way he received the promise from God, by the Holy Spirit. And this, of course, leads us to the second thing that’s happening. Listen again to Simeon’s words. “Mine own eyes have seen Your salvation.” Not “Mine own eyes have seen Your 'Messiah,' but he uses the word 'salvation'. So what did Simeon see? First, he saw a baby. That’s easy. That’s only natural. But he also saw that this baby was the Messiah. And then, on top of that, he saw that this Messiah was the salvation of God. Jesus was only a baby. Jesus hadn’t said anything at this point, much less suffered, died, and rose again. But Simeon saw the end in the beginning. He saw the completion of the salvation of God. he saw the fulfillment of God's plan for mankind. He saw the promised salvation given to us in the Garden of Eden.
There was also a woman, Anna. She was also very old, and she was always in the temple praying. When she saw Jesus, she told anyone and everyone who were looking for the redemption of Israel about this Jesus. She too, saw the Messiah. By faith, she saw the end in the beginning. She saw the fulfillment of the plan God had for mankind.
Well, pastor, how can we know that what you’re saying is true? They were seeing only the infant Jesus, and in Him, how could they see the complete redemption by Christ? Christ’s Passion, His suffering, death, and burial hadn’t happened yet. He hasn’t risen from dead. They didn’t live to see these events, because this would happen 33 years into the future. So they had to see the end from the beginning. But we, are on the other side of Christmas. We’ve seen His crucifixion and His resurrection through the eyes of faith. Simeon and Anna, through those same eyes of faith, were able to see the whole story in one moment and that was important for them, but what does that matter to us?
It matters because the pattern of Christ’s life is the pattern of our lives. Let me repeat that. The pattern of Christ’s life is the pattern of our lives. Here, Christ has been born, He’s brought to the temple and dedicated to God. He still has to suffer, die, and rise again. We, the Church, have been brought to the Church. We have been dedicated to God. We have been born again in the waters of Holy Baptism. In that baptism our salvation was fully complete. Our life is connected to and in the life of Christ. Our salvation is certain and sure. True, we still have a life to live here. As Christ did before us, we too will suffer. We’ve yet to die and rise again.
And even as Simeon and Anna, standing on the opposite side of Christmas from us, by faith saw the completion of the redemption of Israel. We, who are, on this side of Christmas, by faith see the completion of our redemption. By faith we know that we’ll rise again when Christ comes. We know that we will live with Him in His kingdom forever. Just as Simeon and Anna saw Him in the temple, as the Holy Infant, we see Him now, here in His Church, in His very body and blood. They were standing on the other side of Christmas, and by faith saw the fullness of His redeeming work. We are standing on the other side of Easter, and by faith, we see the fullness of our redemption in Him.
Our redemption, our life in Christ, is completed. It’s just a matter of its unfolding. Like Simeon and Anna, we joyously receive Him as our Redeemer. And like Simeon and Anna, we will, with full confidence behold Him when He comes to be our Judge.
With them, we’re standing on the other side of Christmas. And Christ is born, He is risen, Christ will come again.