First Sunday of Christmas

First Sunday of Christmas

Luke 2:22-40

The holy gospel according to John.
Glory to you, O Lord.

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

The gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.

Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

How many of you like to hold a new born baby in your arms? Let me see a show of hands. How many of you get a special feeling of joy in doing so? I know for me anyway I get a special kind of excitement at the opportunity to hold a new person and I’m not just saying that as a grandpa either. There’s just something about being able to hold and touch and coo to a brand new living bit of God’s creation. I think that it might be related to hope; hope for the future of humankind that this baby person represents. I might be holding the future president of the United States! I might be holding the future scientist who figures out how to solve the energy crisis or climate change or cure to COVID! It might be the hope that God has not given up on us yet.

In our gospel today, Mary and Joseph go to the temple to fulfill the requirements of the law for Mary to make atonement for her ceremonial uncleanliness after having given birth. They are also there to dedicate Jesus to God as the firstborn of the family, also according to the law. While they’re there, doing what the law requires, they run into Simeon. Scripture says that Simeon took the child into his arms. We can assume he asked first, but it’s possible that excitement got the better of him and he didn’t.

We don’t know how often Simeon got to hold babies in his arms, but he got to hold this one. I’m sure he felt the same kind of joyful hope we all feel, but he also felt much more. He immediately knew that this baby was a special one, the special one in fact. Simeon was a man filled with the Spirit of God and that Spirit had told him he wouldn’t face death until he had seen the Messiah. Now he is holding that very Messiah in his arms, knowing that God has fulfilled his promise to him and is on the way to fulfilling his promise to the people of Israel. Simeon has seen his hope realized. He is holding his hope realized.
Simeon reacts by giving glory and thanks to God. He has experienced the best that life has to offer. Now he’s ready to go peacefully.

Paula and I were having a discussion this past week about how sometimes people say that they are, “as happy as they can be” or, “this is as good as it gets.” We were laughing that if we gave them $1000, wouldn’t that be at least a little more good or make them a little bit happier?

I think now that one exception to that was Simeon holding baby Jesus. He was as happy as he was going to get, nothing could be better for him than that.

After giving praise to God for what he had done and what he was preparing to do, Simeon blessed Jesus and then prophesied about him to Mary, giving her hope for what her baby was going to accomplish, in accordance with what the angels had already told her and the shepherds. Simeon’s prophecy also warned Mary that the hope of that prophecy would come at a cost both to Jesus and to Mary herself.

After Simeon’s prophecy, the prophetess, Anna, approached and also immediately recognized who Jesus was and began prophesying about him to all who would listen. She too saw her hope realized.

I find it interesting that of all the people who would have been in and around the temple only these two people recognized Jesus for who he was. There were obviously priests about who were doing the required sacrifices. At least one of them would have done the sacrifices for Mary’s purification and I think it’s safe to say that there would have been another one who would have participated in the dedication of the baby. Yet none of these people saw their hope realized.

Part of the reason may be that they were putting their hope in the wrong thing. Simeon and Anna had put their hope in God’s promise of a messiah. The priests and other religious leaders were putting their hope in the law and in their supposed ability to be righteous in following it. This dichotomy between trusting God’s promise and trusting in their own false righteousness is what ultimately led to Jesus’ condemnation and death.
It is good to have hope. It can get through some pretty rough spots in our life. Hope can get us through the death of a loved one or through a bad sickness or injury.

But in what are you putting your ultimate hope? There are so many things that we put our ultimate hope in besides Jesus, the Messiah. We may put our hope in financial security. If we do, it will ultimately fail us. We may put our hope in occupational success. If we do, it will ultimately fail us. We may put it in fame or the government or family or friends or in any multitude of things. But all of those things will ultimately fail us.

As post New Testament believers we may not put our hope in the Old Testament law in the same the way that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did, but don’t we still sometimes try to be “good” Christians in the hope that God will at least look on us with more favor than that sinner over there. That hope will fail us too.

The only hope that will not fail us, the only hope that we will ever be able to fully realize is the same hope that sustained Simeon and Anna, the hope of the promise that God made and has fulfilled through the sending of the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ to save us from our sins. This Jesus came, lived, died and was resurrected, all so that we might be forgiven of our sins, have our relationship with God made right, and have eternal life with him.

We may not fully realize the hope we place in him until the judgement day, but we can realize it somewhat every time we act on that hope by giving witness to it either through words or through service to other.

We can also somewhat realize it whenever we witness a baptism or receive forgiveness or partake in the body and blood in communion. If you put your trust and hope in Jesus, the Messiah, and live into that hope like Simeon and Anna, you will someday fully realize the fulfillment of that hope, and that will be the best day of your life. It won’t get any better.
I’d like to end today with us singing together the words of Simeon. It used to be a regular part of the Lutheran Liturgy when I was growing up. It still is a part of one of the liturgies we use on Saturday services. If you don’t recognize it, feel free to just say the words or simply listen.
(Singing of Simeon’s Song)

Amen, come Lord Jesus.