Monday, December 31, 2012

Sermon for the Sunday after Christmas : "Christmas With Simeon"

+ Sunday after Christmas, December 30th, 2012 +
Series C: Exodus 13:1-15; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:22-40
 In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Merry 6th day of Christmas! Yes, you heard right. Outside these walls Christmas may be done. Everything is labeled “after-Christmas”. The music fades. Unwanted presents are returned. Christmas comes down and the New Year’s signs go up.
But while the world winds down the Church’s Christmas celebration is just getting started. Christmas is a day and a season. Twelve days of feasting after the Advent fast. Try saying Merry Christmas to someone between now and January 6th.  See what they say. I’ve received some pretty funny looking faces. But it’s a good opportunity to share Christ’s never-ending Christmas joy. In Christ’s Church, it’s still Christmas. And if we take Jesus’ promises seriously – Christmas never ends.
This overwhelming sense of continuance is also found in the readings for Christmas and Epiphany. They’re arranged somewhat like our family holiday schedules: a few hours one evening with Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem – everyone has to see the baby! The obligatory time with your gruff, oddly dressed uncles, the Shepherds. Next weekend the Magi’s visit; because even God’s family table has room for outsiders (and thanks God for that).
 So today’s reading is a bit like visiting Grandpa and Grandma. Simeon has wisdom to share. And Anna leaves the temple like grandma scurrying about the delivery room, phone in one hand, camera in the other: did you hear the good news? It’s a baby boy…and he’s the Messiah! The wait is finally over.
Simeon was waiting… Not twiddling-his-thumbs or yawning away the hours, but the kind of waiting that knows that, sooner or later, God will make good on his promise. And this was the Lord’s promise: before he saw death, he would see the Lord’s Christ. The Seed that Adam longed to see sprout. The Rest Noah longed for. The everlasting King on David’s throne. The child born of a Virgin whom Isaiah prophesied. This One, Simeon cradled in his arms.
 Even Simeon’s name marks the momentous occasion. Simeon means, “He has heard.” Simeon’s name comes from the same word in the great OT creed: “Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

           The Lord had heard Simeon’s cry for rescue. And already at 40 days old, your pleas for mercy, your cries of distress at sin’s torture and the prayers of the faithful – “Come quickly, Lord Jesus” – fill the ears of the Child held in Simeon’s arms.
And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:
“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”
Luke doesn’t say, but I can’t help but think that Simeon’s eyes became a wellspring of joyful tears and his wrinkled face a riverbed of rejoicing. God’s promise was fulfilled. The Christ had come. No more waiting. He was free to die in peace. And though the Christ came as a weak and despised, lowly and dependent little baby, everything in heaven and earth – sin’s atonement, death’s defeat, overthrowing the devil - and everyone, including Simeon depends on this little Child.

                       Simeon’s song was more than beautiful language; in his arms he literally held the Light that reveals God’s goodness and mercy to the Gentiles, the outsiders and outcasts, you and me. Behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile, no sin, no curse of Adam, guilt or sting of death. And yet he is Son of Mary and Son of God; Son of the Most High and Son of Adam. And that day the glory of the Lord returned to the temple in human flesh and blood. Christ, the Glory of God’s people, Israel, not the Savior of some…but all.
Yes, there is marvelous joy in Simeon’s words. But Simeon is no fair-weather prophet. He knew that waiting comes before fulfillment…falling before rising. Jesus’ cross is the heart of Christmas.
Falling and rising. Those were Simeon’s words to Mary. Some congratulation card. Here’s God’s blessing…and oh, by the way: “This Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
        Those are rather terrifying words.  For they reveal the King Herod in us who doesn’t want to worship this infant King and the Pharisee in us stumbles, trips and falls over this Rock and Sign, speaking and plotting all kinds of evil against him and our neighbors.

           Simeon wields God’s two-edged sword skillfully, piercing our hearts and slashing away everything that stands between you and Christ. We must be like Simeon, ready to die. It’s the only way we depart in peace. Drop the charade of self-devotion and self-righteousness. For you cannot cling to sin and hold the Christ in your arms with Simeon. Repent. Fall, that you might rise. Die that you might live.

          At first, Simeon’s words don’t sound very Christmasy. We’d rather pack him and his words up and send him out to the curb along with all the Christmas clutter. But as the world tries to forget Christmas, Simeon comes along to remind us that hidden under that weak and helpless baby in his arms was the truth about Christmas: this Child was born to fall and rise for you.
             That’s what Jesus was doing in the temple that day for Simeon and you. His cross bearing began at conception. His name is Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. He sheds his blood at 8 day old, bearing the Law in his flesh. At 40 days old the Firstborn who needs no redemption comes to redeem you. The Lord of all becomes the Servant of all. The Law giver becomes the Law bearer. Jesus does what you cannot and will not do, crawls under the Law’s demands and curse in order to lift them off of your shoulders and onto his. And all while being held in the arms of Simeon.
Where the world only sees a powerless infant, Simeon holds the power of God hidden in human flesh. Jesus has all the power he needs, but he hides his glory beneath its opposite – utter weakness and humility. He came this way for you as an infant and he goes this way for you to the cross. Once again, the world sees only lowliness and shame. That’s no way to be Savior they mocked. What a lowly, weak and beggarly Messiah.
And yet there in God’s lowly, weak and beggarly ways…he hides his love and mercy for you.

Behold, this child is appointed for the falling and rising of many – for Simeon and for you. And that is good news. Christ falls in order to raise you up.  For all that we have spoken against…he speaks for us: Father, forgive them.  For all of the sinful thoughts of our heart revealed by his Word, Jesus reveals God’s heart of mercy and peace and redeeming love.
The sword that pierces Mary’s soul and ours first pierced Jesus with nails and spear. Christ departs in shame and guilt and sin so that we depart in peace made by his blood. Jesus’ eyes are closed by bloody, sweaty death so that our eyes are opened to find salvation in this Child and his cross.  Jesus is held in the arms of the cross in darkness in order to embrace you and all nations in the everlasting light of Christ’s salvation. Jesus becomes the despised, scorned and rejected in order to make you a people of his Father’s glory.
This is the way God works. He hides himself in the opposite. The eternal God is hidden within the flesh of an ordinary, helpless baby. Simeon embraced the Savior of the world who came to embrace his death and bring salvation to all, to you. God’s greatest glory is found hidden in the weakness and suffering of the cross.
And Jesus works the same today: Ordinary words of sinful preachers are vehicles for Christ’s eternal absolution. Ordinary water is blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin. Ordinary bread and wine hide the flesh and blood of Jesus your Savior.
 That’s why we sing Simeon’s song after communion. Here, you stand on heaven’s threshold and hold the Christ Child in your arms, in your ears and in your mouth. At the Altar you see the Lord's salvation, which He has prepared before the face of all people.
Here in Christ’s Church, Christmas isn’t packed away and saved for next year. There are no such things as “after-Christmas” sales. Here at Christ’s table, in His Supper, it’s always Christmas.
And having received Jesus’ Body and Blood, we depart in peace. “For we go to the Sacrament as though we were going to our death, so that we might go to our death as though going to the Sacrament.” (Ken Korby).
In that way, we’re all 21st century Simeons and Annas in the temple, watching, waiting for that Day when Christ’s salvation becomes visible to our resurrected eyes. And as we wait, God gives us his signs to cling to - Baptism, His Word, His Body and Blood. We embrace Him as old Simeon and Anna once did.  And we take up Simeon's song and make it our own: "Lord now let your servant depart in peace according to your Word. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people. A Light for revelation to the Gentiles, the Glory of your people Israel."

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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