30. December 2012
First Sunday After Christmas
22 And 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 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.
Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving. Christmas gifts come in all shapes and sizes. No matter the gift our expectations can vary. One kind of gift is the surprise. You had no idea it was coming. Another kind is the suspicion. You have some vague idea based the shape, size, or sound of the box. Then there is the expected gift. You know its coming but you’re still surprised when it finally comes.
In today’s Gospel, the young Christ-child of six weeks old was presented to the Lord and redeemed by the coin and the pair of turtledoves. The most precious treasure the world has known comes into the temple. Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. This man was of the third sort of gift receiver. He knew his sin and He knew the promise of the redeemer. He is waiting with hopeful expectation. He longs to see his salvation in the flesh.
Simeon had been promised that he would not die before he would see the Lord’s Christ. And when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, Simeon took him up in his arms and blessed God and sang the Nunc Dimittis. Simeon recognized that the infant child in his arms was Christ the Lord. He is to be the savior and a light not dimly shining to the Jews but as a bright morning star for the whole world. His piercing light would reach unto the ends of the earth, illuminating the hearts of all.
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. Despite having received each proclamation from the angel Gabriel and having already heard the message of the angels repeated to them by the shepherds, now Joseph and Mary hear the good news themselves. Simeon proclaims the angelic message again. This old and feeble man recognizes and praises the little child as Savior and Light of the World. All else are in darkness and this little child lights them up. All the world is dying and damned and in this baby is salvation.
How could this little man, wrapped in swaddling clothes, born to a poor mother, be the savior of the world? Yet, Simeon’s sermon makes this bold claim. While the angel before him told Mary the child was the Son of the Most High and shepherds repeated the message of the angels, now Simeon has even more to say. “He shall save His people from their sin,” said the angel. Simeon says this light is not just for “His people,” the Jew, but also for the Gentile. At this, the holy family marveled.
Were Joseph and Mary shocked? No, they saw this coming. Their astonishment is a sign of their great faith and profound understanding. You remember Abraham and Sarah who laughed at the gift of their son, Isaac? Both were advanced in age, far past childbearing age. When God announced that they would conceive, both laughed! We wonder if their laughter was doubting but no, this news was of great joy to the two. Abraham believed the Lord and he counted it to him for righteousness. (Gen 15:6; Romans 4:3). This is not laughter of doubt but of joy.
The person and work of Christ brings a similar response today. For some Jesus is an utter surprise. They had no idea they needed a savior. They are ignorant of their sin, happy with their guilt and shame, and content in their misery. The joyous blessing of God made man, born to redeem them is a unexpected wonder. It’s an utter shock and joy.
For others the Law has already done its work. They feel the weight of its burdens and want relief. They believe God is good and gracious and expect He must have provided some means of escape from the terror of the Law. They know they need saving and yet the wonderful way God chose to save them is still a surprise. God saves them by grace alone through faith alone by Scripture alone. Redemption is entirely the handiwork of Christ alone to His glory alone. What a joy!
And then for others, they not only know their sin but also know the promises of God. They live in the hope of redemption in Christ. They have received the Holy Scriptures, been given the faith, and trust that God will do all the redeeming by His own grace and favor. But just like those others, when Christ comes to redeem them they are still “surprised by joy.” They knew of this love of God and yet upon receiving the gift are surprised at the abundance of God’s grace and mercy in Jesus. Oh, what joy!
All three receive the same gift of Jesus Christ, unwrapped and revealed. The quality common to the three perspectives is “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” (CS Lewis) This quality is called joy. It is not the same as happiness or pleasure. Joy, happiness, and pleasure are all experiences we want to repeat but that is where their similarities end. Happiness is merely a positive feeling or emotional state due a circumstance. Pleasure is a physical or non-physical feeling that brings satisfaction. Joy is different altogether.
Joy cannot be gained by your own will. It’s not in your power to make yourself joyful. You can please yourself and you can probably even find ways to make yourself happy. But joy comes from a deep longing fulfilled. Joy is not dependent on the circumstances of your life. Joy is not simply being happy. Joy comes from hope received in the presence of Jesus.
This is the uniqueness of the Christian life. The firmer one receives and believes, the more one marvels and the happier one is. Too often those who are sad and lonely absent themselves from church. As their faith weakens, so do they lose the source of joy and its marvel and happiness. “If I were to believe with certainty that the child born to the Virgin Mary is my brother, flesh and blood, and that His righteousness is my righteousness, His life, my life (as we have heard these last days about the birth of Christ), I say, if I were to believe this with all my heart, then I would so marvel and be so overjoyed that I could not think enough about this infant child.” (Luther)
The key to Christian joy is to recognize in the Holy Gospel all your hopes and dreams fulfilled. This good news should produce such amazement in you that you would cry out: I am baptized into Christ! There is no doubt that in my Lord Jesus I have overcome death and sin. No other possession of mine gives me makes me happy and amazed as my baptismal inheritance in Jesus! On the day of judgment, Jesus will say I am his dear brother and everything that is His is mine, and we all shall live with Him into eternity.
This is gift. If we were to try to believe this of ourselves, we would never fall for it. It would seem that death and sin have the upper hand, the devil is ruling, and our lives are in the toilet. We be frightened and sullen, with no amazement and no joy. This is because Christian joy comes from receiving faith, hope, and love in Jesus. We receive the gift of the Christ Child and by faith we respond with joy. We can’t help it! In Jesus, there is every grace and blessing of the Father! How could we be sad or dismayed when the child has defeated everything that gets us down?
Have no fear, little flock. For in Jesus Christ you have inherited the kingdom. Eternal life and heaven are yours, gained for you by the precious child’s death and resurrection and given to you as a gift. Marvel now, oh heaven and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth! Sing with joy for your hope is fulfilled in Jesus.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church