January 1, 2017
Luke 2:(22-32) 33-40
“Behold, 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.” (Luke 2:34-35)
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
On this Sunday after Christmas we consider the prophetic words of Simeon that point forward to what lies ahead for Jesus. It’s not that Christmas-y, yet since last Sunday we have celebrated St. Stephen’s Day, St. John’s Day, and we observed the Feast of the Holy Innocents on Wednesday—all of whom were martyrs. We’re only shocked depending on what we traditionally have thought of Christmas.
When you receive Jesus you have received God. When you reject Jesus you have rejected God. Once again this Christmas, we have heard St. Luke proclaim Mary’s baby as the Son of God. Gabriel told Mary that she would have a son and Elizabeth greeted Mary as the mother of her Lord. Zechariah blessed God for the fulfillment of His promises and John would “go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.” (Luke 1:76)
The shepherds went with haste and, shockingly, found a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. They rejoiced at this, because they believed what the angel had told them. They knew what was hidden there in the baby. This child is a sign for them, just as Simeon later says. The shepherds received the words of the angel and embraced the baby in the manger as the Savior who is Christ the Lord.
In the Bible a sign often means something that contains what God is doing and giving. But at the same time, a sign hides under what appears to be the opposite. What we see, touch, feel, or experience seems quite the opposite of what God says it is. We can only know the sign by the word of God, which requires hearing and receiving, that is, faith or trust. The ear is the organ of faith. God’s dealing with us in this way reduces us to the point where we are nothing but receivers, receiving by hearing.
Simeon received a word from God, too. He would not die until He saw the Messiah. Each day Simeon grew older and older, yet he clung to the God’s Word. When the sign of Mary’s baby came into the temple, he rejoiced. The messages for him attached to the sign were: “Now you will die” and “This is the Savior.” Little 40-day-old baby Jesus is the sign of Simeon’s death and salvation. Simeon looked at his life and his death through this sign and departed in peace. For Simeon, this child was set for his falling and rising.
The child was also a sign for Mary’s falling and rising. St. Mary had to learn that she had a son and yet she did not have Him—He really had her. Sometimes in the rest of the story, Mary gets pushed back by Jesus when she made the ordinary claims of a mother. Think of the boy Jesus in the temple or Mary at the wedding in Cana. She would suffer under this burden. And the sword would pierce her, as Simeon said, when she knelt at the foot of the cross.
Remember, a sign appears as the opposite of what it conveys and contains. The sign hidden under it’s opposite on the arms of the cross and in the arms of Simeon is God’s salvation. God’s way of giving is lowly and it ca only be received in the same lowly way. And what mercy! This child came in our flesh. He suffered our sorrows, hungers, temptations. He was shamefully treated, mocked by others, rejected by nearly everyone. He died the worst possible death. There is no point we can fall beneath our God’s reach. He’s already been there.
We aren’t required to pull ourselves up to a higher level to be worthy of God’s gifts. We’re only lost when we refuse His lowly way of giving, thinking it an insult to our pride or too demeaning of God. God doesn’t work according to our specifications or serve us according to our purposes. He comes as He chooses and gives Himself as He wills. It isn’t easy to believe and it isn’t an easy life to live—always by the Word and never by reason or senses. Our way of doing must fall before we rise. We must die to ourselves to live in Christ.
Mary cried for her son in the stable. She cried for Him at Calvary. After the wedding at Cana, we don’t hear anything from Mary again. She makes no more demands nor insists on anything. When all of Mary crumpled and the sword went through her soul, she was raised up. For St. Mary and St. Simeon, Jesus was a sign for both their falling and their rising.
But for many in Israel, Jesus was a sign only for falling. In their response to Jesus, many showed what they were. The thoughts of their hearts were revealed. Jesus didn’t meet their specifications. They didn’t have any use for such a lowly, weak, and even beggarly Messiah. They wanted someone useful for their personal agendas and their social, political, or religious purposes. They wanted a powerful Messiah.
Mary’s baby has power enough, but His power is hidden beneath the opposite. Jesus wins victories not by the exercise of power but by the giving of his redeeming love. The King who rode in on a donkey had His throne on a cross. Many spoke against that sign. They stumbled and fell. When God deals with us, it is judgment and salvation, falling and rising. Otherwise, it is falling only, judgment only.
When God deals with us, we are shown for what we are. When God deals with us, the thoughts of our hearts are revealed. If we insist on holding onto our thoughts about God and how we think He must work, we remain under judgement. if we come shown what we are and come clean before God in repentance, we receive the gifts of salvation that raise us up.
These gifts come in the unlikely sign of the infant in Simeon’s arms, the sign of a man dying on the cross, the sign of the bread and wine. We fall in repentance; we are raised by forgiveness. We receive the body and blood of Christ hidden in the lowly sign of bread and wine. The sign contains and conveys the body and blood of Christ as His words say, whether you believe it or not, whether you fall and rise, or only fall. God’s messengers disclosed what was hidden in Mary’s baby. Christ’s own words disclose what is hidden in the bread and wine.
Simeon received his Savior in the sign of the baby that brought him his death and his salvation. You embrace your Savior in the sign of this Sacrament where your the thoughts of your heart are revealed. This sign means death of your pride and self-affirmation and telling God who you think He must be. It gives your rising, for you are joined more closely with Christ and share His life, which no sword through your soul nor anything else in heaven or on earth can destroy. All this we rejoice in as we join with Simeon in singing after the Sacrament, rejoicing in the Savior in whom we have our falling and rising, our departure and our salvation, our death and our resurrection. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church