Text: Luke 2:22-40 (34-35)
Date: Christmas I + 12/31/17
Simeon beheld the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to him as he took up the child Jesus in his arms and blessed God saying, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.” Yes, the salvation from God was and is this Child. But how can our eyes see God’s salvation? For that first Christmas was a long, long time ago. We even sing in one of the Christmas songs the wish, “Oh, that we were there! Oh, that we were there!” We weren’t there. And so how can we say with Simeon, “my eyes have seen Your salvation”? A hint is that we sing with Simeon these words after every communion!
What’s worse is this. Do you know there is a word that describes those who only go to church on Christmas and on Easter? There is one! They’re called “Chreasters”! I thought of them this first Sunday after Christmas wondering what sort of theology or religion do Chreasters carry around with them in their daily lives when all their eyes observe are Christmas and Easter? There is definitely something missing.
Unless you hear the rest of the story, all you’re left with is, first, a gentle and comforting knowledge of a God who loved the world so much that he sent His Son to be the Son of Mary, the object of special interest to angels, wise men, and animals. “Joy to the World!” Then add Easter to the story and you hear of victory, loud songs of triumph and resurrection. But what did Christmas have to do with triumph and resurrection? Triumph over what? What enemy? Resurrection after what?
Listen to Simeon’s inspired prophesy. He blessed Mary and Joseph and then said to Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Suddenly, immediately a sour sounding note has invaded our otherwise happy Christmas carols. “The fall and rising of many in Israel”? “A sign that is opposed”? A sword piercing Mary’s soul? Here Simeon was stating clearly the purpose for which this Child was born. He was not born to establish an earthly kingdom, not born in order for you to find success in life. He was born to die! These words proclaim the Cross of Christ. These words say that those who oppose the Christ, who reject Him and His Word, and many will and have, will fail and fall; fall away from eternal salvation. But those who receive Him, who believe on His name, who accept His death by crucifixion as the one and only sacrifice for their sin, they will rise to new life by faith in the forgiveness of their sins.
Chreasters have an incomplete, even empty religion. For without the death of this Child you have no understanding of death or our real need. Why do people die? Without His bitter suffering and violent, bloody, painful crucifixion you have no understanding of how God actually forgives sins while justly condemning it. I suppose that without the discipline of Lent Chreasters will have only a vague faith that has no ability to make sense out of our daily struggles. For all the joy to the world, happiness and hoped-for victory, without knowing about sin and death, forgiveness and resurrection as the way God saves us in Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection, any hope you have will be shallow and weak.
This is not to say that there is no true joy, happiness or victory. In one of His first sermons Jesus preached on Isaiah 61, reading it as His own “call document” He says:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.”
There you have it! “Good news,” “liberty,” “the Lord’s favor!” Chreasters are very happy to hear that. But then, just like we heard from Simeon today, Jesus sang the sour notes of His call. “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” This great good news of the coming of Christ would be for the falling of many, even in His own home town. “And He said, ‘Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in His hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.” Many have fallen away even in the face of the joy and glory and good news of His coming.
And Jesus doubled down again, saying, “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” “’You mean we can’t count on God to give us success and good days?” Not without facing up to and being empowered by the Cross! Then listen to the falling away. St. Luke tells us, “When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff” (Luke 4). I know of some Lutheran congregations like that! So much for Christmas joy!
Yes, there are glad tidings of a great joy which will be to all the people. But the tidings become glad and the joy great when you also embrace (shall I say it this way?) “the real meaning of Christmas,” that is, that this Child was born to die. For only by His holy life and priceless death does He take away the sin of the world. And only in this faith do you discover the true glory and peace of God even right here on earth, now, hidden though it may be in faithful hearts that hear and believe “the rest of the story.” In the Holy Eucharist of this Child’s sacrificial body and blood can we say with Simeon and the faithful throughout the ages, “My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation.”