Pastor James Hopkins wrote this sermon for the first Sunday of Christmas 12/27/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Christmas1 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the first Sunday of Christmas, click here.
If you are finding the afterglow of Christmas Day just a bit dimmer than you expected on Christmas Eve, you are not alone. Even Jesus’ mommy is a bit troubled.
In the Gospel text this morning, it’s been just 40 days since Mary gave birth; just over a month since there were angel choirs belting out hymns of praise, and unlikely visitors gathered around the manger to worship their new King. Jesus is still in swaddling cloths with that newborn smell.
But now, all of a sudden, things are not as wonderful as she’d expected them to be. After all, the usually reliable archangel Gabriel had brought her great news. He said:
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. Luke 1:31-33
That was the start of a really great Christmas story. But now, only a couple of pages in, it feels as if there’s been a mistake. Simeon was getting all of his lines right until the part where he said:
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. Luke 2:34-35
Those are troubling words. Mary had expected nothing but joyful blessings, but what she got was rising and falling and swords and pierced hearts. Maybe your Christmas season isn’t going the way you thought either.
Maybe stress and frustration have already boiled over, while excitement and piety have simmered down. For that, you may be feeling like St. Mary, i.e. a bit troubled, or confused, or crestfallen. That’s what happens when we project our expectations onto others. Parents do it to their kids all the time. And kids do it right back.
You probably had some expectations for the Baby Jesus. One of them was probably the unrealistic hope that He would somehow, in some way, never grow up. Babies, after all, are cute and cuddly, more loveable, and easier to understand than their adult counterparts. Most mothers want their children to stay little forever; to protect them. They know what the world is like, and would like to save them from it.
That urge for control among us comes in lots of forms. For some of you it is the desire to snatch back the sins you left at the foot of the manger. It’s not fair that this Baby should have to deal with them. For others, it is the well intentioned, but ultimately false belief that this year you’re really going to somehow not take them back. While they’re certainly on opposite ends of the spectrum, both responses attempt to take away from Jesus the very sins He’s come to take away from you.
So it’s a wonderful thing that on a day like today, when we see familiar temptations on the horizon, that we can take our cue from an old Simeon, led by the Spirit.
Where Mary is now worried that Gabriel’s prophecy may mean the death of her Child, Simeon rejoices in the very same fact. He sees Christmas and Easter all bundled up in this little Boy. This Child, for Simeon is the One he has been waiting his whole life to see. God had promised him that he would not die until he set His eyes on the Lord’s Christ. And here he is! He knows what Isaiah wrote. He knows that the Lord’s Anointed will be a Suffering Servant. But that’s why he rejoices! That’s why he says what he says!
He starts with praises, and light, and salvation, and revelation, and glory… and proceeds quickly to suffering and death. Simeon is telling Mary and Joseph and you and me that the glory of this Child is not fully known in a manger, but on a cross; and he, personally, doesn’t need to stick around for another 33 years for confirmation.
Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel. Luke 2:29-32
One thing that get’s overlooked, I think, is that Simeon speaks these words as he holds the Infant Jesus in His arms. Simeon wasn’t promised that he would hear about Jesus, or read about Him in a book. Simeon was promised that he would see Jesus. That he would receive Him. There, in Simeon’s arms, is the Creator of all things. He can leave the Temple. There is nothing left there for Him. The new Temple is Child-sized. Now Simeon can die, and enter into the very Kingdom he so recently held in his arms.
Perhaps that’s what inspired the famous reformer Martin Chemnitz to comment that one should approach the Lord’s Supper as if he were going to his death, so that when one goes to his death, it will be as if he is going to the Lord’s Supper – especially when you consider that you are. I think that sums up how Simeon feels. Nothing is going to ruin the joy of his Christmas, for it is hidden on the far side of Jesus’ cross.
That won’t make it easy for Mary to surrender her Son. And maybe it won’t make it easy for you to surrender control of your life. But the same Holy Spirit who was given to Simeon has been given to you in your Baptism, and here in His Word. He has created in you the same faith in the same Savior: the Consolation of Israel, the Redemption of Jerusalem.
So if the afterglow of Christmas is dimmer than you expected, take heart that the Light shines forever, not from an empty manger, but from an empty tomb. And you may depart here in peace, according to God’s Word, for your eyes have seen what your lips have tasted, and will receive again soon: your Salvation, Jesus Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, in the Flesh.