Sermon: Luke 2:25-40
Christmas 1 - December 31, 2017 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
A year ago on New Year’s Eve, as I stood at the threshold of a new year, I didn’t know that in 2017 I would be diagnosed with lymphoma, endure chemotherapy, and recover. There are others in our congregation who endured the ruthlessness of cancer during this last year, and I’m sure that almost all of you know someone, a friend or relative, who struggled with cancer or some other illness this last year. Some survived their battle. Others didn’t.
Serious sickness has a way of encouraging us to pray to God as Moses does in our psalm for New Year’s Eve, Psalm 90: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” God doesn’t promise us a year at a time. He promises us a day at a time. We don’t know what lies ahead in the new year. That’s why it’s so important that each day we number our days, that each day we’re prepared for it to be the day we depart to be with Christ or the day when Jesus returns to this world to take us home to heaven.
Simeon and Anna in our text today are examples of faithful believers who knew how to number their days aright. Simeon especially was looking forward to the day when he would see the Messiah long promised on the pages of the Old Testament. He was ready each year, on every day, to see his Savior face to face. Simeon would have said,
“I’M ALWAYS READY TO SEE MY SAVIOR
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem Mary and Joseph remained for a while in that town. They had traveled south to Bethlehem in Judea from the little town of Nazareth in Galilee, about eighty miles away. We know from the Christmas lesson in Luke 2 that they traveled to their ancestral town in order to be counted in a census decreed by the Roman emperor. Joseph in particular, but Mary also, was a descendant of King David who had grown up in Bethlehem.
After Jesus was born they stayed in Bethlehem for eight days until Jesus’ day of circumcision and his official naming as Jesus, as the angel had commanded both Mary and Joseph. They remained at least another thirty-two days, or a total of forty days, until they could fulfill the rites of purification for Mary and Jesus as commanded in the Law of Moses.
It was on the fortieth day after Jesus’ birth that we find Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in Jerusalem at the temple where they meet Simeon. How do you picture Simeon? When you think of him, or remember a drawing of him from a Sunday school book, what do you see? We probably think of a very old man with a long beard. He could have been very old, but the text actually doesn’t give us his age. After he sees Jesus, he says that he’s ready to depart this life, leading us to believe that he was elderly. Likely he was. But not necessarily.
Actually his age isn’t important. What is important about Simeon is how faithful he was to God. Luke writes, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Simeon was a man who did what was right. He lived according to God’s will and commandments. And he was devout. He was sincere in his devotion to God. He loved to worship God.
Simeon was unique and unusual. He was one of those believers who really loved and trusted God. He believed the promises of God, especially the promise about the Messiah, the Savior. He faithfully kept God’s commandments, and he kept them from the heart out of love for God. He didn’t just go through the motions of his religion.
Believe it or not genuine faith and heartfelt obedience to God made Simeon unique and unusual even in Jerusalem and Judea, the home of God’s chosen people. There were lots of people who didn’t have time to bother with God. There were the Pharisees and Sadducees and the religious leaders who were very religious, but they didn’t really trust God or obey his will from the heart. They just went through the motions of their religion.
And how do you think these religious leaders and elite of Jerusalem would have responded to Simeon? They certainly had to walk by Simeon at the temple. They had to see him. But they didn’t have the wisdom to really see Simeon and follow his example of devotion to God. If they did see Simeon they probably thought he was a little strange, a little unusual, a little too religious even for their taste, actually, a little too genuinely religious for their taste.
Are you willing to be unique and unusual as a Christian? If you’re going to be a genuine Christian in the United States these days people are going to look at you more and more as unusual, not in the mainstream of religious thinking or acceptable religious belief. If you’re going to be a believer like Simeon, or Anna, you’re going to have to love his mercy and forgiveness more than you love being admired and popular.
Simeon had an extra special reason to be so devoted to God. “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Israelites had waited for generations, for centuries, for the coming of the Messiah, the long-promised Savior. Most didn’t live to see him in this world. God the Holy Spirit had assured Simeon in some way he would see the Savior before he died.
Forty days after Jesus was born that momentous day came for Simeon. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to do what the Law of Moses required, Simeon suddenly came up to them and actually took Jesus from Mary’s arms. He praised God and said, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
Most of you should be familiar with these words. We sing them after receiving Holy Communion in the Common Service. We will sing them today. And how fitting these words are for Christians who have just received Holy Communion. Our eyes have seen our Savior in a very special way. Jesus is really present with us in Holy Communion. We have individually and personally received the body and blood of Jesus given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.
Liturgically we call Simeon’s words the Nunc Dimittis, Latin for a portion of his words, “You now dismiss.” But more important is how profound Simeon’s words are. He’s really saying, “Lord, you kept your promise to let me see the Messiah before I die. Now I’ve seen him. Now I can depart this life. Now I can die.”
When you sing those words today following Holy Communion will you mean the same as Simeon? Are you really willing to say, “I’ve seen Jesus, I’ve received his body and blood as the evidence of my forgiveness and eternal salvation, I can depart in peace, I can depart this life, Now I can die”?
Are you ready to die? I’m not asking you if you want to die today or tomorrow or in 2018. But are you ready to die and see your Savior at any time? When Moses asks the Lord to teach us to number our days aright in Psalm 90 he’s really asking God to make us always ready to die, always ready to stand before our Judge, always ready to see our Savior.
We all want to be like Simeon and Anna, ready to depart this life at anytime. What made them ready? They both focused intently on Jesus. They both had unwavering faith in Jesus their Savior. For Simeon Jesus was the consolation of Israel. He was the one who would comfort him with the forgive his sins. Simeon knew that Jesus would die to atone for his sins.
Anna also came up to Mary and Joseph and Jesus and gave thanks to God. She spoke to people about Jesus. She was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. For Anna Jesus was the Redeemer. He was the one who would set her free from the guilt of her sin.
In 2017 were you always ready to see your Consolation, your Redeemer, your Savior? Were you always ready to see Jesus? In 2018 will you always be ready to see your Savior? In 2018 and for the rest of your life be like Simeon and Anna and focus on Jesus. He is your only Consolation, your only Comfort, when you consider the guilt of your sin. Jesus is your only Redeemer, your only Savior, who sets you free from sin.
Simeon said something else particularly to Mary: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There’s something ominous about these words. But these words were necessary. Jesus was not just a cute little baby that people could hold and cuddle in their arms. Jesus would grow up and affect the lives and eternities of all in one way or another. For those whose eyes love to see Jesus, for those who trust him as their Savior from sin, God the Father will raise them up as his children. They will inherit eternal life. They will be ready to depart this life.
For those whose eyes do not love to see Jesus, for those who don’t believe in Jesus, who don’t have time for Jesus, there will be nothing but a fall into the eternal judgment of God. Simeon says they are the ones who will see Jesus as a sign to be spoken against. And when people speak against Jesus they reveal the sinful nature of their unbelieving hearts.
Unbelieving hearts would one day nail Jesus to a cross. That was the sword that would pierce Mary’s soul. Jesus would die to atone for the sins of Jews and Gentiles. Jesus would die to atone for the sins of the world.
That’s the truth that Simeon knew. It’s the truth that Anna knew. That’s why their eyes were always ready and waiting to see their Savior. In 2018 and always make sure your eyes are ready and waiting to see your Savior, ready and waiting to see Jesus. Amen.