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LSB Christmas 1C Sermon – Luke 2:22-40

December 29, 2015

December 27, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “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.”

Simeon goes to the Jerusalem Temple. He goes because he is compelled. The LORD had summoned him. It was part of His divine promise: “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. 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.” Simeon is given a divine pledge that he would see the Messiah before he dies. He gets to looks upon what Israel’s patriarchs did not witness—the fulfillment of the LORD’s great promise of sending the Redeemer.

Many devout people besides Simeon were present in Jerusalem. Residents and pilgrims alike were in the temple grounds. Such piety and faithfulness compelled Joseph and Mary to come: “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…and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord….” But Simeon’s presence is a bit different. He is not there to fulfill a divine legal requirement. Instead, he is present to make a prophetic declaration.

That’s the significance of the phrase that Luke uses: “And Simeon came in the Spirit into the temple….” By the LORD’s choice, Simeon stands in a long line of prophets. He is numbered among the people who have had the Holy Spirit placed upon them in order to make a divine statement. The LORD compels Simeon to be in the temple to fulfill the promise made to him. But the LORD also drives Simeon to the temple to speak about the Infant whom Joseph and Mary have brought.

Two statements came from Simeon’s mouth. The first is a prayer of thanksgiving that Simeon makes as the LORD fulfilled His promise: “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.” Simeon’s words acknowledge the favor that the LORD had given to him: he has seen the Messiah, the LORD’s salvation sent for both Israel and the Gentiles, just as was promised.

Simeon’s first statement is familiar to us. Many of you have sung them from childhood as part of the Divine Service. The Nunc Dimittis, as it is called, is used after the reception of the Lord’s Supper. Part of the Lutheran revisions in the Western Rite of the Mass included singing Simeon’s words as a canticle. There is a close connection between Simeon and those who have participated in the Sacrament of the Altar. We have both seen the LORD’s salvation, as Jesus makes Himself present among us. Because we have received Him and His gifts, we can depart in peace just like Simeon.

But the second statement of Simeon—the more prophetic one—is not as familiar. It isn’t used in our weekly worship. Yet, it is heard by most Christians on the First Sunday after Christmas. Simeon prophesies about Jesus, declaring that He will be a great figure within Israel’s history, but that greatness will also be a cause of division: “Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, ‘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.’”

Simeon’s prophecy speaks to how Jesus will be controversial. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Simeon already acknowledged Jesus’ identity: “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.” But then he states that the LORD’s Messiah sent to Israel will be divisive. Though Jesus is sent to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—just as the LORD had promised—He is not received by all of them. Instead, Jesus’ presence begins the falling away of many who had been in the line of the LORD’s Covenant People.

What Simeon declares echoes the Christmas Day Gospel Reading from the Prologue to John’s Gospel: “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.” It is shocking to hear that each Christmas. Even as the angels worshiped the birth of the LORD’s Messiah—“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”—there is the rejection of the One who was sent, beginning with Herod’s attempts to kill the Infant Jesus to the Holy Week plots of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. Controversy and division over Jesus runs throughout the Gospel accounts of His words and works, as He causes “the fall and rising of many in Israel.”  

Simeon’s prophecy stands true, as do the words of John’s gospel. In fact, that prophesied division that Jesus brings doesn’t remain in ancient Israel. Even now, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob hold deep disagreements over whether Jesus is the LORD’s salvation, the LORD’s Messiah. It is why the Church and Synagogue remain separate, as the author of Hebrews poignantly puts it: “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood. Therefore let us go to Him outside the camp and bear the reproach He endured.”

But the prophesied controversy that Jesus brings extends beyond Israel. The entire world is divided over Jesus—His identity, His work, and His teaching. The Church and Mosque are at enmity with one another because of the confession of who Jesus is or isn’t. The Church and Society are at odds whether Jesus’ teaching should be heeded or if it should have any place at all. Even within the Church’s history, Christology was a controverted issue. Even now, the testimony given about Jesus in pulpits, cathedrals, and seminaries varies.

Division about Jesus is in our midst. We can hope it is not in our congregation, but it is definitely around us. The “thoughts from many hearts [are] revealed” as the question about Jesus is put to them. Many of you have heard me say that the most important question in the Scriptures is what Jesus asks the Twelve: “But who do you say that I am?” Or as one of my seminary professors put it: “What do you think about Jesus?” That question pierces the hearts and souls of all people. It demands an answer. And when the answer is given, all of humanity—whether Israelite or Gentile—is divided.

But as the Church has started its yearly pilgrimage with Jesus, the Spirit-filled testimony about Him will be given again for you to receive. At Christmas, you heard the testimony of the angels at Jesus’ birth. Now you have heard Simeon’s statements about Him. You will hear the adoration given by the Magi, the declaration by God the Father at His Son’s baptism and transfiguration, the Palm Sunday worship by the crowds, Thomas’ confession at His resurrection, and Peter’s preaching at Pentecost. Alongside those acknowledgements of Jesus, you will hear His own words that speak about His identity and work. The Spirit works through this proclamation. Led by the Spirit, you will state what the LORD has declared about Him and what Jesus has testified about Himself.

So what do you say about Jesus? How do you answer the question? It is to say what Simeon has spoken, as you will sing his words. You will declare that Jesus is the LORD’s salvation, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel. You have already stated that this Jesus is the reason for your rising. Because Almighty God has given His only-begotten Son to die for you and for His sake grants you remission of your sins, you are raised up from your penitent knees to stand in righteousness before Him. You praised this Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away your sin, the only Holy One, the Lord. You will confess that the reason why Jesus has come is for your salvation.

All those statements that you make about Jesus in the Divine Service are the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit, as He performs His calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying, and preserving work among you and the whole Christian Church on earth. This is the great privilege that Almighty God gives you. The Christmas Day Gospel spoke of this: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” It was echoed in the Preparatory Rite: “To those who believe on His name He gives the power to become the children of God and has promised them His Holy Spirit.” Like Simeon, you are filled with the Holy Spirit, which allows you to know the true identity of Jesus and to speak about Him as the LORD has revealed.

What you say about Jesus reveals the thoughts of your hearts. Let your thoughts about Jesus be the same as Simeon’s testimony. Acknowledge Jesus as the LORD’s salvation that He prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to His people Israel. Trust that Jesus has brought that salvation for you. Then you will be the LORD’s servants able to depart in peace, ready to be raised by Him to everlasting life.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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