Sermon for December 27, 2020

First Sunday of Christmas, December 27, 2020
Luke 2:22-40

The holy gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

    25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

    29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
        according to your word;
    30for my eyes have seen your salvation,
        31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
    32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
        and for glory to your people Israel.”
    33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

    36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

    39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Todays’ gospel reading reveals, first of all, the devotion of Mary and Joseph to their Judaism and its practices, in this case, in bringing the child Jesus to Jerusalem for the rite of purification and to offer a customary sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” in dedicating their first-born son to God.

But this story also features the devotion of Simeon and Anna in waiting and watching for the coming of the Messiah.

Church tradition has focused mostly on Simeon and his song, the nunc dimittis, which is a centerpiece of daily prayer at night – “Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people…” (ELW, p. 324)

But it’s also crucial to focus on what else Simeon says, words more penetrating and perhaps foreboding than his song of rejoicing. Simeon in Luke adds this in speaking to Mary: “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

That’s a heavy message for parents to hear, especially at Jesus’ very young age when people tend to focus on the innocence of babies and their being protected from the dangers of the world. Simeon’s words here are perhaps the first prediction, or at least suggestion, of Jesus’ Passion, his death and resurrection, in Luke’s gospel.

Moreover, Simeon suggests in Luke that this child, this Jesus who is light for revelation to the nations, and glory for Israel, will also stir some pots and trouble some waters in his living, and teaching and ministry. There will be opposition to him, the sword of pain will pierce mother Mary’s soul, and something about this Jesus will pierce through our self-deceptions to reveal our often-sinful inner thoughts.

Which is to say that Jesus will be a truth teller, and telling the truth will lead to trouble, as it often does, perhaps especially in the outing of people’s deeper, typically sinful and sinister motivations.

In short, Jesus will bring to bear on people the claims and related burdens of God’s law, God’s loving will for humanity in the cause of divine justice when more often than not humans tend toward injustice.

Then there’s the role of the prophet Anna in the story, too often overshadowed by Simeon. While Simeon addressed himself and his prophecies to Mary and Joseph, Anna turned her attention to the other people in the temple. With praise of God on her lips and in her heart, she spoke “about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel.” (Luke 2:38b) In short, Anna begins to bring good news to the wider world.

So, that’s a bit about Simeon and Anna in days of old. Fast-forward to our own day. What about us in our circumstances in these latter days on this First Sunday of Christmas in the waning days of 2020? What do Simeon and Anna have to say to us?

As I had mentioned, the nunc dimittis, the Song of Simeon, is a central canticle in daily prayer at night. Thus, I pray the Song of Simeon every day. Remember, too, that this song is sometimes sung in Lutheran churches as a post-communion canticle after we have received the fullness of Christ’s presence in the bread and wine at the holy table.

Each time I pray the Song of Simeon, particularly at the end of the day, I claim some time to focus on where in my day I have seen signs of God’s salvation, reflecting on that phrase in the song, “for my eyes have seen your salvation.” That phrase beckons me to examine my life, my day, where and when I have seen the good news of Christ.

It’s a great way to review the day, to recall signs of the sacred amidst, in, with, and under, my to do lists and meetings and other encounters with people. Almost every day offers up something of the holy.

A corollary to this prayerful, reflective engagement is also an invitation to consider those occasions during the day when my inner thoughts have been revealed, again, in keeping with Simeon’s elaboration to Mary.

Likewise, I might consider what swords have pierced my soul, like Mary’s.

Inevitably, this meditation boils down to discerning when during the day I have experienced the burdens of failing to live up to God’s law, and when in the day I have experienced God’s grace in the good news of the gospel.

Sometimes these experiences of burden and freedom are intimately linked, where one leads naturally to the other, for example, when I might have admitted wrongdoing to myself and another and when I hear words of pardon and forgiveness from my neighbors.

I commend to you such a review of your days to help you take stock of your life, your routines, especially in seeing both Law and Gospel at work in our lives – all of this made possible by daily prayer in relation to the Song of Simeon and his witness to Mary and Joseph.

Still another devotional possibility is then to step into the shoes of the prophet Anna and ask when during the day we have born witness to the wider world in speaking about Jesus to those seeking God. Hopefully, each day’s activity reveals some occasion when we have proclaimed the good news of Christ in some word, some deed by God’s grace and in the power of the Spirit.

May we live our lives in the spirit of Simeon and Anna – for the sake of Christ, being eye witnesses to Christ’s work in our day, receiving Christ’s gifts of grace for us, and bearing witness to Christ to the world, for the sake of the world. Amen.

Now for your reflection and holy conversation at home:

  • Name occasions when your inner thoughts have been revealed, making you aware of the ways in which you may fall short of keeping God’s will.
  • Name occasions when you have seen God’s salvation with your own eyes in ways that deepen your faith, your trust in God’s forgiveness, mercy, and love.
  • Anticipate ways in which you, like Anna, may bear witness to Christ to the wider world of those in your acquaintance.