Lk. 2.22 thru 40 Our New Year's Faith
Our New Year’s Faith
Focus: We have the assurance of our salvation that Simeon had in the birth of Jesus.
Function: That the hearers recognize the strong and mature faith of Simeon and take that same faith into the New Year.
22When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."
25Now 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. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."
33The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."
36There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The gospel lesson today incorporates yet another one of the songs of praise surrounding the gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus. If you were with us for the Advent Sermon Series, Pastor Norris and Pastor Berner preached on the other songs of praise; the Magnificat, Gloria in Excelsis, and the Benedictus. We now have the Nunc Dimittis sung by Simeon to start us off in the New Year. All of these worshipful songs of praise have been incorporated into our hymns and liturgical service in one way or another. These songs are very important to us as they clearly are a gift to us from God, delivered with the birth of His Son. Each is a testimony to each of the singer’s faith. Mary shows us her very personal, deep faith, with the singing of the Magnificat. Zechariah sings out universal praise to God for fulfilling his promised plan of salvation, and the promised forerunner in his son John, in the Benedictus. And the angels’ praise God for the fulfillment of His promise through Christ the Savior who has given salvation and peace to His people on earth with the Gloria Excelsis.
The Nunc Dimittis, from the Latin of the hymn's opening phrase meaning “now dismiss us,” is a statement demonstrating Simeon’s mature faith. This is a great conclusion to the Advent series because of the way that Simeon is praising God for concluding his wait. We too, after the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmastime, can be at peace in the assurance of our salvation because of the birth of the Messiah. Even now we are reminded of His coming and our salvation at the altar when we partake in the Lord’s Supper. We sing this same song as a canticle in gratitude after receiving communion. In our worship service we sing, as Simeon did, to express our assuredness of His peace having seen Christ through the bread and the wine during communion. We have received the Messiah through communion! We have been fed with His heavenly food and can leave in peace!...So we sing the Nunc Dimittis…This is the peace that we take with us out of the sanctuary and into this New Year.
Simeon is an example to us all of a faith that fully trusts in God. He shows us his faith in his “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Simeon had longed for his nation’s deliverance, just as Zechariah had in his Benedictus. Luke tells us that Simeon has received a promise from the Lord, much like Zechariah in the parallel infancy account of the birth of John the Baptist. But today’s gospel account of Jesus’ infancy tells us the more important actor in the two narratives is the one who comes after John. Simeon can die in peace, as God has promised, and be taken by God, his Sovereign Lord, because his eyes have seen God’s salvation. There is a significant equation in what he is saying. To see Jesus is to see God's salvation! They are inseparable. There is joy, even in the face of death, when one has seen the source of life. Simeon's job, as a sentinel for the Messiah, is done. He is actually holding “salvation” in his arms. The Lord can now take him home. Simeon gives us a picture of a faithful servant who is at home in God's purpose and His plan. This salvation was promised to Simeon specifically, but it is also promised for all of humanity through the birth of the Savior. The present salvation is a fulfillment of God’s ancient promises, which is a theme that has been laid out in Luke’s other infancy hymns as well. Simeon uses “shalom” as the peace or wholeness that he can go with, just as Zechariah said that the Messiah will guide our feet in this peace. And the angels tell us, in the Gloria, the same “shalom”/peace will come to those who believe. We can take the Christ child and this peace with us now into the New Year and His name is Jesus! He is our salvation, and we have a joy and that same peace that can only be known through knowing Him. We take our faith into the New Year knowing that, whatever may come, we have been assured of our salvation through our faith in the one named Jesus Christ.
All of the people around Jesus are people of that same faith in God. This is demonstrated by the adherence to God’s laws spoken of in this passage. Joseph and Mary are fulfilling the Levitical law by coming to the temple. There were two ways in which Joseph and Mary were fulfilling Levitical law. The first was because of the requirement for the mother’s purification, and the second was in the presenting of Jesus to the Lord at the temple. These were things that were done by pious people, people that were faithful to the God of Israel and His laws. Joseph and Mary were not rebels that disregarded the Mosaic laws and wanted to overturn the way things were. They submitted devoutly to these ancient customs, willingly obeying the Divine Law under which they were born and had lived all of their lives. Then there is Anna. She has a strong faith also. She is a prophetess and worshipped God “day and night” never leaving the temple. She also comes forward, as Simeon did, and immediately thanks God for redeeming Israel through the Christ child.
These faithful people of Israel represent the best of Israel. Simeon, Anna, Joseph and Mary represent the faithful and pious people of Israel. These are the people that frequent the temple, follow the law, and most importantly acknowledge the Messiah. There would be many people of Israel that would accept and follow Jesus, the Messiah…But, there will also be those that will not imitate Simeon and Anna and will “be opposed” to this sign. This one named Jesus brings a gospel message that will not be an easy one. Many will hate Jesus and they will crucify Him. His mother, Mary, will witness this and, herself, be pierced through her soul as Simeon prophesied… Israel will, in fact, be divided by this Messiah…as our sinful fallen world is, to this day, divided by Him.
We are surrounded today with examples of this division and strife brought on by this Child. During this past Christmas season there were arguments at the corporate level, and even within families, as to whether we can wish people a Merry Christmas! People are renaming Christmas trees…Holiday trees. They are renaming Christmas break…winter break. And…there was even a court case as to whether poinsettias could be allowed in city hall…because of who they represent! These are all examples of ways in which Christ is being “opposed” as Simeon prophesied. We have to remember…Christmas is not just a charming tale of “Christmas card prettiness.” Even in the temple, after the birth of Jesus, there is the shadow of the hatred that will lead to a cross. Matthew also shows us this dark side of what follows Jesus’ birth, with his description of the mothers wailing who cannot be comforted because their children have been slaughtered…It is true that the truth of Jesus will not always be welcomed…The pain of rejection is there from the beginning.
Yet…having prophesied that this would come, Simeon still is able to be dismissed in peace. Not because he wouldn’t have to see the strife that would come as a result of the Messiah coming, but because the Messiah had come! This is a salvation that is apart from this sinful and broken world! Your salvation comes whether the world accepts Jesus as the Messiah or not! We go into this New Year knowing that we have this salvation. Not because the entire world agrees that He has come, but because we know He has come, and we have seen His salvation! As believers we have seen for ourselves the salvation that comes through that Babe in a manger…Christmas has come! This salvation is for both Jew and Gentile. He is the light that would shine on the Gentiles. This is far reaching and part of why Joseph and Mary were so amazed at what Simeon had said about their Child…the one who was called Jesus as the angel had instructed. You see, this was all the work of God. This light was to be put on earth and called Jesus, as God had promised (and then willed to happen), just as He had said. We see through all of this…God’s plan…His grace…and His love…for all of the people of the world! As Paul tells us in his epistle to the Galatians, “God sent His Son”…“in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children” and to be “an heir, through God.” This is the message that we carry into the New Year…
Now may that peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds unto life everlasting, amen.