Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) | Streaming Licensing # 20105663Worship Guide
Christmas Rejoicing and Marveling
Luke 2:22 - 2:35
December 26, 2021
Reverend Chris Hildebrand
View Sermon Transcript
Merry Christmas! I don’t know how that greeting strikes you on the day after Christmas. I bet for some of you it is a warm and welcome greeting. After all, Christmas is just getting started. It’s been the tradition in the Church throughout the centuries that Christmas is 12 days. It’s a season, not just one day, so in many ways, we are just getting started. We’re just now starting to celebrate all that we were hoping for, anticipating, talking about, singing about, and longing for during the Advent season.
I’m sure for many of you (and I would, if I’m honest, put myself in this category), that greeting “Merry Christmas” on the day after Christmas is pleasant, but it might be a little bit past its due date. After all, the people that are selling the Christmas trees on the sidewalk, they’re gone. The pharmacies have already changed out their decorations and their store shelves for Valentine’s day, and the Christmas trees, yours might already be losing its needles and dying. You’ve already watched all the movies. You’ve already sung all the songs, and you might be ready just to get on with it. Then, on top of it all, this is the season, this is the Christmas that will be remembered as the Omicron Christmas where for so many of us we have had to change our plans because of the pandemic. This thing that we had hoped would be behind us and getting behind us only a month ago is now taking center stage and adjusting and readjusting all of our plans, all of our travels, and all of the ways that we are spending this Christmas. You might be ready to get on with it, and perhaps what the poet and writer Sylvia Plath had said about the day after Christmas might describe your feeling. She said this,
“I felt overstuffed and dull and disappointed, the way I always do the day after Christmas, as if whatever it was the pine boughs and the candles and the silver and gilt-ribboned presents and the birch-log fires and the Christmas turkey and the carols at the piano promised never came to pass.”
Maybe that describes you this morning, so if you are just ready to get on with it, and already thinking about 2022 and what might be ahead of you, I certainly wouldn’t blame you. No matter where you find yourself regarding the Christmas cheer and the Christmas greeting and your stance towards Christmas on the day after Christmas, it’s the claim of Christmas that ought to give us pause this morning, on the second day of Christmas. The claim of Christmas is that God himself has come in the flesh to make his home in our world. In doing this, he is coming through in all his promises he made for all the generations, that he would write all the wrongs, that he would overcome the darkness, and that he would make this world whole again.
With his baby born in a manger, the world will never be the same. This is the event in history by which all other events are judged. We set our time, we set our calendars by this very event. This kind of news and the kind of claim that’s made on Christmas, doesn’t get put away with the ornaments. It doesn’t go away with the Christmas trees. It doesn’t die off with the needles on your tree. No, the news that God has come among us is cause for celebration. It is the news by which we are not only to remember most of the month of December, but we are to guide our entire lives by. It did for Simeon. It is appropriate to look at a text like we’re about to look at on a day like this, and a text like this, because of our calendar and because of our culture in the way that we are wired. We’re already transitioning out of something old, the Christmas, and onto something new, the new year, with new hopes and new activities. But the birth of Jesus actually shapes the way we move forward because here in the song that we’re going to look at, in this passage, we catch a glimpse of the mission of Jesus and therefore, we also catch a glimpse of our mission as well. Before we jump into this passage, I want you to think and consider one thing as we move forward with this man Simeon and this song. This is what is called the Nunc dimittis, that’s a Latin term, which means now depart, which is what Simeon is saying and singing in the song. He says, now your servant can depart in peace. Luke tells us that Simeon was promised that he would see the messiah before he died. He would see the messiah before he died, which means that for Simeon Christmas means death. Think about that for a second. Christmas means his death. That’s what he’s saying here. Now that I’ve seen the Christ, I can die. How can he say that? How can Simeon say that after all this time, after all the years of waiting, hoping, and watching, hold up a baby and sing my eyes have seen your salvation. Jesus hasn’t said anything. He really hasn’t done anything. He’s a baby. He hasn’t done anything to prove that he is the long awaited Messiah. Depending on the year you’ve had, depending on your state of mind and what’s going on in your life, you might think that Simeon was mistaken, as he held up this baby because that which is promised here doesn’t seem to match up with your reality all these years later.
But if Christmas has come and if Simeon really did see salvation, then perhaps the question we should be asking is, why are things still such a mess? This is exactly what Luke is addressing in the song of Simeon. He’s showing his readers how to take the birth of Jesus as the reality that guides us, as we leave the Christmas season and move on into the rest of our lives as we just sort of get on with it, move out into the world with all of its confusion, all of its frustration, all of its joy, all of its heartbreak, all of the outbreak, and how we just move on with it where the calendar never really seems to stop. For some, it’s a time to celebrate a new year, while some of us are still mourning the prior year. Here we have Luke 2 starting in v.22. I want us to give our attention to God’s word, and then we’ll make a few points coming out of this
22And 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 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said 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, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
29“Lord, now you are letting your servant[a] depart in peace,
according to your word;
30for my eyes have seen your salvation
31that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34And 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 35(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
This is the word of the Lord. It’s absolutely true, and it’s given to us in love.
Would you join me in prayer?
Our great God and Heavenly Father, we do ask and pray that you would in fact stir our hearts. Some of us are weary and tired after an Advent and Christmas season that is supposed to offer hope and expectation, and yet our plants have been altered, our lives have been changed. We need once again, the second day of Christmas, to hear your words of truth, your words of hope, to hear Simeon’s words of consolation and comfort, so that we can know how to move on and how to live and most of all, how to rest and be a beacon of your hope to a world that so desperately needs it. We pray this all In Jesus’ mighty name. Amen.
Simeon’s Hope For Comfort
I want to look at three things rather briefly. I want to look at Simeon’s hope for comfort, his song of salvation and his promise of conflict. First, Simeon’s hope of comfort. Luke introduces us to this old man named Simeon. He is the one who was righteous and devout. He’s spending his days in the temple. The Holy Spirit is upon him. Luke tells us that he’s waiting for the consolation of Israel. Simeon is waiting for comfort. Simeon is waiting for the consolation of Israel because the world that Simeon is living in, it’s not too far off from the world that you and I find ourselves in today. The world that Simeon sees is not as it should be. It is not right. In Simeon’s world for hundreds of years by that point, God had been silent towards Israel. Israel isn’t even a shadow of what it used to be. In fact, there are very few people like Simeon left who are spending their days waiting for God to bring consolation because after some 400 years, the prevailing thought was it’s just never gonna happen. God’s never gonna come through on what he had promised. The history of Israel certainly didn’t lend itself to have hope by Simeon’s time. Nations much more powerful had risen up against Israel, starting with the Assyrians, and then with the Babylonians, and now in Simeon’s day, it’s the Romans. They’ve wrought havoc against Israel, and what is so alarming isn’t the God of Israel wasn’t powerful enough to prevent all this; no, it was so alarming because the God of Israel had actually caused this to happen. What we learned in the prophets of the Old Testament who watched this history unfold before their very eyes is that Israel, because of their disobedience, because of their idolatry, because they refuse to repent of their idolatry were sent off into exile.
Simeon is waiting for the only one who can fix this, the only one who can bring comfort. The only one who could bring consolation, which Simeon knows, is God himself. This is what the prophets taught as they saw the rebellion, as they saw their nation get carried off in exile by powerful nation after powerful nation. They knew that only God could bring consolation, that only he could bring comfort because only he was powerful enough to do so. Listen to the prophet Isaiah.
This is Isaiah 40,
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
Then listen to Isaiah 61,
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.
Israel had saw consolation elsewhere. People for years saw consolation and comfort through military power, through economic power and wealth, through every possible avenue of life, but nothing had worked. Simeon was waiting for the comfort and consolation that comes from the Lord. What I want you to see here is that Christmas is the time when we look back on the birth of Jesus, but also, we look forward to the time when Christ will come again and renew this world. As you look close to home, at your own life, in your own circumstances, and the lives of others that are near to you, and close to you, and as you look far off to the world and the circumstances in which we live, and you see more evidence that the world is not as it should be, Simeon teaches us to wait.
Part of the Christian life is waiting. That’s how we actually move forward. That’s how we get on with this week. That’s how you get on with a new year that’s staring us in the face. We actually wait, which seems odd, doesn’t it? The way you move forward is to wait. Because it’s not that in waiting there’s nothing to do. It’s not as though for God to come and finish what he started means we just sort of sit around, stare at the clock, and wait for another day to pass. That’s not what Simeon is doing as he’s waiting. Simeon is praying. He’s worshiping. No doubt he works, and he is serving. As we wait, we confess our faith that God is at work, that he is on a mission to bring comfort to a world that so desperately needs it. As we wait, we also confess this one truth: That only God can fix this. Only he can fix it. As we serve, and work, and labor, and live our lives. Even our mission, even our moving forward is only done because God has already started something. He’s already started something so glorious and so beautiful in the birth of his son Jesus, and that is why we sing. That is why we celebrate. That’s why we gathered here this morning. But Simeon teaches us to wait.
Simeon’s Song Of Salvation
I also want you to see Simeon’s song of salvation. Simeon begins to sing and celebrate because he knows that in the birth of this child, the dawn of salvation has come. This is what was known as the Nunc dimittis. Listen again to the song of v.29-32, “‘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.’” There’s so much to unpack here, but I want you to see just how big Simeon’s understanding of salvation is. The arena in which salvation takes place is the presence of all peoples. It would have been easy for Simeon in waiting for the consolation of Israel, in waiting for the comfort to come, to simply focus on Israel. After all, Jesus is born to Jewish heritage. He’s from the line of David and Abraham so it’s all set in place for Israel to sort of keep salvation close to home and in house. Maybe if outsiders come in that would be a plus, but mainly this thing that’s happening here is going to be for Israel. Maybe we could make it just for the holy ones, just for the ones who really deserve to receive this kind of salvation, but the glory of the Christ child cannot be hidden in the manger.
This news couldn’t be buried in the back section of a newspaper on a slow news day. No, God had come as he had promised, and its effects would be felt everywhere. In fact, this has always been God’s mission. From the moment he chose Israel, this small and insignificant nation in the world of the Old Testament, he was calling Israel to think and live beyond themselves, to live beyond their walls. The God of the universe was going to use them as an instrument to bring light to the nations. Time and time again, God would tell Israel in the Old Testament that you’re going to be a light to the world. I’m not just the God of Israel, I’m the God of the universe. I created and I governed everything and everyone, and now finally, after so many mistakes, after so much rebellion, Israel would become the light the beacon they were called to be. This is why Simeon is so excited over something that signaled the end of his life. He had a vision and a mission that exceeded his own life. He was witnessing the fulfillment of the promise that God would use Israel as a vehicle to bring salvation to the world. The world would taste and see what Simeon already knew that the God of Israel was also the God of the nations, and that this God is a good and kind God, that he’s slow to anger and abounding in love and kindness, and he loves to show mercy to generations that, that is a song to sing.
We need to ask ourselves, and you need to ask yourselves, how big is your Christmas? How big is your Christmas? Is it already gone? Is it already gone with the tree and with the lights? Is it already gone because you just find the need to move on with your life? Is your idea of salvation and renewal so small that if it does exist, it doesn’t reach past the sort of religious sections of your individual life? I want you to see that what Simeon is singing about and what he’s telling us is so much bigger. Simeon salvation is a cosmic story, where the God of the universe uses the weak and the powerless like Israel to bring his healing grace and his loving kindness and his tender mercy to the world around him. That is a song to sing. The theologian, Christopher Wright, makes this good distinction when he says,
“Oftentimes we ask ourselves where does God fit into the story of my life? When the better question that we ought to be asking ourselves is, where does my little life fit into God’s great story of mission?”
Simeon’s little life fit into the great cosmic story, and it brought him great joy. I want you to ask yourself, is this your song? Are you singing Simeon’s song of salvation that is far bigger than anything we could ever ask or imagine?
Simeon’s Promise Of Conflict
We see that Simeon is waiting for the comfort to come. He’s also seeing a song of salvation, but then lastly, I want you to see his promise of conflict. Jesus’ parents marvel at what is being said about their child, but Simeon gives them this warning. In v.34-35 he says, “‘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.’” What an odd thing to say after the thing Simeon has just spoken. He is celebrating the birth of this child, and not only that, to put this at the end of Simeon’s song, but Luke puts this at the end of several songs where so many people are celebrating and anticipating the birth in the coming of Jesus. There they are joyously celebrating the coming of the Prince of Peace, and now this talk of a sword piercing souls and revealing hearts, people falling and rising because of Jesus. Yet, here, Luke gives us the first sign that there will be conflict in the life and the ministry of Jesus.
I want you to hear something: This text tells us that part of the mission of Jesus is to pick a fight. Jesus has come to pick a fight. I’m a person that hates conflict. I hate conflict. Imagine being a pastor and hating conflict. There’s some conflict there, which is one of the reasons why, because I hate conflict, one of the reasons why this time of year, I’m always ready to get on with it. Get back to normal because the longer you stay around your family, and the longer you stay around your friends, the longer you sit there with not a whole lot to do, some of you in quarantine, or getting out of quarantine, or maybe going into quarantine, it’s so easy to get into conflict. It’s so easy for conflict to come bubbling up to the surface unless you’re really good at conflict, you probably do all you can to avoid it. Let’s just not touch those subjects. Let’s not talk about that stuff. Let’s just try and get through this. For someone bringing such good news, for someone saying this good news wouldn’t you think that conflict would be the last thing that this baby would bring? What Simeon is telling Mary and Joseph, what Luke is telling us, is that precisely because of the nature of this salvation, it’s the nature of this salvation, that conflict is inevitable. Conflict is going to come. If all Jesus came to do was bring consolation for Israel, if all he came to do is to bring comfort, and maybe help out a small nation, help them out a little bit, then the world around Simeon wouldn’t have batted an eye. Nobody would have cared. Nobody would have noticed, and therefore there’d be no conflict because Israel was so weak and so insignificant, they’d been relegated to a blip in the history books. Nobody would have cared, but this God is going through this little nation to get to the world. With this promise of comfort and salvation comes authority and power over all of the earth.
In the life of Jesus, we see this conflict unfold. He will be in conflict with the political leaders of his time. Cesar is in charge of the empire. He was the one with power and authority. He taxed, and he had the military strength to subdue the nation’s and to provide protection. This little baby, born to people who had no political clout, who couldn’t even afford to pay their taxes, is going to be the one to bring peace and salvation to the world. Peace, no political leader, no matter how powerful they ended up, could ever bring. He will be in conflict with the religious leaders of the time, the high priests that read their Old Testaments, they knew what to expect. They know what to look for in a messiah, someone who was powerful, someone who will raise up an army and liberate Israel from the tyrannical reign of Rome, and make them great again. They thought that through diligence and sacrifice, and getting things right, that Israel would be renewed to the days of David and Solomon. It’s into that world, that this baby comes to parents who couldn’t even make a proper sacrifice. This little detail that Luke gives us at the beginning of this passage, that Mary and Joseph, when they came to the temple, offered two pigeons as a sacrifice, because that’s all they could afford. He brings salvation and hope that no other religious leaders can bring. Simeon reminds us that as we follow Jesus, in his mission, to bring renewal to the world, that there’s going to be conflict. Conflict with the powers and principalities of the world that we live in because the claim is that only Jesus, only he can bring restoration. No one else, no matter how smart, no matter how powerful can do this, which means that we also should expect to find conflict in our own hearts because the fact of the matter is, we too, oftentimes are on our own mission. We are all on a mission to protect ourselves—to show how successful and powerful we are, to show just how great we can be whether it’s at home or at work. We only let people into our lives who are willing to buy into our mission, who are willing to play by our rules. Simeon’s song reminds us that our mission has failed. Your mission to protect yourself, your mission to make your name great, it fails and it will fail time and time again. We need a bigger mission. We need a bigger story. We need a greater song to sing and Simeon is giving us that very song today. We have a better story, and that is what is offered to us in Jesus.
So the question for us is do you want to sing with Simeon? If you do, then we have to admit that his way to bring restoration is better than ours. Through this child, he offers us restoration, forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting. That is the song that we sing on Christmas morning. As we gathered together at this table, all that Simeon teaches us, all that Luke wants to put before us, it’s all here at this table. Here we are given the comfort that comes to us on Christmas because it’s here that our Lord offers us this bread and this cup to guarantee our share in his death and resurrection, to unite us to himself, to give us a new song to sing, and to give us hope, that even though there is conflict, that conflict ends in victory. That’s what’s here at this table. That’s what we’re invited to celebrate, and eat and drink together. Because even though our Lord Jesus comes to bring conflict, the warfare has ended. He is the prince of peace because he has been given all power and authority. That’s what Simeon knew, that’s what Simeon put his faith in, and that is the hope we carry with us this day.
Our great God and Heavenly Father, we thank you, that we like Simeon can sing of your salvation, even when so much of our reality and the world and the evidence can suggest otherwise, as Simeon held up this Christ child so we now gather at this table with great hope and expectation that you have come in your son Jesus. You come to us now by the power of your Spirit, you come to us at this table, and you will come again to restore and make all things new to finish those promises that you have started. God stir our hearts, feed us, and nourish us. We pray in Jesus’ mighty name. Amen.