The First Sunday after Christmas
December 30, 2018 Series: Christmas
SERMON for December 30, 2018
The First Sunday after Christmas
The sermon for today, the First Sunday after Christmas, was written by Rev. Robert Bugbee, the past President of Lutheran Church Canada. It was presented on the Lutheran Hour, and is based on the Gospel reading from the book of Luke, where Jesus as a little baby, is presented in the temple.
It is entitled, “In Christ. A Glad New Year.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. AMEN.
I saw it the morning after Christmas a few years back, sitting on the curb. It was a Christmas tree with lights and ornaments pulled off, tinsel blowing in the wind, waiting for the garbage collectors to come and haul it away. The family living in that house, apparently decided Christmas was over. They started packing it up within a few hours after the big day. Whatever Christmas may have meant to them, did not seem to last very long.
Other people experience a big "let down" after Christmas.It may have been a welcome diversion for them to have the house brightly lit, the smell of roast turkey in the air, and the gathering of loved ones and friends. Once it passes however, some of them find it tough to return to the regular demands of life. Where we live, the time after Christmas means we may face quite a long stretch of short, dark days and cold, biting winds. Business as usual, with burdens at work and perhaps sorrows at home, may make it a real challenge to get too excited about the New Year.
The Bible verses in our Gospel, tell a story of somethingthat happened after Christmas, after the very firstChristmas. It took place when Joseph and Mary carried their baby son Jesus, only 40 days old, to the temple in Jerusalem to perform sacrifices prescribed in their law. That was a very dark time, too, as I'll explain in a moment. But this little Christ brought real light and real gladness to certain people who met Him that day. This Christ is coming to us, too. He's ready to send light and gladness to those who may feel burdens, and maybe even some fears, going into the New Year.
It's fair to say there is plenty to be worried about these days. We keep hearing about wars and famines in the world. Mass shootings seem all too common. In the United States and Canada, the country is saddled with a frightening level of debt and too many unemployed people. This is more than a news headline if you or someone you love wants to work, but cannot find a job. Terrorists who are sworn enemies of the land where we live, keep carrying out unspeakable acts against innocent people. They don't always do that just on the other side of the world, but even very close to home, sometimes without any apparent warning at all.
Our world's sorrows and problems run very deep, don't they? There's something inside people just as troubling as any news flash. The affluence around us seems to have made men and women, and even children, very self-centered at times, as if the primary goal in life is just to meet their own needs and keep them happy. There's a brusqueness out there these days, a pushiness that often has no time for courtesy and consideration. Saddest of all, big segments of our world seem to be drifting away from the God who made people and loves them deeply.
We have no idea how old Simeon was, but he understood things like that, even though his world wasn't exactly like ours. Things were dark in his time. A foreign army had invaded his country. Religious leaders seemed more concerned with their own position, than with conscientiously teaching people God's Word. As a result, Simeon also understood what it was like to be surrounded by folks who seemed to be drifting away from the Lord, even though some of them still went through all the motions of religious life.
Somehow God had let Simeon know that he wouldn't die until he got to see the promised Savior. He had been waiting a long, long time, making him wonder if he would ever see the Savior. How would he even recognize him? The wait must have made him weary. You're not Simeon, of course. But you may feel a certain weariness of your own as the New Year comes again.
Maybe there are times when the workload you carry, the burdens in your family, or even some personal struggle raging inside you, something that just won't let up, may make you worry about your ability to cope with whatever it is. Yes, read the news. Look around a little bit. Take stock of yourself. There's plenty to be upset and worried about.
Then it happened! On that day in the temple, God's Spirit nudged Simeon toward a young father and mother holding their baby boy. When Simeon saw that Child, he knew. That’s the one he had been waiting for. His wait was over. Relief has come! "Sovereign Lord," he sang, "As Youhave promised, You now dismiss Your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation." He is the Savior of not just some people. He is the Savior of all.
God sent His Gift right through the temple door that day! He is God’s salvation for the whole world, in human flesh. That Gift is not a law. It's not some self-help strategy we can use to fix what's wrong with us and the world with our own power. That Gift is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God's Gift, His rescue, His relief. He is not just an idea or a program that God sent us, while He keeps His distance far away in heaven. Jesus Christ is God's rescue come right down here into our world where people could see Him. He was born in a town you can still find on the map. He was laid on straw. Shepherds from the surrounding area visited His family. They really saw Him, as old man Simeon saw Him a few weeks later. That baby boy really grew up, living under His parents, learning to work with wood, feeling happiness and contentment. But also feeling more than His share of pain when people would not listen, and even pushed Him away. When He was a Man in the prime of His life, His hands were stretched out wide and nailed to a cross, where this Jesus died for the sins of the world.
God's rescue came right through the door to the world where we are. He came right in, even though you and I didn't deserve it. He came in unexpectedly, in a time and place where most people were not paying attention. When Simeon saw Him, all he could do was sing: "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."
Jesus Christ brings God's rescue in a way that really opens people's eyes. A great many Gentiles back in Simeon's time were living in complete darkness. They didn’t know God's Word. They groped around without understanding where real life comes from. Jesus Christ was willing to touch those people. In the words He spoke, in the wonders and miracles He performed, He opened people's eyes to see that He is the answer to many things that never made sense before. A Roman soldier who watched the way Jesus died on the cross, had his eyes opened like that. He said that day, "Surely, this was the Son of God." When the liberating message of Jesus Christ was being spread throughout the world, a great many Gentile people who had lived their lives far from God, had their eyes opened. They saw in Jesus Christ what God is yearning to give: forgiveness, life, and rescue. So, Simeon's song about this little Baby kept coming true. As Simeon said, He really is "a light for revelation to the Gentiles."
This encounter in the temple soon after the first Christmas,changed everything for Simeon. Oh, yes, the problems in his country were still all there, still just as perplexing as before. Yes, people and their leaders kept making the same old mistakes. But this Child and the rescue He brings, somehow began making those burdens bearable.
We often hear that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” But sometimes we forget the real reason Jesus came in the flesh in the first place. It wasn’t so He could have a birthday party once a year. He came to die for our sin. He came to reconcile humanity to God. He came to be humanity’s new Head, the second Adam who gets it right. He came to be born of Mary, circumcised on the 8th day, presented and redeemed in the temple at 40 days, baptized in the Jordan river, crucified on Calvary, raised from the dead.
For Simeon, relief was coming very, very quickly. He had been told that he would not die until he saw the Lord's Christ. Now, with his own eyes, he was actually looking at God's rescue, with arms and legs on it. Seeing this Christ, Simeon had everything he had been waiting for. Now, he was ready to go. He said, "Sovereign Lord, You dismiss your servant in peace." Despite all the trouble in the land, the Christ Child brought peace to this hopeful old man, not easy solutions, not some make-believe, but true peace.
In a couple of days, you and I will be writing "2019" on checks and letters and application forms. Despite all the partying that's being planned and all the champagne to be uncorked, maybe the New Year isn't something you have been looking forward to. Even if the news of sickness, or terrorism, or financial crises doesn't get you down, the decay happening in human lives may be doing it to you. Something's wrong, isn't there, when civic leaders seem more interested in out-arguing their political opponents and making them look bad, than to really accomplish something worthwhile for the society they are meant to serve. Something's wrong, isn't there, when children are not guided carefully by fathers and mothers, but conditioned to think only of their own feelings, and to wonder, "What's in it for me"? Something's wrong, isn't there, when otherwise decent men and women get so preoccupied with making a living, improving their homes and traveling, that they don't bother with a lonely, aging loved one, or take the time to really support a friend with troubles.
And, you may not need to look very far to find things to get you down. It may be happening if your work has become too demanding to keep up with, or if you've got conflicts with co-workers you are powerless to fix. It may be happening if a child has become estranged from you and won't listen to a thing you say. It may be happening because you've just endured another Christmas that felt empty because you recently lost a person you loved.
Don't pack Christmas away too fast. God on high is trying to nudge you over to that little Child who came in the door. He's the same One who brought gladness to old Simeon long ago. He has come in the door, even though you don't deserve His coming. He has come in, even if you ignored Him for a long time and wasted far too many Christmases in the past. He came down here from heaven above, to grow and to live and be the same as us. He came to do the Father's will that you and I often ignore. He came to bleed and to die, to heal the break between God and people caused by sin. When God's words and promises bring this little Christ-Child close to you, you are seeing God's heart, God's help, God's rescue, for you.
The New Year coming soon is not going to be a fairy tale. The problems we all face in our own sin filled world, are not going to magically disappear, just because you're a Christian. Likewise, the personal heartaches you're enduring in your family or at work, may still make the New Year a struggle for you sometimes. The world in Simeon's time did not immediately get better right after the first Christmas.
But God's rescue, Jesus Christ, was there in that mixed-up world. God's great Christmas Gift, Jesus Christ, is here for you today. He makes the New Year glad, not by closing your eyes to the trouble. He makes the New Year glad because He is in it with you. He forgives your wrongs. He accepts your prayers. He supports you, especially in moments when you don't know how you could ever do it yourself.
If you are less than joyful on this fifth day of Christmas, that’s OK. If your Christmas was less than merry, that’s OK. If all the talk of “peace, peace” when there is no peace, rings a bit hollow in your ears, that’s OK.
St. John, wrote "To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God." He does not always give you an easy way. He does give you the right to be God's own child. He helps carry the load. He is the Light who still shines this winter with warmth and cheer even in the darkness, and sometimes, especially in the darkness.
So, in Christ, God still gives us these signs, your Baptism, His Word, and the body and blood of Christ. Like Simeon and Anna, rejoice and receive what God wants to giveyou, in Christ, a glad New Year.