THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS AD 2018
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
Exodus 13:1-3a, 11-15 The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine. “When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, you shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the Lord's. Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean? ’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem
Colossians 3:12-17 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him
Luke 2:22-38 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 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 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. And 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, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
“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.”
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 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.”
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty- four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtle doves or two pigeons …. What a thought. Mary carries in her arms the very Lamb of God - the Lord of heaven and earth made flesh, but she cannot afford the lamb for the sacrifice. She brings the sacrifice of the poor - the turtle doves or the pigeons.
Mary and Joseph had come up to Jerusalem to present Jesus to the Lord. Every male who first opened the womb was holy to the Lord, every mother’s first born son belonged to God. This was not only because her first born son was the first fruits of God’s gifts to her, and so should be given back to God to acknowledge Him as the giver of all her children, but also because God had spared the first born of Israel when the Angel of Death had descended on Egypt to take all the firstborn Egyptian males.
As the only begotten Son of the Father, Mary’s Son was already the Lord’s, but in this moment He is presented as man. He is presented in our flesh and blood. He is given up as a living sacrifice to God. While every first born son belonged to the Lord, Jewish parents had the right to redeem their children with a sacrifice. While Luke tells us about the sacrifice Mary makes to purify herself after childbirth, he tells us nothing about a sacrifice for Jesus. The Redeemer is not redeemed. Flesh and blood, He remains the Lord’s.
The whole history of Israel is reaching its climax. All the promises, prophecies are being fulfilled, but who would know it, as the poor couple that had huddled around the manger bed, comes in lowliness with their two pigeons to make their sacrifice and hand over their womb opening Son to the Lord? Centuries upon centuries of hope are being fulfilled, but who would know it as this humble couple quietly draws near amongst the crowds of other worshippers? Their lowly sacrifice is among the least of those being brought forward that day.
Even as a cute little baby, there was nothing about Him that we should desire Him, as the prophet Isaiah surely said. Poor and lowly in birth … in life … and yes in death. Nothing that we should desire Him … nothing that Simeon should desire Him - a lowly child of a poor displaced couple from Nazareth. The manger theme is carried on in the two pigeons, as it will carry on to the suffering and shame of the cross. The majesty hidden, the glory covered, and yet, as we have come to know, revealed all the more, unveiled all the more, in its hiddenness and covering.
But the Lord’s salvation? A light of revelation to the gentiles? The glory of Israel? Not even the eyes of righteous and devout Simeon could have seen it - not in this little nothing of a baby, swaddled and diapered in His mother’s arms, poorly wrapped (the gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh hadn’t arrived yet … that wouldn’t be for another two years). Yes, poorly wrapped as every other common child of the time. To be sure Simeon was watching, he was waiting, he had a promise from the Lord, who he knew would not fail him, but like blessed Abraham, time was passing for him. Yet as watchful, as vigilant, as he was, there’s no way he could have known, except that the Holy Spirit was upon him.
The Spirit was upon him … the Spirit who reveals the things of God … the Spirit who reveals the things of Jesus. Without the Spirit Simeon would have been as lost as any of us would have been, if we were standing in the mall during the boxing week blowout of this past week looking for a special baby, among the many stroller pushing mothers. But the Holy Spirit was upon him and so despite what Simeon sees with his eyes, he goes up to Mary and Joseph and takes the little baby in his arms and blesses God, proclaiming the truth about Mary’s Son, that He truly is the long promised Messiah … the long awaited Saviour of the world.
The Spirit. You need the Spirit to know the Saviour, beloved. You can’t know Jesus without Him. You can’t believe in Him or come to Him without the Spirit’s help. You hear a lot about the “Christmas Spirit” this time of year. Most people don’t know who they are talking about when they refer to Him. For most the “Christmas Spirit” is about some emotional jolliness connected with twinkling lights and kindness and generosity, but the true Christmas Spirit is not about some emotion in my heart. He is a someone - the third person of the Holy Trinity, and while most people are already tucking away the other kind of “Christmas spirit” for another year, we get to see the real One in action this morning.
Faith in Jesus, and without question that’s what we see going on in Simeon this morning, faith in Jesus is the Spirit’s work and the Spirit’s work alone in me. No matter how hard I try, I cannot make faith happen. I will always get myself into trouble if I make it about me - my heart … my thoughts. As Christ so clearly points out our problem is our hearts … our thoughts. Sin has messed each and every one of us all up, not just on the outside, but on the inside as well. If faith in Christ is all about my heart … my thoughts, then I’m in big trouble. How can the source of all my trouble be the thing that saves me? If it wasn’t a mess, I wouldn’t need saving in the first place.
Oh it certainly will appeal to my flesh, my sinful side, to make faith all about me. It can even boldy say that, I don’t believe that I am saved by what I do, as long as it keeps faith as something that I do. “I know I’m not saved by my works but because I believe in Jesus.” At first glance it looks good, like I’m agreeing with the Word of God that works don’t save me, all the while, I’m reserving that hidden work as my little corner of salvation. We must remember, beloved, that the old man in us … the sinner in us is a great deceiver - he learned from the best after all, and he will get one over on us every time.
Faith that is something that we do, cannot and will not save, because it is all about us and we cannot save ourselves. And so God in His mercy sets, righteous, devout Simeon before us today… long waiting Simeon, who seems to get it all right, or to be sure, sure gets it a lot righter than I ever get it, who only sees Jesus, knows Jesus, believes in Jesus, receives Jesus, holds on to Jesus, because God’s Spirit is upon Him. The Lord sets Simeon before us as one of the faithful remanent, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and then He says, “See, Simeon also needed my Spirit to see my Son, just as you do too.”
“My Spirit”,the Lord says, “you need my Spirit, whom I richly poured out on you when I baptized you … whom I send out to you today in my Word, and who is at work in this Gospel gift on this altar so, that you may see and know and believe in that poor baby being presented in the temple as your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the consolation of Israel, Salvation in the flesh, the revealing Light for the gentiles and the Glory of Israel. “He is my peace,” the Lord says, “He is the One that I have sent from on high to save you. As He is presented to me today in the temple, know that He goes on to be offered up on the cross to pay for all your sins.”
No, beloved,there was nothing about Him that we should desire Him, as there is nothing about Him on this day as we see His lowly mother and father carrying Him up to the temple. That little baby my Lord and Saviour? But the Spirit is at work today, through the mouth of Simeon … through my mouth, to direct your eyes to that little baby and fix them there, that you might see Him, know Him and believe in Him. The Spirit is at work through God’s word to work this wonder in us. May the Lord in mercy keep us from resisting Him, and open wide our hearts to receive all that He would give to us and work in us. Amen.