Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sermon -- 1st Sunday after Christmas (December 29, 2013)

LUKE 2:25-38
O LORD, YOU LET US DEPART IN PEACE.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The older you get in life, the more you long for the life to come.  While you certainly enjoy the blessings that come with every stage of life, you also have your share of griefs pile up too.  You are able to enjoy the blessings less.  You feel the aches, pains, and weaknesses more.  Your body does not work as hard and move as well as it used to.  And when it does work hard, it does not rebound like it used to.  You attend more funerals and visit more doctor’s offices.  And the laughter of youth is eventually replaced by the loneliness of old age.  A friend of mine summed it up succinctly: “It stinks getting old.”  If you are not there yet, your day will come. 
     Even though the elderly may long for the world to come, that does not mean they always face it with confidence or peace.  If you live for a good number of decades, then you also have decades’ worth of guilt or regret.  And if you have time to reflect upon your years, the devil will plague you with the sins of the past.  No matter how distant in the past, they still haunt, and they still hurt.  Your sins leave you wondering about your judgment.  For, your conscience testifies that you are guilty.  God has you dead to rights.  You can’t escape your sins, and they will not let you go.
     In our gospel, we have two elderly people who knew that their days on earth were short.  They were longing for the life to come, but first they were longing to see the one who would save them from the sins that haunted them.  The prophetess Anna had lived a long, hard life.  She laid her husband to rest after only seven years of marriage.  For the decades that followed, she remained a widow.  Who knows if she ever sought another suitor or if another suitor had ever sought her?  In any case, she spent her days praying and fasting at the temple.  With more than eight decades behind her, she looked forward to the life that has no end.  But first, she was able to see the one who would win that place for her.  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. (Luke 2:38)  Her long awaited Redeemer had finally come.  God had been faithful to his promises.  Salvation was at hand.  The Lord would let this servant depart in peace.
     We also hear of another aged believer, Simeon.  While we do not hear of any special promises made to Anna, it had been revealed to (Simeon) by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:26)  The Holy Spirit stirred Simeon to enter the temple on the very day that Jesus was brought there for his dedication and for the purification of Mary.  Like Anna, Simeon also prophesied about Jesus.  Unlike Anna’s, Simeon’s prophecy is recorded for us. 
     You are familiar with Simeon’s words which we sing at the conclusion of the Lord’s Supper: “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.” (Luke 2:29-32)  It is one thing to hear God’s promise of salvation.  It is another to behold its fulfillment.  Patriarchs and prophets had heard the promises and trusted in them.  They were gathered to their rest still waiting, still hoping.  Simeon, however, would depart from the temple and from this life having seen and held in his arms the Lord’s Anointed.  The one who had delivered Israel in the past had come in the flesh to deliver all mankind.  He is the Savior of the Gentiles.  He is the one for whom Israel was chosen.  He is the one who consoles Israel, the one who redeems Jerusalem, and the one who takes away the sins of the world.  If he has come, then all that haunts us and hurts us comes to an end.  O Lord, you let your servant depart in peace.
     For that reason, we sing the Song of Simeon after we have partaken in the Lord’s Supper.  For, once again, the Lord comes to us in a way that we can see and feel and smell.  He gives himself to us in bread and wine and says, “Take, eat and drink.  This is my body, given for you.  This is my blood, shed, for you.”  And if he comes to us, then all that haunts us and hurts us comes to an end.  O Lord, you let your servant depart in peace.
     But Jesus’ coming is not always well received.  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 … so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)  Jesus does not always bring peace to people.  While it is true that all are sinners, it is also true that many will not repent of their sins.  And while it is true that Jesus suffers and dies to take away the sins of the world, many are not interested in such a Savior. 
     Jesus reveals the hearts of all people.  People either despise themselves for the sins they have done and flee to Jesus for repentance, or they despise Jesus.  Jesus reveals the thoughts of your heart, too.  He shows you that you are still more interested in being right than acknowledging God is right.  He reveals that you still love your own voice more than God’s voice.   You would still rather defend your sins than repent of them.  They are always someone else’s fault.  Someone had it coming.  They deserved it.  Dear Christian, do not exalt yourself before God.  Your sins are nothing to be proud of.  Those who persist in them will fall and will perish in them. 
     But those who humble themselves in repentance and confession will find a merciful Redeemer.  When you acknowledge that you are nothing, Jesus grants remission for all your sins and raises you up as a child of God.  For, he has borne your iniquity.  He has consumed God’s wrath for you.  He takes away your sin, your curse, and your death.  Now, there is nothing to fear for you.  You need not fear your judgment; for, you know your verdict.  You are pardoned.  You need not fear your grave; for, it has been rendered powerless.  Jesus has defeated death by his resurrection, and you, too, will rise to an everlasting life.  You need not even fear the taunting or the threats of the devil or any other enemy.  Their words have no power.  And their accusations do not matter.  Jesus lifts you up and exalts you with a word that no one can overturn.  You are saints.  You are saved.
     Therefore, O Lord, you let your servant depart in peace.  We depart in peace from this house of worship; for here we have heard his divine decree of forgiveness.  We have seen the Lord’s salvation.  We have received from the altar our Lord’s body and blood, as surely as Simeon held the flesh and blood Jesus in his arms.  We have partaken in his redemption.  We have been consoled by his infinite mercy.
     And when our last day comes, O Lord, you let your servant depart in peace.  And we will bid farewell to this world without regret or complaint.  Whether we are old, middle-age, or teen-aged when we depart, we know that we depart for an eternal life with our Savior.  He will raise us up to a life that is free from grief and pain, and endures forever with blessings.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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