But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Christmas 1-2023

Sermon Text – Luke 2:22-40
St. Luke tells us that there was a “just and devout” man in Jerusalem named Simeon, who was “waiting for the Consolation of Israel.” Luke also tells us that “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

When Joseph and Mary brought little Jesus to the temple, for his formal “presentation” to the Lord, Simeon was directed by the Holy Spirit to this family, and specifically to this child. Luke picks up the narrative there:

“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 which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.’”

With his physical eyes, Simeon saw Jesus – who was no doubt an ordinary-looking baby. But with the eyes of faith – faith in what God had revealed to him concerning this baby – Simeon saw the salvation of the Lord embodied in that baby.

Seeing this, and holding in his arms the Redeemer of Israel and of all nations, Simeon expressed in his prayer to the Lord his willingness now to depart from this world: “Lord, now you are letting Your servant depart in peace.”

Simeon was prepared to die. This readiness to depart, with a sense that he had experienced everything that he needed to experience in life, is the main reason why Simeon is almost always portrayed in sacred art as a very old man.

Religious artists throughout history, and we today, pretty much assume that a fulfilled life is a long life. We tend to assume that only those who are aged would have the kind of attitude that Simeon had.

But there’s nothing in the text that tells us that Simeon was an old man. He could have been a middle-aged man or even a young man.

St. Luke does not tell us that he was ready to die because he was old. St. Luke tells us that he was ready to die because he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

How old is “old” anyway? The Book of Genesis indicates that Noah’s grandfather Methuselah lived to be 969 years old. Abraham, many centuries later, lives to be 175 years old.

Today, when someone passes away at the age of 85 or 90, we would probably not consider that person to have lived a life that was too short. We would expect such a person to feel, as he was making his exit from this world, that he had lived a full life.

But is that really so, in comparison to the life span of the ancient patriarchs? Would Methuselah have thought that Abraham had lived for a long time?

From Methuselah’s perspective, Abraham’s time on earth was very short. And from Abraham’s perspective, a person who dies today, at the age of 85, would be seen as someone whose life had been very short.

In truth, death at any time is evidence of human sin, and of the fallenness of our human nature. “The wages of sin is death,” as St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Romans.

Adam and Eve were created to be immortal. Anything short of immortality, is a very short life, according to the way things were meant to be.

But the way things were meant to be, is not the way things are. Instead of immortality, and instead of being in harmony with an immortal God, humanity’s experience in this world is colored and shaped by sin: inherited from parents, passed on to children, and enacted personally by all of us: every day, in thought, word, and deed.

But as St. Paul also writes, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Receiving this gift, and seeing this gift – as Simeon did – is what allows you to be ready to die, because those who live and die in Christ, live forever.

Christ forgives the guilt of sin. He breaks the power of sin. In the resurrection on the Last Day, he will reverse all the effects of sin. Then we will all know the immortality, in soul and body, that we were intended to have.

So, as far as life in this world is concerned – as we prepare for our life in the next world – it is not true that only a long life can be a full life. If Simeon was, say, 35 years old when he held Jesus in his arms, his life – for that reason alone – would have been a truly full life.

In the year 2012, my 24-year-old daughter-in-law passed from this world into the nearer presence of Christ, after losing her battle with cancer. This was the saddest thing that I, personally, have ever experienced.

But as God’s Word instructs us and comforts us, I would have to say that this was definitely not the saddest thing that she ever experienced. As a young woman with a deep and strong faith in Christ, and in the promises for eternity that he had made to her, my daughter-in-law departed in peace.

From the perspective of eternity, dying at 24, and dying at 104, are not really all that different. As she is now with the Lord – beyond the timeline and the tears of earth – she now has the perspective of eternity.

And so do the loved ones you have lost as an early age. If they died in the Lord, they, too, departed in peace, according to his Word.

God’s definition of a full life, is a life that is filled with his Son Jesus Christ: filled with his grace and guidance; filled with his promise of eternal life for those who have “seen” him; filled with the faith that his Spirit works in those who believe in him.

This is what Simeon knew. This is what Simeon said.

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples.”

The Christmas season is a time when we think about living in peace. The angels sang: “Glory be to God on high; and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.” We, too, sing this.

And in the words of Isaiah the prophet, we confess Jesus as “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

But as today’s text reminds us – with sobriety, as well as with a joyful hope – the Christmas season is also a season to think about what it means to die in peace, when the time for our departure from this world does come.

We might wonder, though, if we can compare our encounters with Christ, such as they are, with the encounter that Simeon had with Christ in the temple. Are we able to have the same kind of confidence in God, and the same degree of submission to God’s will, that he had – in view of the fact that he physically held Jesus in his arms, and really saw him? We haven’t done that!

Well, how does today’s text describe what Simeon did see? Does Luke report that Simeon sang a song with a line that says: “For my eyes have seen Mary’s baby”?

No, that’s not what he sang. Simeon, with the eyes of faith, saw a lot more than that, and sang about a lot more than that.

According to the Lord’s Word to him, Simeon in faith saw much more than what his physical eyes would have allowed him to see. “For my eyes have seen Your salvation,” Simeon prayerfully chanted to his God.

Simeon saw a human baby, but he also saw the promised Seed of the woman, crushing the serpent’s head. He also saw the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world.

He saw, and heard, an invitation – to him, to Israel as a whole, and to all the Gentiles – to believe and trust in this Savior, and to be enlightened for eternity by the truth of this Savior.

Can you see Jesus in this way? Can you in this way be prepared to depart in peace: whether your time of departure comes when you are young, when you are middle-aged, or when you are old? You certainly can!

It is customary in traditional Lutheran congregations – such as ours – to sing the song of Simeon immediately following the communicants’ reception of the body and blood of Christ, in the Sacrament of the Altar. Putting that song at that place in the Liturgy was not an arbitrary decision by our forefathers in the faith.

Rather, they knew that what Simeon had experienced in the temple with the baby Jesus, according to the Old Testament promise that God had made to him, is what we experience in the Lord’s Supper, according to the New Testament promise that God has made to us.

With his physical eyes, what Simeon saw was an ordinary-looking baby, and nothing more. But with the Word of God ringing in his ears and resting in his heart, Simeon saw more. He saw the Lord’s salvation.

With your physical eyes, what you see here is ordinary bread and wine, and nothing more. But with the Word of God ringing in your ears, and resting in your heart, you, too, see more. You, too, see the Lord’s salvation.

In his consecrating Word, God’s Son reveals to you and to all communicants what is actually going on, and where it is going on. He tells us: “This is My body, which is given for you; This cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.”

The body of Christ that was given in death to liberate you from the Serpent’s power, and the blood of the Lamb that was shed to take away your sin, are not physically visible to you in the sacrament.

The divine glory and Messianic character of the baby Jesus was not visible in a physical way to Simeon, either. In spite of what we usually see in sacred art, there was no glowing gold nimbus or halo circling his head.

But Jesus’ divine glory and Messianic character were there nevertheless – in, with, and under the humble humanity of that special baby. God’s eternal Son, who came to save Simeon – and you, and the world – was in that baby. And God’s eternal Son is in this sacrament, under the earthly forms of bread and wine.

To be sure, Christ is available to us whenever and wherever his gospel is available to us – in preaching, in absolution, or in reading and meditating on the Sacred Scriptures. If need be, a Christian can know Jesus, and be forgiven and saved by him, without the Lord’s Supper, if for some sad reason a Christian never has an opportunity to receive the Lord’s Supper.

There were many faithful and pious Jews in the time of Simeon who also believed in the coming Messiah – as promised in the Hebrew Scriptures – and who were saved in that faith, without having had an opportunity to take Jesus into their arms.

But Simeon did have that opportunity. Simeon did have that special blessing and privilege.

And that’s one of the reasons why the Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus as a special gift for his church. In this Supper Christians like you and me have the blessing and privilege of holding Christ, of receiving Christ, of seeing Christ.

In this death-prone world, and in the death-prone life that we live in this world, faith often falters, and commitments often waver. Temptations to sin, which are always there, sometimes overcome us.

In our grief and weakness – in our shame and penitence – we yearn then for something objective and concrete to remind us of Christ’s mercy. We yearn for something tangible and certain, actually to deliver Christ and his forgiveness to us: so that we will once again be able to live in him; and so that we will once again be ready to die in him.

This is precisely what the Lord’s Supper does for communicants. This is precisely who the Lord’s Supper presents to communicants.

When you pray after communion, “Lord, now You let your servant depart in peace,” that’s not a reference to departing from the communion rail and going back to your pew. That’s not a reference to departing from the church building and going back to your house.

That’s a reference to departing from this world, and dying. “Lord, now you let your servant die in peace.” That’s what you are saying.

Regardless of how old you are – whether 15 or 50; whether 18 or 80 – you, like Simeon, are now ready in Christ, and because of Christ, to depart in peace, when the time of your departure comes.

You have seen the Lord’s Christ. You have touched him. He has touched you, has justified you, and has renewed his claim on you as one whom he has redeemed. And so you’re ready to go, when God is ready to take you.

According to the Lord’s Word to us, we have seen the Lord’s salvation. And so we sing:

“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.” Amen.