Luke 2:21-40 * January 1, 2012 * Christmas 1 * Pastor Leyrer
Dear Friends in Christ,
There are at least three directions we could go today, and to some degree all are incorporated into this morning’s service.
Obviously it is the beginning of a new year. We have officially entered the year 2012. There is no better place to gather and seek God’s blessings for this or any new year than being in church. Our opening hymn addressed that.
From a spiritual standpoint, New Year’s Day has additional significance and is recognized as a “minor” church festival. The official church designation for January 1 is “The Name of Jesus.” We are reminded this was the day when Jesus was circumcised according to the custom of God’s People of that day and formally given his name, which means “Savior.” That blessed fact was included in our Gospel lesson for today, and our closing hymn will mark this occasion as well.
Finally, today is also the first Sunday after Christmas. That has its own emphasis, and that’s the direction we’re going to take. Most notably, we have a chance to reflect on a wonderfully meaningful event recorded for us in our Gospel lesson. The key figure in that lesson, of course, is Jesus; but we’re also introduced to an interesting and compelling figure who makes his one and only appearance in the Bible.
His name is Simeon. The text doesn’t tell us his age, but it is generally assumed that he was an old man, and we’re going stay with that assumption. However old he was, this we know for sure: on this particular day in his life his heart is full to overflowing with joy and gratitude to God.
The question we’ll be talking up is “why?” In a sense we’re going to live through him for the next several minutes, and what we’ll find is that
THE REASONS FOR SIMEON’S REJOICING
back then are the very same reasons for our rejoicing today. So why did Simeon rejoice?
1. Because he had a God who kept His promises
2. Because he and the world had a Savior
3. Because this God and Savior brought him peace and contentment
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.”
What I’m about to say is offered for the sake of making him a “real” person and is pure conjecture, but it’s entirely possible the people of his day may have thought Simeon to be odd or at least a bit eccentric. After all, here was a man who is not identified as a priest or a church worker, but who apparently spent an awful lot of time at the Temple in Jerusalem. On top of that, he claimed to have received a special message from God. Maybe he kept that private. But if he didn’t, that’s the kind of thing people remember.
So it may be that when people in Jerusalem were giving tours of their city to friends and visitors they viewed him as a community landmark or part of the local “Temple-district” flavor. Perhaps when they caught a glimpse of him they’d say: “See that guy over there? His name is Simeon. Hangs around the Temple 24-7. Says God told him he wouldn’t die until he saw the Messiah. It’s okay. He’s harmless.”
That, as mentioned, is conjecture. Here’s the reality: Simeon is described as “righteous and devout,” a man whose life conformed to the faith he professed. As a classic Old Testament believer he was looking forward to the coming of “the Lord’s Christ” (the promised Messiah) who would be the “consolation of Israel” (the One who brought God’s people deep spiritual comfort). In that respect he was no different than thousands of other devout believers.
What did make him different was this: In some unmistakable way God the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he personally had seen the promised Messiah with his own eyes. We’re not told how long Simeon lived with this promise, but we are told that on this particular day he was somehow directed by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple courts (an area outside the temple proper). This he did. And there he waited. As we try to visualize it, what happened next is very moving.
According to Old Testament law, a male child was to be presented to the Lord at the temple after a 40 day period of purification. Mary and Joseph were now bringing Baby Jesus to the temple for this reason. As we imagine them making their way through the temple courts, they are intercepted by an old man. They don’t know him, but he knows them…
“When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for Him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘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."
Why did Simeon rejoice? Because God kept His promises.
First was the promise God had made personally to Simeon that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. That promise had now been fulfilled. The month and a half old baby that aged Simeon was now cradling in his arms and gazing at intently was the Promised One… Immanuel… “God with us.” Each gaze reconfirmed for Simeon a fact he already knew: God is true to His promises.
But there was a much larger promise that was fulfilled in that Child. It was the promise made immediately after Adam and Eve sinned and introduced pain, death and damnation into the world and repeated throughout that period of time we call the Old Testament. It was the promise that “the offspring of the woman” would someday come and undo all the damage that sin had done.
That Savior, long promised and long foretold, was at that very moment in the hands of Simeon. And Simeon knew what this meant.
You see, Simeon knew that the child he held was not going to be the world’s next great doctor or lawyer or teacher or statesman. The world of his day, like our day, had enough of them. What the world needed – and what Simeon, devout as he was, personally needed – was a Savior. And now he was seeing him with his own eyes.
“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.” In other words, Jesus is the provider of Salvation for both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews). And in this personal yet universal Savior, Simeon rejoiced…
And well he should have, because this Savior provided something for Simeon that nothing else could. In Jesus Simeon found peace, and Jesus made his life complete. We see this from the opening words of his song of praise (entitled in Latin the “Nunc Dimittis”). Simeon had lived his entire life out of love for the God who promised the world a Savior from sin. We could say without any overstatement that his entire life had been one long dress rehearsal for the moment he was now experiencing.
And now that it had come, Simeon was ready to go. He’s ready to be with His Lord. So he says: “Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, you now dismiss Your servant in peace.” We’re not told how long Simeon lived after this event. What we do know is that Simeon was a man at complete peace with God and was now ready to be dismissed from his earthly service to Him.
So far the text. Let’s talk about how the things that Simeon rejoiced in are cause for our rejoicing as well. First is the fact that God is completely reliable when it comes to the promises He makes to us.
However, if we are honest we have to admit there are times in life when things maybe aren’t going so well that we’re tempted to think that maybe God isn’t really keeping His promises to us. You know, those promises to help us in time of need, to spare us from trouble, to uplift us when we are down, to extricate us from those difficult situations we find ourselves in…
After the death of his wife the Christian author C.S. Lewis did some personal journaling to help him through his pain and loss. After he died it was published in book form. One of his entries was the comment (I’m paraphrasing here) that there are times when it seems like the only response to prayer is the sound of a door being slammed, locked and then dead-bolted. Times when God doesn’t seem real responsive to what’s going on in our lives; times when, well, it seems he’s not keeping his promises.
Is God reliable? Is God good to his Word? Does he keep the promises he makes? Yes. And if ever we doubt that, remember Simeon. He’ll tell you how God keeps his promises. As he rejoiced in this truth, so do we.
A second parallel: as Simeon rejoiced in the fact that Jesus was his Savior, so do we. You know, there are a lot of things we can do without. But the one thing we can’t do without is the forgiveness of our sins. And that’s what Jesus is all about.
What this elderly man with the smile on his face and the far-away look in his eye was cradling against his chest was more than a cute baby. This was his Savior. This was the child who would grow up to be a man and whose life, death and resurrection would liberate us from sin, death and hell. Simeon knew this. That caused him to rejoice. It causes us to rejoice as well.
Finally, Simeon’s joy welled up into such a peace of heart and mind that he was not ready to be with his Lord permanently in heaven. It’s probably fair to say that if Simeon himself would have had the capability of orchestrating the story of his life, today would have been the final chapter. He might have entitled it, “Dismissed in peace.” And he would have begun the work of living happily forever after.
That’s what knowing Jesus does. It takes the sting out of death – both our own and our loved ones. We might put it this way: Jesus is the source of both our emancipation – we are free from the damning consequences of our sin – and our anticipation – we look forward to being with him forever. Simeon is a striking example of how emancipation leads to anticipation.
The same holds true for us. And it is yet another cause for rejoicing.
So if there is one overarching lesson from our text it is this: the rejoicing that resounded and perhaps reached a crescendo level with the song of angels last weekend doesn’t stop with Christmas. It goes on. And today through the life and lips of an aged believer we understand why:
Because we have a God who keeps his promises.
Because we have a Savior from our sin.
Because this God and Savior brings us peace and contentment.
That’s why Simeon rejoiced. And that’s why we do, too. Amen.