“A Great Way to End Things” (Luke 2:22-40)

First Sunday after Christmas
December 27, 2020

“A Great Way to End Things” (Luke 2:22-40)

Our text today is the story of Mary and Joseph presenting the infant Jesus at the temple and the reactions of Simeon and Anna. As we will see, what happens in this story is “A Great Way to End Things.” And that applies not only to the persons involved but also to us.

A great way to end things. The first thing it ends is Mary’s time of purification. Reading again the opening verses of our text: “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.’”

This was the end of Mary’s time of purification. The prescribed time, according to Levitical law, was forty days. That was how long a woman had to wait after giving birth to, in this case, a son. Then she was ceremonially clean to go the temple, where she was to offer up a sacrifice. By the way, the sacrifice Mary offers–a pair of birds–is the one allowed for those who could not afford the more expensive sacrifice of a lamb. This tells us the Holy Family was of humble means. Well, actually, if you think about it, Mary does offer up a Lamb. More on that in a moment.

The Purification of Mary ends that period of forty days after the birth of a son. That is the first thing that is ended. But there is also something begun. For this son is a firstborn son, which means that he is to be presented in the temple and dedicated to the Lord. This law goes back to the time of the Passover in Egypt, when the angel of death struck down all the firstborn in Egypt but passed over the homes of the Israelites and spared their firstborn. Therefore, from that time on, all firstborn sons were to be dedicated to the Lord’s service.

And if there ever was a firstborn son who was dedicated to the Lord’s service, it’s this one!  It’s Jesus! His whole life was devoted to carrying out the will of his heavenly Father. That is why he came, born in the flesh, born at Christmas, born in order to carry out the mission for which he was sent. Presented at the temple, dedicated to the Lord. Coming forty days after his birth, this is a fitting way to begin that mission. For he himself, Jesus Christ, will be the Lamb of God presented as a perfect sacrifice, to take away the sin of the world.

One thing ended, with the Purification of Mary. One thing begun, with the Presentation of Our Lord. But another thing is ended, and it is a time of waiting: “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.”

Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel. He was waiting for the promised comfort for God’s people, prophesied long ago by such men as Isaiah: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.”

Now, that comfort, that consolation, has finally arrived. The wait is over! The Lord had made a special promise to Simeon, “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Now what do those old eyes see? Not death, but the Christ! The consolation of Israel bundled up with that little baby boy!

Oh, another “by the way”: Our text does not actually say that Simeon was an old man. We have always inferred that Simeon was an old man, based on several clues in the text: the fact that it says he “would not see death before such-and-such,” along with his response, “now you are letting your servant depart in peace.” That would seem to indicate that Simeon was getting up there in years–that, plus the pairing with Anna, who definitely is described as “advanced in years.” In any case, Simeon’s time of waiting, his waiting to see the consolation of Israel in the person of the Christ–that waiting now is over. Yes, this is a great way for Simeon to end things!

For Anna, too. This faithful old saint gave thanks to God when she saw the little baby. Anna and all the others who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem could now cast their eyes on the infant Redeemer and rejoice.

The Presentation of Our Lord in the temple was a great way to end the long waiting that God’s saints had experienced. They had been waiting for the fulfillment of the prophecies and promises. Now their aged eyes could look upon and see the fulfillment come in the flesh. They could see him with their own eyes and hold him in their arms and behold him with the eyes of faith.

You and I, of course, do not see our Savior with our eyes. But like Simeon and Anna, we do behold him with the eyes of faith. For the Holy Spirit has revealed him to us, through the gospel. This Jesus is the consolation and the redemption we have been waiting for. He comforts and consoles us in our sorrows. He redeems and rescues us from our sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. Consolation and redemption, come in the person of Christ!

The time of waiting is over. The time of consolation and redemption and salvation has arrived. So sing out, old Simeon! “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.” For Simeon to see the Lord’s Christ and to hold him in his arms–this was truly a great way to end things! Now old Simeon is ready to go! He’s ready to be with the Lord, to be gathered with his fathers. Now Simeon is ready to depart in peace.

You, dear Christian, beholding Christ, seeing the Lord’s salvation with the eyes of faith–that is how you are ready to depart this life in peace. No matter how old or how young you are, the good news of Christ your Savior prepares you to be ready to die. And when you are ready to die, thenare you really ready to live.

None of us knows how long the Lord will give us here in this life. If we are old, the Lord may have some reason to keep us around for a while longer. And if we are young, there are no guarantees. Whatever our age, we want to be ready, like Simeon, like Anna. Ready to depart this life in peace, having seen the promises of God arrive in the person of Christ–that is a great way to end things.

Because really, that’s just the beginning of things. Death is not the end for the Christian. For Christ has conquered death by his death and opened eternal life to us by his resurrection. That is how the consolation and the redemption would be won. Our salvation has been secured by Christ’s death and resurrection. At the temple. Simeon hints at the death it would take, Christ’s death, when he says to the boy’s 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.” The Christ, received so joyfully on this day at the temple, would later be opposed most bitterly. And his death on the cross would pierce his mother’s soul with sorrow. But that’s what it would take for our consolation to be won. Christ has redeemed us by his holy precious blood shed on the cross. And by his resurrection, we have the comfort of knowing that death is not the end for those who trust in him.

A great way to end things, assured of comfort and peace and hope by the coming of the Christ. That is why we end the Divine Service with that very song of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis. Having received Christ in Word and Sacrament, we then are ready to depart–to depart the service, and even to depart this life, if it should come that day. “Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” Our eyes have seen that salvation by faith. Our ears have heard it preached in the sermon. Our mouths have tasted it in the Lord’s Supper. God makes us ready to go, and then he sends us off into our week, to live as his people, living and loving and laughing for as many days as he gives us. What a great way to end things!

To see the Lord’s salvation in Christ with the eyes of faith, and so be ready to depart in peace–whether to go on to glory or to go out from here, strengthened in faith to go on living–either way, beholding Christ is a great way to end things. And today, as we end our services for 2020, it is a great way to end this message: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.”

Published in: on December 26, 2020 at 11:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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