Sunday after Christmas + Luke 2:33-40
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The world is finished with its Christmas celebration by now and has moved onto its celebration of the new calendar year. But for the Church today is the sixth day of Christmas and the Sunday after Christmas. The appointed gospel lesson jumps ahead forty days after Jesus’ birth to Mary’s purification in the temple at Jerusalem. The text picks up in the middle of things. “And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him.” The words at which they marveled were the words of the aged priest Simeon, who had taken the child in his elderly arms and spoken the words which we now sing every Sunday in the Nunc Dimittis after receiving the Lord’s Supper where we see the salvation of the Lord prepared for all people. In the Lord’s Supper we, like Simeon, receive Christ physically, but under bread and wine, and our sins are once again forgiven. After saying that the Lord can now let him depart from this life in peace because he has seen the Christ, Joseph and Mary marvel. Not in unbelief as so many do. They marvel in faith because Simeon’s confession of Mary’s child matches what Gabriel told both Mary and Joseph before He was born. Simeon says the same things as the shepherds did who had rushed to Bethlehem with the angel’s song in the heads from the night Christ was born. Mary and Joseph, forty days after Christmas, still marvel at all the things spoken about the child. Would that we would marvel as they did at the words spoken about Christ and treasure them in our hearts.
But then Simeon throws a splash of cold water on the marveling husband and wife. “Behold,” he says as a prophet, “This Child is destined for the fall and rising of many is Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Christmas joy is tempered by the cross on the horizon. Simeon, having praised the Lord for the gift of the Messiah from sin, now prophesies about the division the child would bring, the rejection He would suffer, the cross Mary herself would bear. This child will cause the fall and rising of many in Israel. Those who fall at this child fall because they stumble over the child as if He would a stone in the path. He won’t cause them to fall in the sense that He wills their falling. He is the stone of stumbling and rock of offense that many will stumble over. This was foretold by the prophet Isaiah. The prophet writes about the Christ, “He will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken, be snared and taken.” The words of both prophets proved true. Some of Israel took offense at Christ’s humility, expecting Him to be more of worldly messiah and political savior. Others, most in fact, stumbled over His doctrine. They imagined they were righteous in and of themselves so they took offense that Christ came not for those who thought they’re righteous but for those who confess their sinfulness. This is why He told the multitudes, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of me” (Matt. 11:6).
Many would fall because of this child. But many would rise as well. This rising is the rising from sin through repentance and faith. Christ is a stone of stumbling to those who imagine they’re righteous in themselves. But those who are poor in spirit, Christ isn’t a stone of stumbling but a rock of refuge from the storms of a terrified conscience. For those who tremble at the word of God because they know their sin and unworthiness, Christ is a stone of salvation to which they can cling. To those who are torn down by the knowledge of their sin, Christ is the chief cornerstone upon which their certainty of their salvation is built. St. Peter says, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:6). To those who do not believe on Him, this child will be a sign which is spoken against. But all who believe Christ, all who flee to Him for mercy and trust His merits for their salvation will by no means be put to shame by their sins, for they take refuge in the rock of salvation. All who cling to this rock and rise through daily repentance and faith in this life will rise on the Last Day to everlasting life as well. St. John writes in Revelation 20:6, “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power.” The first resurrection is the resurrection from sin which happens now. All who rise, using Christ as a rock of refuge, are safe from the second death of everlasting hell and destruction.
To Mary Simeon says, “Yes a sword will pierce through your own soul as well.” By this he prophesies the cross that Mary would have to bear because of her Son. She would have to watch Him be rejected by many. She would stand at the foot of the cross as she witnessed how much the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh hate her son who is her God and Lord. Mary’s grief shows us what kind of grief all Christians must bear in this world. The world hates your savior. It speaks all sorts of blasphemous things against Him. It denies His divinity. It tramples Him underfoot. Mary’s cross is a picture of every Christian’s cross they must bear for confessing Christ in the world. Yet Scripture tells you, “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Peter 4:14, 16). Christ does not take crosses and suffering away but strengthens us by His Holy Spirit so that we may bear them patiently as He endured His suffering, for we know that that it glorifies God and that conforms us to the imagine of Christ our Lord.
Through Simeon, the Lord teaches us that Christmas joy must be tempered by the cross. It is good for us to marvel at all the things which were spoken about this child as Mary and Joseph did. Faith does that. Faith hears the Christmas story again and like Mary, keeps all these things and ponders them in the heart, meditating on what a magnificent savior we have in our Lord Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man. Faith hears the angel’s song to the shepherds watching their fields by night and joins in with them, glorifying God for the savior from sin that is for all people. Faith hears Simeon’s words, sung with the Christ child in his aged arms, are sees with Simeon our salvation. Faith understands this child for the stone which He is. Some trip over this stone and are dashed to pieces because of their self-righteousness and love of sin. Others cling to this stone in faith, wrap their arms around it for dear life, lest they sink in the mire of their sins and guilt.
Simeon’s words teach us that cross, suffering, and hardship, aren’t the exception for this child, but the rule. So we shouldn’t imagine that those who bear the name of Christ in this life will escape the world’s ire and scorn either. With this is mind, rise through faith in Christ. Cling to Him as your chief cornerstone in all temptations, every doubts, and whatever perplexities you face. When you slip into the mire and sewage of sin, establish yourself on this rock as your foundation, trusting the promise that His blood covers every sin. He is your rock of refuge, your mighty fortress, and the stone of your salvation. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.