Monday, December 29, 2014

The First Sunday After Christmas

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. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 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
    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)

No matter how much you tried you could not pull off the perfect Christmas. You couldn’t do it no matter how hard you tried. It simply did not measure up to hallmark expectations. Your table setting and your food was not exactly Martha Stewart quality. The yuletide cheer, the Christmas spirit, whatever the heck that is, did not really measure up.

Some of us have had to say goodbye to our wives. Some had their first Christmases without their mothers. Children rebel and write their parents off and some of us had to wash the dishes alone. 

If you were fortunate and pulled off a relatively warm and sentimental Christmas – the warm fuzzies still melted away quicker than the ice in your brandy ol fashioned.   

If you were, in some small way – slightly disappointed by the time the festivities were over it does not mean you are unappreciative, unthankful, or even sinful. It just means you’re still living in this world. So long as we remain on this side of the kingdom of heaven – even the best of times will always fall short. Divorce, family squabbles, pretty allegiances, family fights, coworkers who manipulate you, and bosses who take advantage of you can put a damper on holiday cheer.

None of this means you are less fortunate than anyone else. It doesn’t mean you’re doing things wrong or have a pessimistic view of life. It just means that you still live in the kingdom of this world – still ruled by sin, brokenness, and decay.

That is of course why we love Christmas movies so much! Because life is actually not like them at all. The nostalgia of Bing Crosby singing White Christmas does not match up with what you experience. Unlike Ralphie we don't always get our red rider bb gun. Things don’t always turn out wonderful like George Bailey in a wonderful life – angels don’t always get their wings – and even though George Bailey eventually found his way home after a night at the bar – not all daddies do.

But remember the first Christmas was not all about warm fuzzies and hallmark perfection either. Jesus was born outside in the cold. Joseph was on the verge of divorcing his wife, when the angel Gabriel appeared to tell him to do otherwise. Mary was gossiped about in town about her so called virgin birth. And if anyone did call her the virgin Mary it was with spitting tongues and shaking heads. Herod, the Hitler of the day, would unleash slaughter upon the babies of Bethlehem seeking to get Jesus. And so Mary and Joseph would be forced to flee to the foreign land of Egypt – in fear – just to survive for another day. If we’re honest with ourselves we’re just surviving too – hoping to conquer another day, just by the grace of God.   

Which brings us to today’s Gospel text. Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem. At the temple is an old man waiting. A man who was devout, waiting for help. This old man had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Which is to say, God had promised Him he would not die until he had seen Jesus – the Messiah – who was to come into the world.

This old man Simeon represents all the people of God – he represents the whole Old Testament – all the prophets – all the patriarchs who were waiting for the one who was to deliverer them and save them.

It’s a wonderful scene today. Mary places the baby Jesus in his tired, sagging arms – and this old man Simeon blessed God and said “Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou has prepared before the face of all people.” I hope you recognize these words and you should because you sing them every Sunday, like Simeon, after you cradle Jesus in your hands and welcome him under the roof of your mouth. You say “Lord now, let me depart in peace according to Thy Word.” What is the significance of saying that? It means, like Simeon, that we are ready to die – we are ready to fall asleep while holding Christ in our arms even as he holds us.

Like Simeon, we learn to depart this life in peace – and only, in smiling at death, can we learn to smile in this life. It means that Christmas is not about presents, pie, and the nostalgia of a white Christmas and Bing Crosby. Christmas is about Christ – and only him.      

We should learn to be jealous of those who have died in the faith before us. If we are Christians we should always be somewhat dissatisfied of this life and eagerly wait and along for the life of the world to come.

Just as it is not wrong to be somewhat disappointed with earthly life – it is also not sinful to be filled with joy like Simeon in this life – knowing with certainly that when your eyes fall asleep in death you will awaken to the face of Jesus in heaven – in heavenly light. That is why we receive the Lord’s Supper here – which we call the medicine of immorality and the antidote to death.

Like Simeon we hold Jesus in our hands - His life-giving body and blood, then, we walk back to our pews and sing “Lord not lettest thou thy servant depart in peace” – the words of tired old Simeon. Which is to say, I am ready Lord for whatever you send my way – be it sicknesses or health, or even death itself. I know that you love me – you have proved your love in sending your son to make everything right. I know that your will is always good and you do everything together for good for those who love you. And Lord I trust you.   

Dear Christians, whatever losses you have suffered this season, whatever disappointment weighs heavily upon your heart, whatever sins oppress you, none of these things will rue the day. The guards were struck dumb when Jesus walked out of the grave on Easter morning. It is He who loves you through the cross all the way to the opened tomb – lined with angels announcing His and your resurrection.

From the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross he has made all things new – delivers us from every loss. Our wives will come back to us – sons will hold their mothers again – families are restored to wholeness whether in this life or the next. All of your sins are forgiven. Jesus was born for you.

So maybe your Christmas didn’t totally measure up. Maybe the ham was dry, maybe someone made the mistake of bringing up politics, maybe someone drank too much and said something they shouldn’t have. Maybe there was a Grinch who stole Christmas. And the most troubling of course someone very dear was missing from the family table.  

Don’t worry, in a way, it’s supposed to be this way. All these things are meant to be reminders that this life is not all there is. And contrary to our commercialized culture, Christmas is not about warm fuzzies and warm feelings – it’s about the certainty that God is good to you. It’s about the comfort that God is in the process of transferring you from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of His Son. Christmas is about realizing like the wise men that you are still on a long journey – and your destination is not yet totally complete.

Christmas is about the joy of Simeon who is not embarrassed to admit his desire to depart this life and to be with Christ.

So let us be like Simeon and take the Lord Jesus in our arms, and depart in peace to our homes, always ready to leave this world and join another. This is if you will, the true spirit of Christmas and the joy itself of being a Christian. In the name of Jesus. Amen.   

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