SERMON FOR THE 1ST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS, 1-31-2017
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
Immediately following the birth of the Lord, Joseph and Mary brought their little boy to the temple. Before we expound further in today’s lesson, let us not miss this very practical lesson for all fathers and mothers. It is our foremost duty and foremost privilege to bring our children into the presence of God. That they would participate in the life of God and have communion with him.
Our children don’t belong to us. They belong to Him. Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to his home where he belongs – in the presence of God the Father – in the presence of the Scriptures. Even though Jesus was Lord and God, they still brought him to church. Even Jesus, the eternal begotten son of the Father, who set the sun and moon and stars in place, learned and studied the Scriptures. He was in weekly worship, he learned the catechism. We are not above this.
On the Lord’s Day, there is no question where the Christian family will be. They will be at the Divine Service. It doesn’t matter who is wrestling who. It doesn’t matter what big game or tournament is going on, or what sort of ball is being kicked or chased.
God has a name for those things which seduce us and draw us away from weekly worship and hearing the Word regularly, and faithfully. He calls it idolatry. But idols are not to be worshiped. They are to be destroyed.
We remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. We do so by being occupied with the Word of God which sanctifies everything. We are not to despise preaching or merely tolerate it, but to gladly hear and learn it – to love it, and take it to heart.
We must repent. All have fallen short in this in one way or another. Like Mary and Joseph we bring children to God not counting the cost. Mary and Joseph, after all, had the cards stacked against them. The blades of Herod’s executioners were still dripping with blood. They were still searching for the infant Christ to kill him. Travel was difficult and dangerous. Mary and Joseph were poor, so could only bring a sacrifice of two small birds. But they brought their baby son to the temple anyways because God commanded it. If they did it in more difficult circumstances, we have no excuse.
Dear Christian fathers and mothers, let us do everything to bring our children to Christ. That they would be baptized and believe in Him. Let us fail in everything else, except for this. If the children will not come to worship, compel them to go. If they have fallen away, ask God for help with prayers, tears, and supplications, and commend them to God, who alone can save them – and bring them home. God help us all in this sacred responsibility – God cover us with grace and forgiveness when we error.
In our Gospel this morning Jesus is brought to the temple. There is a man waiting there named Simeon. Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And now, here he is.
This is a glorious event. God had led Israel out of Egypt as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God’s glory came to dwell visibly over the ark and tabernacle to guide Israel as she traveled. The priests had travelled across the Jordan with the ark to the newly built Jerusalem temple, and God took up residence there. Before it’s destruction, Ezekiel had seen God’ glory leave and yet God promised that one day, he would fill the temple with an even greater glory. And now the glory has come. God in human flesh.
To be circumcised, to shed his first innocent blood, to fulfil the law in our stead. To be cut off, rejected, to die our death. And then to be made alive in the resurrection. Jesus told them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
He is the new temple and place of worship – a baby, wrapped and swaddled in flesh and blood.
Simeon had waited. Anna had waited. We have waited. Therefore, when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
You are free, you are forgiven. This is the best understanding of a merry Christmas – to reconciled with God, to call him Father, and to be his true children. To enjoy the gifts of uninterrupted forgiveness of sins. To enjoy the gift of a Christian death.
Simeon took the infant Christ up in his arms and said “Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” It is no coincidence that we sing Simeon’s song (the Nunc Dimittis) at every Christian funeral and also (every Sunday) after we receive the Lord’s Supper.
The bible of course doesn’t say that Simeon died but he was certainly ready to and in a real way wanted to.
In holy communion we take the Lord Christ up in our arms, press him to our lips, and cradle him in the manger of our hearts. The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen and preserve you to everlasting life. Amen, we say.
We go back to our pews and sing “Lord lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” Which is simply a fancy way of saying “I’m tired. I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of my own sin. Enough of this fallen world…if the Lord wants to take me now, that would be just fine. Me and my loved ones would much rather behold God face to face, sing with angels, and live in the splendor of paradise.”
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation. My eyes see the glory of God revealed in bread and wine, tabernacled among us – his body joined to ours – his blood mingling with ours.
You see, the more we come to love the Lord’s Supper the greater we long to depart this life – to leave it and our sins behind. This doesn’t make us downers or killjoys. It’s the very source of Christian joy in this life that we now live – it’s the purest meaning of merry Christmas. Like Simeon, longing to die and enter heaven, it makes this life tolerable, filled with hope, in fact enjoyable and sublime in ways we didn’t think possible.
As 2017 draws to a close and a new year begins, it’s not a bad prayer to have. Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. I’ve had enough. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
Let us pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
For the year that is almost over, in thanksgiving to God for all the good we were permitted to give and receive, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For the year that is almost here, that God would continue to watch over us and bless us, and that He would give us opportunity to serve our neighbor and tell others the good news of His Son, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For patience and vigilance as we await the return of Christ, that God would keep us ever faithful and ready with our lamps burning, always awake and ready, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For our government, military, first responders and all who serve us in the civil realm, that they would use the authority and responsibility given to them to serve God’s will, protect the innocent, administer justice and provide for the needy, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For those who do not confess the faith, that God would give them opportunity to hear the Gospel and believe, and that we would always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For those who Lou Gabriel and Gabrielle Albers, that God would grant them healing, companionship, comfort and the sure and certain knowledge that nothing can separate them from His love in Christ Jesus, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For those who commune at this altar, that the body and blood of Christ would keep them firm in the one true faith to life everlasting, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
All these things and whatever else You know that we need, we are bold to ask You, Lord, because You have made us Your people and members of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.