SERMON FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS, 12-29-2019, AT LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL
Pastor Michael Larson
Have you ever heard of the practice of Mindfulness? It’s been all the rage the last several years. It’s promoted by Oprah and all the celebrities as something of a cure-all for every ill. Stress, depression, anxiety, and every other malady. Just learn and cultivate some mindfulness! What’s mindfulness? – well, it’s all about bringing one’s attention, one’s eyes and focus into the moment – to be fully present – to see reality for what it is.
Sadly enough, the most popular teacher of mindfulness is an atheist named Sam Harris. Truly a fulfillment of our Lord’s warning, when He asks, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?”
But to be truly mindful, to see with clarity, to understand reality, is to confess the one and only true light. You heard it in our Gospel on Christmas morning: that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory.
That secularists and atheists have a claim on mindfulness at all may be something of an indictment against preachers of the Gospel. We preach Christ, the light of the world, and we’re right to do so, but perhaps it’s high time for some direction on mindfulness. Christian mindfulness. And to pray that the Holy Spirit come to us and give us eyes to see clearly! Above all, to see God – entering into our world in mercy in the flesh of His Son Jesus. This Lord is the very ground of our being – and to see our lives all in relation to him. That is to be mindful.
You could compare the journey of the Christian to driving on a dark highway. The only way the driver can keep to the road is by using his headlights to see. But the problem is, so many fail to turn them on at all. And so veer off and crash in unbelief.
So how is your mindfulness this season? Where was your focus? Is it on Christ? His glorious light and His coming in the flesh for us poor sinners? Are your eyes turned upwards, in faith, to heavenly things? Or instead, are your eyes focused on all the great sales, the merchandise, and the shopping. This Christmas, did you magnify Christ in word and deed, welcome Him as Lord and God in that manger and in your heart? Or did you give the Lord of Life a slight nod, like a shirttail relative?
In our Gospel this morning we see two sages of mindfulness: Old Anna and Simeon. And they may be aging but they’ve got perfect 20/20 vision. They’d been nurturing the art of seeing clearly over their whole lives. They were watchful, vigilant, and mindful. They’d been staying at the temple, praying, waiting, looking for the Redeemer. Focused on the Word of God.
So when poor Joseph and Mary brought that child (the Word made flesh) to the temple on the 40th day, to offer the prescribed sacrifice. The eyes of Simeon and Anna lit up! “There!” the Holy Spirit whispered to Simeon. “There He is!” Simeon crossed the temple court. He took the child into his feeble arms and blessed God, saying that he could die now, he could depart in peace, for he had seen with his own eyes the Lord’s salvation. Anna too, 84 years old, but she’s mindful, lucid, focused on Christ. She’s worshipping, and praying, and speaking of this Redeemer to all her friends. She’s just like a little girl – and filled with joy!
Now that’s watchfulness, vigilance, and mindfulness. Remember all those Scripture readings we had at the end of the church year and through Advent about being watchful and ready? Remember the wise virgins and the trimmed lamps?
Remember our Lord’s words to the disciples, “Could you not watch and wait with me one hour?” And “Blessed is the one whom he shall find awake!” Well, look no further than Simeon and Anna – that’s mindfulness – watchfulness – faithfulness.
The Greek word for watchful is “nepsis.” Christians in the Eastern Orthodox Church make a big deal of this. So in the early church you might read from the saints of old who they called the “neptic fathers” or the “unsleeping ones.”
Nepsis means to be self-aware. Namely, to be aware of the depravity of our sinful nature and to recognize our need and dependency on Christ for our life and salvation.
We have forgotten the art of nepsis, of being awake, of being able to see clearly and respond wisely. We could all use a reality check.
Because, like Saul from the New Testament we so often have scales over our eyes. We can’t endure the thought that all of our so-called respectability and righteousness is nothing at all. Less than nothing! “Filth,” that’s what Isaiah the prophet calls even our best efforts.
But, dear Christians, this is the good news! Christ has come to be righteousness for us. He has come as light not merely to expose our sinfulness, but to cover it with His own holiness. That we may taste and see that the Lord is good!
Remember Simeon’s words to Mary this morning? “A sword will pierce your own soul also.” And you know what that meant? Thirty-three years later she would stand in the gloom and darkness at the foot of the cross. With her own eyes she would watch her own flesh and blood, laboring to breathe, carrying upon Himself the load of all our shame, the burden of all our sin. She watched Him bleed and cry out for it. Answering for it all.
Simeon and Anna had 20/20 vision. They saw that this child would grow strong to save. To make atonement for sin and triumph over death with His perfect divine life.
Simeon’s words are so true. The child is appointed for the fall and rising of many. The entire human race will either stumble over this rock, or on it they will find a fortress of salvation in which to live and to die.
Lutherans are not known for being liturgical innovators (or shouldn’t be!), but it was some unknown Lutheran who first suggested that we could do no better after receiving the Body and Blood of this Child now grown to manhood, crucified and risen from the dead, than to sing with Simeon his song: “I’m ready to depart this life: Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace ... for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation!”
To receive the Lord’s Supper in faith is to confess with Simeon that the Child who has exposed us as wicked through and through is the very Child whose love covers our sin, changes our hearts, and reaches to us a life that is forever beyond the reach of death. Let us all be mindful of His presence – receive Him in Word and Sacrament.
Jesus says to us: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!” May we see in Him alone our forgiveness, our life, and our salvation. In the name of Jesus. Amen.