The First Sunday After Christmas December 29, 2002
105, 99, 103, 90(1,6-8)
And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
Dear friends in Christ Jesus, who was born to be the ransom for His people:
I’m going to start with the end of our text. It says Jesus grew up. That’s the way it happens with cute little babies, isn’t it. They grow up, become toddlers, then adolescents, then adults. So it should be no surprise to us that in the celebration of Christmas we aren’t left to think that the precious infant in the manger would somehow just remain in that state, that nothing would change in the months and years to follow. The Bible says, “Jesus grew up.”
Luke also notes that Jesus’ parents “had performed all things according to the law of the Lord.” [v. 39] Here we have a hint at Jesus’ destiny, namely, that He would live under the law and fulfill its requirements. Paul speaks of this in the Epistle reading, “Born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4).
It seems only fitting that at this joyous season of the year we should have some discussion, not only of the birth of the Christ Child, but also of His destiny. It is a destiny understood and expressed by two pious individuals in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ birth: Simeon and Anna. What is startling and decidedly unlike Christmas to the average person is what Simeon and Anna see as the Destiny of the Christ Child I. It was His destiny to grow up as God’s Son II. It was His destiny to become Israel’s Redemption and III. It was His destiny that hearts would be revealed before Him
May God’s Holy Spirit be upon us as He was upon Simeon and Anna so that we also clearly understand what this destiny means to the baby Jesus and to us all.
In considering that it was Jesus’ destiny to grow up as the Son of God, we are confronted with one of the wonderful truths concerning the “person” of Jesus Christ. Conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, Jesus is in fact true God “begotten of the Father from eternity” (cf. Martin Luther’s explanation to the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed in his Small Catechism) Throughout His infancy and childhood, as well as through the rest of His life, Jesus possessed the power, majesty, and wisdom of the Godhead. However, being born of the virgin Mary, He was also true man like any of us, but without sin.
As Jesus grew up physically and intellectually, we are told that “the grace of God was upon Him.” [v. 40] This was not “grace” in the sense of mercy and forgiveness, such as we look for from God, because of our sin. Rather, it is the beauty, innocence, and wisdom that would be found in a person who lives under the favor of God and conducts his life in harmony with His Lord and God.
Jesus grew up under the protective hand of God while in the home of Joseph and Mary. That meant being born in Bethlehem and spending time there, but quickly escaping the sword of Herod and living in Egypt for a time until it was safe to return to Nazareth. In Nazareth, Jesus passed into adulthood, presumably learning the trade of His step-father, Joseph.
This seems a quiet and unimpressive path for the One who was born under the songs of angels and lavished with the gifts of magi. But, despite the appearances, He was the Son of God and was preparing to carry out God’s will. Lowly as it may seem, this was the path that was laid out for Jesus to fulfill His destiny.
When Anna came into the temple and saw the scene of Mary and Joseph with the baby being held in the arms of Simeon, she recognized that it was the child’s destiny to become the redemption of His people.
What was going to come of this Child is joyfully related by Anna, but first by Simeon. We are told that Simeon was “just and devout” and that He was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). The “consolation” would come to a distressed and longing people when the the Lord’s “Christ” would appear—His Anointed One, the long promised Messiah. The Christ would, according to prophecy, deliver the people from the scourge of their enemies. More importantly, He would save them from the wrath of God over their own sins. Furthermore, He would establish the Kingdom of God in their midst and sit upon the everlasting throne of His father, David. All of this was wrapped up in the believing and expectant heart of Simon and other faithful Israelites like him.
These hopes and expectations would be fulfilled because the Christ would be, as Anna understood and told others, Israel’s redemption, or ransom.
A ransom is a payment, given to release someone from captivity. A ransom implies that a great price is demanded from the one who accomplishes the release. It implies payment, not just simple release. The Christ would pay a price, bloody and dear. “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter…with His stripes we are healed…the chastisement for our peace was upon Him.” (cf. Isaiah 53:4ff).
Here is where the Christmas joy of a Christian begins to take a different, more sobering turn away from the celebration of those who have only a vague and shallow understanding of the Christmas holiday. We recognize that this baby was born to die. His destiny was to suffer and pay a price. What was the price? The price of our sins before God, the price of delivering us from the moral and spiritual bondage that held sway over mankind. Simeon called Jesus “a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of God’s people Israel” (Luke 2:32).
Simeon and Anna believed and understood with great depth of heart and faith what the future held for Jesus, what great work and dreadful price this Child would one day pay; and they loved Him for it, and they loved God for His great love in sending their redemption through His newborn Son.
To truly appreciate the nature of Christ’s birth, one must have some honest recognition of the seriousness of his sins before God. We must realize that they are not just obstacles to our pleasure in this life. They merit God’s wrath and eternal punishment. To believe that Jesus is the son of God, that He was born of a virgin, that He was worshiped by shepherds and wise men, and praised by angels, but yet refuse to accept the great purpose of the Christ child is a travesty and worse! Thanks be to God that the destiny of the Christ Child is to bring redemption to us!
In Simeon’s prophecy concerning Jesus’ destiny, he recognized that it was Jesus’ destiny that the hearts of all men would be revealed before Him.
Simeon had just stated in the presence of Mary and Joseph that Jesus would be “the glory of the people Israel” (Luke 2:32). He would be the “blessing to all the nations of the earth” as promised to Abraham so long before (cf. Genesis 12:1-3). But as Jesus’ parents were marveling over this, Simeon continued on in a darker note: “This Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel.” [v.34] In other words, Jesus would become a point of division even among His own people in His own nation. His time on this earth would not be an easy and glorious time. In carrying out His work of redemption, many people would be divided. Jesus himself said “For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew 10:35).
The hostility and antagonism surrounding Jesus would be such, Simeon told Mary, that “a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” [v.35] We know the events of which Simeon spoke. Here, even under the Christmas lights and with the Christmas wrappings hardly put away, we picture the scene at Calvary: A son hanging on the cross, dying, giving His mother into the care of John; and the mother watching her firstborn Son and the fruit of her womb nailed to the cross, rejected by His own nation. This would be His destiny. This was God’s plan for her Son.
This was God’s plan, not just for Jesus, but for us all. The Son would die so that Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna, and we all could live. He is our redemption, our ransom from sin, death, and hell. He is the source of our boundless joy.
Jesus is still a sign to be spoken against today. He is the lightning rod of man’s rebellion against God. In our love for Jesus, we are pained to hear the things that are said about Him and to see what is done to His Gospel. The solemn celebration of our Savior’s birth becomes a marketing goal and business opportunity. The “peace on earth” between God and sinful mankind as proclaimed by the angels is distorted into a wish for peace among all nations and a worldly peace that Jesus is purported to have proclaimed.
As in the days of Jesus’ ministry so it remains today. Jesus is the point of division in the world of men. Some people believe in Him, find great peace and hope in Him, and are ultimately saved. Some are unsure and are easily swayed, honoring Him one moment, but rejecting Him in the next. Some are opposed to Him from the start, choosing their own ideas of what God should be and what He should do.
Jesus, who grew up as God’s Son to be God’s Servant, is the most controversial individual who ever lived. If we teach Christ faithfully and oppose every perversion of His Word, we will have trouble, we will be spoken against, and will incur the world’s wrath because we belong to Him and because our faith rests on Him and not on the opinion of man.
But the other side of the equation is this: If we teach Christ faithfully and put our trust in His Word, we have the greatest blessing and truest Christmas joy because, like Simeon, we will have seen His salvation. Abiding in our Savior and in the redemption that He was sent to accomplish for us, we will live as God’s children. We will share in blessings that flow from the destiny of the Christ Child. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.