The First Sunday After Christmas December 27, 2009
136, 105, 138(1-4), 89(1, 2, 5)
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just 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. So he came by 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 which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” 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.
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow-redeemed:
The tenth and final plague which God sent upon Egypt was the killing of all the firstborn, both of animals and people. Those households who listened to God’s Word and painted the blood of the Passover lamb on their doorposts were spared and none of their first born were killed.
Because the Lord had spared the firstborn of Israel, all of the firstborn males of man and animals were to be set apart for the Lord. The animals were to be sacrificed and the children were to serve Him. Rather than have all of the firstborn males serve the Lord, God set aside one tribe—the Levites—as the priests who were to serve Him in the temple. All of the other firstborn sons were to be redeemed—bought back—from that service (cf, Exodus 13:14-15).
Jesus was a firstborn son and therefore Mary and Joseph brought Him to the temple to fulfill this part of God’s Law.
Another law of God declared that the mother of a child was ceremonially unclean for 40 days after the birth of a son and for 80 days after the birth of a daughter. During that time, the mother—since she was unclean—was not to go into the sanctuary of God. After the time of purification was complete, she was to offer a lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove as a sin offering. If the woman was unable to bring a lamb, she could bring two young pigeons or two turtledoves. This is what Mary did.
So Mary and Joseph came with Jesus to the temple to present Him to the Lord and redeem Him according to the Law and also to fulfill the Law in regard to Mary’s purification. It was when Mary, Joseph and Jesus were in the temple for these purposes that they met a Simeon and Anna. From this visit to the temple we learn that CHRISTMAS IS EFFECTIVE I. The effect on Simeon II. The effect on Israel III. The effect on Anna.
Who was Simeon? Luke makes the introduction. “Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just 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. So he came by the Spirit into the temple…when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law” [v.25-27].
Simeon was among those Jews who were faithful to the Lord and were looking forward to the coming Savior. Luke describes Simeon as being “just or righteous.” This is not to say that Simeon was sinless, but he trusted in His coming Savior for forgiveness and through that faith received forgiveness for his sins and thus was righteous in God’s eyes.
Simeon was awaiting the coming Savior for it was the Messiah who would bring true consolation to Israel. Indeed the Savior would bring consolation to all sinners by delivering them from sin and death.
To this believer named Simeon God gave the special promise that he would not die until he had seen the Savior. We don’t know how God revealed this to Simeon, we don’t know how old Simeon was or how long he lived after seeing Jesus. But on that day in which Mary and Joseph came to the temple, the Holy Spirit made it known to Simeon that he should go to the temple and there would see the Savior. Seeing Jesus had its effect on Simeon, “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 which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” [v.29-32] The effect on Simeon was one of peace. Whether the remainder of his life and its activities would be long or short it really didn’t matter to Simeon because of the peace which He enjoyed. Simeon had seen with his own eyes and held in his own arms the realization of the salvation which God promised. Even before seeing Jesus, Simeon had the peace which comes from knowing that your sins are forgiven, but seeing Him was a reassurance of that peace. Such a peace only Jesus can give for only through Him is their forgiveness. The peace which comes from forgiveness and salvation is the peace that surpasses all understanding (cf. Philippians 4:7). It is the peace with which Jesus Himself comforts us, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
Simeon teaches us that the peace and salvation which Jesus would bring is for Jew and Gentile alike. By grace God had chosen Israel as His special people and the nation from which Jesus would come. God revealed Himself and His salvation to the Israelites through His prophets and in His Word. Paul wrote to the Romans, “What advantage then has the Jew…much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:1-2). For this reason Jesus is the glory of Israel.
Jesus is the glory of Israel, but His salvation was never limited to Israel; He is also a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles. The Gentiles didn’t have the advantage of the divine revelation as did the Jews. The salvation prepared by God would come to them as a light shining in that darkness. Isaiah prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined” [Isaiah 9:2].
Christmas is effective. It effects a peaceful reassurance of forgiveness of sins, life and salvation as it did for Simeon and for all who see Jesus as their light and Savior.
Luke notes Mary and Joseph’s reaction to Simeon’s words: “Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him.” [v.34] We can only imagine that Joseph and Mary continually marveled at Jesus and events surrounding Him. As they marveled at Simeon’s words, he foretold the effect that Jesus would have on Israel and also on Mary: “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.’” [v.34-35]
Simeon spoke particularly of the effect Jesus would have on Israel, however, his words apply to the effect Jesus has on all people. There is no half-way point or neutral ground in the relationship between sinners and their Savior. One either is either raised from sin and condemnation and is a child of God, or one falls ever deeper into sinfulness and unbelief through the rejection of Jesus as Savior.
The Gospel accounts often show how these prophetic words of Simeon were fulfilled. Jesus went from city to city preaching Himself as the Son of God and Redeemer. The effect on the people, their reaction and their evaluation of the matter, was a split decision. On the one hand, those who believed confessed Him as the Son of God. These saw their utter helplessness, turned to Jesus for help, and in Him found consolation, peace, light, and life. On the other hand, there were those who hated Jesus and of whom John writes, “He came to His own and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).
As Jesus preached, the true state of people’s hearts would be revealed. The Pharisees and scribes were outwardly religious and pious. Confronted with the truth of Christ’s preaching, their outward keeping of the Law was revealed for what it really was. Their hearts were set on themselves and hated Jesus. Jesus compared them to white-washed tombs “…which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
The opposition which the nation of Israel, would show toward Jesus and the suffering He would endure would affect Mary as well. Simeon says it would be a sword going through her soul. The hatred and the suffering Jesus would endure would cause Mary deep sorrow. This pain certainly reached its height as she stood at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified.
We have an unique and important connection to this prophecy of Simeon. Jesus was yet a baby, approximately six weeks old, and Simeon spoke about the rejection and eventual death of Jesus. In these words, Jesus as an infant is placed before us as our suffering and dying Savior. That suffering is at the same time saddening and gladdening. Saddening because we and our sins brought Jesus to the cross. Gladdening because He willingly went to the cross for us, died, and rose again for our justification.
Christmas—or more broadly, the coming of Jesus and His entire work—had one of two effects on Israel and so it does on all people. To those who, by God’s working through His Word, have been brought to faith, Jesus is a valued as a treasure. To those who. in their sinfulness and self-pride, discard the truth of Christmas, Jesus is still the same treasure but He is ignored and not valued.
The apostle Paul re-states these two effects: “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. Paul and his companions were the fragrance of Christ because they preached Christ. How that fragrance smelled to the people varied. Paul continues, “To the one we are the aroma of death to death, and the other the aroma of life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).
Luke also introduces us to a woman named Anna and the effect that Christ’s birth had on her. “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 fasting and prayers night and day.” [v.33-34]
As with Simeon, this is the only mention of Anna in Scripture. She had been married for seven years and a widow for 84. Taking into account an approximate age for Anna when she was married, we would estimate Anna to be a woman somewhat over 100 years old. Anna’s age is noteworthy but even more so is how Anna occupied her time.
Anna is described as a prophetess. Anna had been gifted with knowledge and understanding in God’s Word and proclaimed what she knew. Anna shows herself to be devout, as was Simeon, by her activity in the temple and with her fasting and prayers.
The Christmas effect on Anna resulted in two things. The first was that she gave thanks to the Lord. Anna knew that her salvation was a gift from God. Anna felt the same peace as Simeon and for that she joyfully thanked her Lord. Thanksgiving and joy are an effect of Christmas.
The second thing Anna did was speak to others in Jerusalem who were also waiting for the Savior and the redemption He would bring. We have seen this effect of Christmas before. The Shepherds did the same thing. When the Apostles John and Andrew first saw Jesus and learned who He was, they went and found their brothers, James and Peter. When Jesus called the apostle Philip, Philip went and found Nathanael and told him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets wrote…” (John 1:45). Even though Jesus at that time was 30 years old, it was “Christmas” to the disciples because it was then that they first learned that Jesus had come and who He was. Christmas has the effect of wanting to tell others about Jesus and His coming.
A calming and comforting peace, joy and thanksgiving, and speaking to others are all effects of Christmas as seen in the words and actions of Simeon and Anna. Can the effect still be the same? Simeon and Anna saw Jesus face-to-face, but we are removed from that time by 2,000 years. Is the effect still there? 2,000 years doesn’t change the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It does not change the fact that He is the Son of God, nor does it make Him less the light of the Gentiles and glory of Israel.
We do not see Jesus in the same way as did Simeon and Anna because we see Him even better! The words which Jesus spoke and taught have been written for us and we have the accounts of what He did. Through the pages of Scripture we can see Jesus and what He did with unbelievable clarity. Toward the end of his Gospel John tells us the reason why he wrote what he did, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written that you many believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).
Things around us have changed so much since Simeon and Anna saw Jesus, can there still be the same effect? Yes, things have changed, but not the elements surrounding Christmas. Why was there a need for Christmas? Our sinfulness. That hasn’t changed. Jesus came to cleanse us from our sin and bring peace between God and man. The Christmas effect of peace hasn’t changed.
Why were the angels, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, the wisemen, the disciples, and countless others filled with joy and thanksgiving to see Jesus? He was their Savior their hope and consolation. Jesus is still the hope and consolation for sinners. The effect of Christmas hasn’t changed.
Why did these same people speak about Jesus? They couldn’t help but share what they had found. Like any good news the news of Christmas can’t be kept inside. The effect of Christmas stays the same.
The unchanging character and effectiveness of Christmas is such because it is built on our unchanging Savior. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Even after all these years, Christmas is still effective! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
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.