Posted by: Johnold Strey | January 1, 2018

Sermon on Luke 2:25-35

“MY EYES HAVE SEEN YOUR SALVATION”

  1. I see the Christ Child who will accomplish our salvation
  2. I see the cross where he will accomplish our salvation

 Based on Luke 2:25-35

 Introduction

WalmartAfterChristmasA few days after Christmas, I saw a picture on social media taken inside a major American retail store. The picture revealed that this chain of stores has already removed anything connected to Christmas from its shelves and in its place has put up Valentine’s Day gifts and candy. I first saw that picture two days ago, and it was one of those social media pictures that had likely “gone viral,” so perhaps this store had made the Christmas-to-Valentine’s Day switch even earlier—I suspect the day after Christmas! Then there is the local radio disc jockey who said on the air that December 13 was the first of the twelve days of Christmas. She didn’t realize that the twelve days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day; they don’t end on Christmas Eve. Both of these anecdotes show that, for better or worse, the American culture sees a holiday as the end of its celebration. As a culture, we are ready to put Christmas back into the box and store it in the closet as early as midnight on December 26.

But there are many families who buck that trend. Many of you have displayed the presents you unwrapped under the tree for everyone in the family to look at and enjoy before they find their permanent homes in your home. Many of you aren’t ready to take down the tree and decorations on December 26. You might even keep them up all the way through the twelve days of Christmas until Epiphany Day on January 6! The advantage of doing that is you have a chance to enjoy, celebrate, and savor Christmas. Take a closer look at the presents. Enjoy the family time together. Savor another sip of your favorite Christmas beverage. Soak in the season before it’s packed away again for another year.

In a sense, that’s how the Christian Church celebrates Christmas. We ponder and marvel at the blessings of the Christ Child for a while before moving on to the next season. On this seventh day of Christmas, the Gospel for the First Sunday after Christmas takes us to the fortieth day of Jesus’ post-birth life. We go with Mary and Joseph to the temple in Jerusalem where they took place in the required religious ceremonies that a mother went through after the birth of a son, and that a firstborn son went through after his birth. We meet the same man Mary and Joseph met in the temple, a man named Simeon, and we listen to what he has to say about this 40-day-old infant in Mary’s arms. Simeon will help us to savor the blessings of Christmas one more time. He will help us to see with the eyes of faith what we might miss if we walked away from the manger too quickly. Simeon teaches us as he says to God, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” Simeon teaches us to say: I see the Christ Child who will accomplish our salvation. I see the cross where he will accomplish our salvation. 

I.

Simeon in Temple (Luke 2)So who exactly was this Simeon? Luke says, “There was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.” Luke introduces us to a man who was characterized as “righteous and devout”—he was a godly, moral man who was very pious and sincere in his faith in the Savior promised to God’s people. Luke also said of Simeon, “The Holy Spirit was on him.” That’s a phrase we probably wish we could explain with greater specificity, but what we can say for certain is that the Holy Spirit had led Simeon to sincerely and firmly believe the words and promises of God, especially those that promised the Messiah to Israel. Simeon even had a unique promise from God revealed to him: God promised him that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah. This suggests that Simeon may have been an old man, though we can’t say that with absolute certainty. But he knew that he would see the Savior face-to-face before he was called home to heaven to greet God face-to-face.

Parents are naturally protective of their children. We can only speculate how Mary and Joseph first felt when this devout stranger walked up to them, asked to hold their child in his arms, and said this to God in their hearing: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Though we know little about this presumed old man, this we can say for certain: Simeon longed for this day. He longed for this day that was now reality, a day on which God kept his Word (as he always does!) and allowed Simeon to see the Christ child who would accomplish his salvation. No one else milling around the outer courts of the temple would have known what Simeon knew: The child of Mary and the Son of God that he held in his arms was the salvation of God’s chosen people and of the entire human race.

After worship on Christmas Eve, the newlywed couple went over to his brother’s house to open presents with the extended family gathered together. His brother and sister had a six-year-old son, and he was also godfather to his nephew. Knowing that their nephew had all the toys and clothes he could ever want, he decided to buy him a savings bond for his future. The parents—his brother and sister-in-law—were grateful to not have another toy to trip over in the house. But since six-year-olds don’t quite understand money and savings bonds; he opened the small box, saw an odd-looking piece of paper, and said, “What’s this? This isn’t a toy!” He didn’t appreciate what he received.

Does this world appreciate what they see in Jesus? Is this world like that six-year-old boy? Does this world even understand what it has been given in Jesus? Is Jesus merely the inspiration for a romantic Christmas story and scene that is displayed in front of fireplaces and on shelves all around American homes this time of year? Even as Christians, do we connect Christmas merely to our favorite carols that inspire us emotionally, or to the annual family gatherings we enjoy? All of these things are fine and good, of course, but none of these are the ultimate point and purpose of this celebration.

Simeon understood what the birth of Jesus was all about. He said, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” We don’t use “salvation” in common English. When the fireman saves the family from the burning building, they don’t express their gratitude by saying, “You gave us salvation!” They express their gratitude by saying, “You saved us!” But those phrases mean the same thing.

New Testament Illustrations 023Simeon, informed by the Holy Spirit, looks carefully at the present he holds and he says nothing about fireplaces, snow, carols, hot chocolate, or family gatherings. He simply sees the Christ child who will accomplish our salvation! And that is what Scripture has taught us all along. To Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, the angel said, “You are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” To the shepherds abiding in the fields, the angel said, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you.” And now Simeon says to us today, “My eyes have seen [God’s] salvation as he holds the miraculous Child who will accomplish our salvation. And that is what we need to see most! You cannot understand Christmas or truly celebrate it without this understanding: When you see Jesus in Simeon’s arms, you see the Child who will and now has accomplished your salvation!

II.

The words that Saint Simeon first spoke in the temple are known to us today as the “Song of Simeon.” His words are familiar to us because from time to time we sing those words in worship. Mary and Joseph were quite surprised at the lofty words of Saint Simeon. It’s one thing to hear from a stranger that your baby is cute. It’s another thing to hear that your baby is the world’s salvation! But Simeon wasn’t finished. The Holy Spirit had revealed even more to Simeon that revealed the reality of what it meant that Jesus was the Child who would accomplish our salvation. Connected to that child was the future cross where he would accomplish our salvation.

“The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’”

Everything Simeon had to say would make Mary and Joseph marvel, but not everything he had to say would make them smile. Simeon also saw the cross where Jesus would accomplish our salvation and everything that would accompany that journey to the cross. Some would receive Jesus as their Savior, but many others would reject God’s Messiah and fall into unbelief. Jesus was a sign that pointed to greater truths such as mankind’s need for a rescue from sin and God’s eternal plan to pay for sin through the miracle of his eternal Son becoming a human being. But not everyone liked the truths to which Jesus’ presence pointed them. And that rejection by his enemies would ultimately lead to his crucifixion on the cross—an event that would surely pierce and wound the soul of his mother, Mary, who would one day see her firstborn Son brutally executed and even more painfully endure the divine punishment for mankind’s sins against God Almighty.

Some of the greatest Christmas hymns that have been written are hymns that don’t stop with the Christmas story, but they connect the birth of Jesus to the cross of Jesus. The middle stanza of Luther’s 15-stanza Christmas hymn, From Heaven Above to Earth I Come, makes that connection: “Welcome to earth, O noble Guest, through whom the sinful world is blest. You came to share my misery that you might share your joy with me.” The familiar Christmas hymn, What Child Is This, makes the connection even more directly in its second stanza: “Why lies he in such mean estate where oxen now are feeding? Good Christians, fear; for sinners here the silent Word is pleading. Nails, spear shall pierce him through; the cross he’ll bear for me, for you. Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the baby, the Son of Mary.” Those great hymns of Christmas and others like them see exactly what Simeon saw. Those hymns see the cross where Jesus would accomplish our salvation.

Do you want to see the manger connected to the cross? It kind of takes the romanticism of Christmas away, doesn’t it? The reality that the soft skin of that helpless infant would be pierced by rusty nails and hung from a splintered wooden cross isn’t exactly the image we prefer to ponder. It’s not that we won’t acknowledge that Jesus was heading for the cross, but our sinful nature does not appreciate how this reality forces us to deal with our sinful pride, or with the way we can be quite comfortable with our sin, or the pattern we can easily develop of pointing fingers of blame at others while never really coming to grips with our own sin.

Scrooge-like stinginess, inebriated arrogance, or eagerness to find fault with others can become our personalized ways of saying that I don’t want to deal with the reality of Jesus’ future cross, and I certainly don’t want to deal with the reality that my sins put him there! But without that cross, there is no salvation, there is no peace with God, there is no confidence in the hour of death, there is no communion with God but only wrath from God in the next life. Without Jesus’ future cross, we only have a future death that leads to a permanent hell.

Jesus’ wooden manger eventually led to his wooden cross. That is a reality our sinful flesh wants to hide from, but that is a reality that in faith we can acknowledge and even embrace! That is a reality that our Savior Jesus embraced! Mary’s little baby in Simeon’s aging arms became one of us so that he could become our Savior. Jesus took on himself the guilt of selfish hearts and foolish talk and accusing attitudes and then allowed the guilt of your sins and mine to be nailed with him to the cross where he has won forgiveness for our sins and has accomplished our salvation.

The painful reality that would come certainly pierced Mary’s heart, and it pierces our hearts too. It pierces our hearts to the point of an honest confession of our sin. But God lifts up our eyes to view that same cross again so that we see how that cross is our salvation from sin! Jesus’ future cross was the ultimate destination in the plan that began in Bethlehem and that God had mapped out from eternity. Simeon saw it decades before it happened. Through the eyes of faith and the words of Scripture, we see the cross of our salvation long after Jesus made our salvation a reality. And the reality of our salvation from the cross assures us of our future reality with Jesus in heaven.

Conclusion

Sometimes it’s good to step back from the activities of Christmas and just marvel at it all. Watch the eyes of a child open presents with youthful excitement. Enjoy the familiar voices of family chatting away as they are all gathered for the holidays. Reminisce about Christmases of the past and the smiles and blessings that they brought, and see the new smiles and blessings of today.

In a sense, we have done that this morning with the birth of Jesus. On this seventh day of Christmas, we have paused before packing away the tree and ornaments, we have looked closely at the divine present God packaged for us, and we have savored this miracle one more time. The trappings of Christmas will soon be gone for another year. But even then, keep your eyes fixed on the child of Mary in Simeon’s arms, keep your thoughts fixed on his cross, and your heart will be filled with gratitude for his gracious salvation. Amen.

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