Sermon for the First Sunday of Christmas
December 27, 2020
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace! Amen.
Have you ever gone back for a second look? Maybe you’ve taken a first look at a prospective new house, condo, or apartment, or maybe you’ve had a first interview at a new job, and then you went home to think it over? But before making a decision, you wanted a second look?
And this time, you took friends or family along, or you sought out their opinion, or the advice of trusted mentors or colleagues. Were they seeing the same potential you were seeing? Or, were they seeing potential problems you had overlooked? In your second look, you invited others along in order to see the picture more clearly.
On this First Sunday of Christmas, we take a second look at baby Jesus. And today, instead of shepherds and angels, we take with us Simeon and Anna. Through their encounter with the baby Jesus, Simeon and Anna become for us today those friends or family members we take with us for a second look at the Christmas miracle.
In our second look today, [Luke 2:22-40] we are just two days past Christmas Day on the calendar, but in the scriptures we have advanced eight days. Eight days have passed since the visit of the shepherds to the manger. Mary and Joseph have left the manger, this time to traveling to Jerusalem, to present Jesus for circumcision and purification according to the Law of Moses. It is in these Jewish rituals, which place Jesus solidly in Jewish law, ritual, and custom, that we encounter Simeon and Anna.
Luke described Simeon as righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, with the Holy Spirit resting upon him. Seemingly, as a result of his faithfulness, he was promised he would not die until he saw the Messiah. Anna is described as a widow who never left the temple, but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.”
To put them into today’s world, Simeon and Anna were salt of the earth church folk, who always showed up in faith and prayer, who always responded when there was a need, and seemingly as a result of their faithfulness, they were blessed to be among the first to experience the newborn Messiah. And so it is through these friends, these humble and faithful religious folks, we take a second look at Jesus this morning.
According to today’s Gospel reading, when Simeon and Anna saw Jesus they saw salvation and redemption. “My eyes have seen your salvation,” Simeon exclaimed as he held Jesus in his arms, “which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” The prophet Anna, who saw Simeon holding Jesus, saw redemption. After meeting Jesus, “she praised God and began to speak about the child to all who were looking for redemption.”
These are not new observations. We have heard them before. In their initial observations, Simeon and Anna confirmed what the angels announced and the shepherds saw: redemption and salvation. But … that’s not all they saw. They also see others things that push us deeper into the mystery of this Christ child.
In this encounter, theologian Melinda Quivick sees reversal. She writes that “reversal is built right into the language of events.” Simeon said the destiny of the child is “for the falling and the rising of many.” Quivick points out normally we talk about the rise and fall, but Simeon proclaims this baby will lead to falling and rising. Is Simeon foreshadowing the falling that, in faith, is our confession and repentance, and the rising the hope of forgiveness and grace we receive from Christ?
For Quivick, it’s significant that Anna is described as praying “night and day” reversing how we normally talk about day and night. Is that, too, a foreshadowing? Does it foreshadow the night of pain and death on the cross leading to the day of resurrection?
In Simeon’s proclamation, theologian Brian Peterson hears an echo of Mary’s Magnificat. In Simeon’s proclamation, he sees affirmation of the reversals Mary sang about, where the high and mighty will be brought low, and the lowly will be exalted.
Theologian Mark Bangert also sees reversal in this story, the reversal of the private becoming public. Simeon prophesied that the baby he held in his arms would grow up and expose the inner thoughts of man. Bangert sees in Simeon’s prophecy an “unmasking,” the baby, he writes, will “unmask opposition forces external and internal – the likes of Herod who feign faith but have none, ecclesiastical powers gone amok, economic systems pitched against the poor, systemic racism, leaders who seek to be recipients of creation’s praise. Then, there are those inner habits: idolatry stuff, devising ways to evade making a response, coddling guilt and regret, ignoring the needy … Simeon wants to know if we see that.”
This second look at the Christ child is a bit more unsettling. In this second look, we are pushed beyond a silent night with the baby lying away in the manger while hark the herald angels sing. In this second look, through the eyes of Simeon and Anna, we are invited to see the power this baby brings into the world.
This is a baby of power bringing about reversal – power to bring down and rise up, power to expose hidden thoughts, power to redeem and save. This baby is born to make a difference. Awesome power is found in this helpless baby!
Theologian Gail Ramshaw sees something else, as she looks in upon this scene of Simeon and Anna’s encounter with the Christ child – Ramshaw sees life and death. She points out that both Simeon and Anna are defined by Luke through their relationship to death. is described as one waiting to die until he sees the Messiah. Anna is described as a widow – living in the shadow of her husband’s death for years. The story speaks of the death of animals – sacrificed according to the custom as part of the ritual of Jesus’s presentation to the Lord in the temple.
Ramshaw writes: “Luke’s narrative of Jesus presented in the temple is a stark reminder that Christmas is the beginning of the death of Christ. Animals are slaughtered, the infant son is temporarily saved from sacrifice, and two old people are themselves ready to die. Yet in this word of death is the very light of the world.”
Amid a scene of death, Simeon and Anna recognize Jesus as a savior of life and salvation. Simeon and Anna no longer need be defined in relationship to death, but are now freed to be defined in relationship to life – in relationship to Christ and the life Christ brings to the world!
In this Christmas season, where over 330,000 Americans have died, and many thousands more will die, from Covid-19; and where obituaries of those who died are turning into warning cries for the rest of us to take this virus seriously …
On this Sunday here at Trinity, when our community mourns with Grayce Jones the death of her son Bradley, and as we mourn with the families of longtime Trinity members Florence Kirschbaum and Mildred Hermanson who died on Christmas …
Nevertheless, in our place of death, we look to the baby Jesus as our hope and salvation. We no longer need to be defined by our relationship to death, rather, we are defined – named and claimed – in our relationship with the life and the light of the world: Jesus Christ.
In this second look at baby Jesus, through the eyes of Simeon and Anna, what do you see in this child?
- Do you see your salvation?
- Do you see your redemption?
- Do you hear warning of reversal – that the perch you sit on in your pride and sin might be swept out from under you?
- Do you hear hope of reversal – that the weight of shame, of guilt, of sin you suffer under will be removed from you and you will be liberated?
- Amidst death and decay – do you see in Jesus the hope of life and healing?
One final observation …
Simeon and Anna saw all of this in a baby. Remember, Jesus was just eight days old, when all of this happened. Simeon and Anna weren’t responding to a precocious child, gifted teenager, or early achiever … they weren’t responding to a miracle performed or prophetic teachings from his lips … they were responding instead in faith, to what the Holy Spirit was calling them to believe was possible, in their encounter with an eight-day old infant.
Friends, in some ways, isn’t that all we have on this First Sunday of Christmas? The hope, in a broken world of pain and death, of a savior born, and that somehow this baby’s birth makes a difference. Our faith, that in some way, somehow, against all odds … this baby, this glimmer of hope, this potential, leads to redemption & salvation, falling & rising, and life bursting forth in places of death?
Martin Luther said the true Christmas miracle was Mary believing that it was so – that indeed she would give birth to the Son of God. Friends, as we take a second look at the Christ child today, may the Holy Spirit grant you the faith to believe it is so! As you look again upon this baby, may you see, and trust, and believe this baby is indeed God’s amazing work of redemption, salvation, and life.
Thanks be to God!
The photo above is the Trinity Chancel decorated in celebration of Christmas 2020.