The Song of Simeon

Christmas 1-C
December 30, 2018
Mr. Rick Stark, Vicar of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

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…and when [Mary and Joseph] brought in the child Jesus [into the temple], to do for Him according to the custom of the Law, [Simeon] took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Are you ready to go?

What I mean is, are you ready to leave? No, I don’t mean right now, right at this very moment; it would be nice if you would stick around till the end of the service.

But, at the end of the service, will you be ready to leave? And by that, I mean, will you be ready to leave in peace — satisfied and content — ready for whatever comes next?

What makes us ready to leave — to leave any situation?

For example, this year is coming to a close. Are you ready to put 2018 behind you and move on to whatever 2019 may bring? (That sounds so weird…2019)

But what makes us ready to leave, even to the point of leaving this life? That day could happen any time, you know, any day, any hour. And if that were to happen, would you be ready? If the Lord were to decide to call you home today, are you ready to go? And if not, why not? And if you’re not sure, what would make the difference? What would change your mind?

Today in our Gospel reading, we meet a man who was ready to go. He was ready for whatever might happen next. And we find out in this text why he was ready, what made that difference. The man’s name was Simeon, and I think we can learn something from him today about what it means to “Depart in Peace.”

Let me set the scene for you. It’s eight days after the birth of Jesus. We’re in Jerusalem. We’re going to the temple. Why? Because eight days after the birth of a firstborn son, the father and mother were supposed to go to the temple and offer up a sacrifice to the Lord. It’s in the Law of Moses.

God commands the Israelites: The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me. (Exodus 22:29b-30)

 

Because, in the Passover, the firstborn sons of Israel were spared from death in Egypt, those boys were to be dedicated to the Lord and his service. Theoretically, they were supposed to serve in the temple. But the Lord God set apart the whole tribe of Levi to take the place of the boys from the other tribes.

Back to the temple. there are several families bringing young boys into the temple. Only, today, on this occasion, there is a firstborn son from the tribe of Judah, the tribe of kings, coming into the temple, this Son will also go on to be the Priest Supreme and the Lamb of God, making the ultimate sacrifice for all people. Can you picture it?

Over there. Mary and Joseph are carrying Jesus into the temple now. Do you see him? No? Again, there are many families bringing young boys into the temple today. How can we tell which couple carrying a baby into the temple is the one I’m talking about? There was nothing special, no special effects, no angels singing, no halos, and no beams of light to distinguish this Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus from all the other families there that day. That’s the point. And that’s how it would have appeared to Simeon, too, had the Lord not made it known to him through special revelation by the Holy Spirit.

Our Gospel lesson tells us, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous 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. And [that day] he came in 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.”

It says Simeon was waiting for “the consolation of Israel”. He was waiting for the comfort the Lord had promised to his people. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”the prophet Isaiah had spoken centuries before, and Simeon was waiting and wanting to see the fulfillment of thatpromise. Now, here it comes. The consolation, the comfort, the Christ child, is being carried in right before his very eyes.

The consolation comes in the person of this little baby. The Holy Spirit reveals to Simeon that he is seeing the Lord’s Christ. This is the Messiah — the Christ –the promised deliverer-king, who will bring God’s kingdom of comfort and consolation. God’s Promise fulfilled. The Lord had told Simeon he would not die before the arrival of the Messiah. Now the Christ has come. And Simeon thanks God for fulfilling this special promise to him, and so now Simeon –presumably an old man — now Simeon is ready to die, if that is what God has in store for him.

Simeon takes the baby Jesus in his arms and utters this beautiful song of praise:

“Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Now here’s what it means to be ready to “Depart in Peace.” It’s to know and to experience the salvation that the Lord has prepared and promised — that same salvation that the Lord has prepared and promised for you and me in the waters of Holy Baptism.

That’s what Simeon experienced when he saw the baby Jesus with his own eyes and held Him in his own arms. Because of his hope in God’s promise, the hope of salvation come in the person of Baby Jesus, now Simeon knew that he was at peace and ready for whatever might come next, even his own death. Now he could “Depart in Peace.” Those same promises wee given to us in Baptism.

How would that consolation, that salvation, that peace, come about? That’s where our text goes next.

We read that Mary and Joseph marveled at what Simeon said about their baby. And Simeon blesses them and says to Mary his mother: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

 

This is the first time in the short life of the Baby Jesus that the Cross is referenced. The consolation will come through conflict. The salvation will come through suffering and sorrow. And peace will come through a Cross. And Simeon tells the mother, Mary that she will experience sorrow, like a sword piercing her soul, when one day she will see her son suffering shame and humiliation and death on a cross. But that is how the salvation will come. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the son of Mary, true God and true man, He will suffer and die for the sins of all men, winning our forgiveness for eternity.  And with His sacrificial death on the Cross comes the consolation, and the salvation, and the peace we all need so very much.

St Paul tells us in Romans, chapter 3: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like his [then] we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)

So how is it with you, dear brothers and sisters? Are you ready to depart in peace? Can you say with Simeon, “Yes, Lord, I’m ready to go, I’m ready for whatever comes next”?

Now you may not have laid your eyes on the Baby Jesus, being carried into the temple. You have not held that little baby in your arms. But here’s what you do have. You have the same Word of God given to Simeon. Your ears have heard the Word of the Lord. Your eyes have seen, with the eyes of faith, what God has laid before you: the consolation, the salvation, and the path of peace, leading all the way to heaven, through faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ. And you have received, and you will receive once again today, the very body and blood of your Savior in His Holy Sacrament. Dear Christian brothers and sisters, Simeon has nothing on you. You are just as blessed. You are just as comforted. And you are just as ready to go.

You know, that is why the church sings Simeon’s song right after receiving the Lord’s body and blood in the Sacrament and right before the end of our service. It’s because we can identify with what Simeon experienced that day. We have received the same Comforter, the same Savior, and the same Lord as Simeon. And so we sing Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis. “Nunc Dimittis” is simply the Latin words for, “Now depart.”  We sing: “O Lord, now let Your servant depart in heavenly peace, for I have seen the glory of Your redeeming grace: A light to lead the Gentiles unto Your holy hill, the glory of Your people, Your chosen Israel.”

Yes, we too can sing out like Simeon! And we do! With joy and gladness we praise God for the salvation that comes to us, freely and fully, in the person of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now we can face whatever comes at us this week, or in this new year to come. Whether it means, health issues, financial issues, broken relationships, struggles with depression or loneliness — whatever comes our way, we are ready. And even death, if the Lord should decide it’s our time to go; we are ready. Not because of our merits or anything we have done. But because of the Lord’s Christ, our Jesus Christ, the infant Messiah, the man who died on the cross, and the God who rose as our Redeemer and Savior. This is the one who speaks to us His words of peace. This is the one who has the words of eternal life. And this is God’s promise to you, that you have forgiveness and peace –and with them, everlasting life — because of this Baby Jesus.

 

What great hope for the new year! What peace we have that surpasses all human understanding! What a joy it is to know this Savior! What a blessing it brings to you and your family and to this congregation! There is nothing else like it. Nothing else can fill the void and vacuum that we would have apart from Christ.But with Christ, we are ready to face whatever comes our way. For Christ has come into this temple, and the Holy Spirit has revealed Him to us here also. And we are ready to “Depart in Peace.”

And now may that same peace, the peace the surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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