Sermon for the Frist Sunday after Christmas - Luke 2:22-40
Christmas is God’s “Hello” and “Goodbye” to his world all wrapped into one. He comes into this world as a major hello. Here I am. See me in the most vulnerable state you can. See me as a baby. As one who is expected to sit still, obey, and be quiet. But also one who is needy, who is often desired above all things, who is cradled and coddled and ogled over. An infant. A child. Don’t think I don’t notice you all eyeing little Henry and begging for the chance to hold him. Now think Jesus. God as a child. Suddenly this baby is here and the child is this “Hello” of God into the world.
But it is also Goodbye. Goodbye in that God came into the world not to leave things the way they are. Not to have the status quo be the status quo. God making his Hello known makes his Goodbye heard because he says Goodbye to all the times we ignore him. He says Goodbye to all the ways in which his people have tried to replace him. He says Goodbye to all sin of making gods of something else.
Now, thinking of this journey, of moving from birth to death, from “hello” to “goodbye”, many of you have been there at the end of life for that loved one. You have seen them holding on for longer than expected and it is usually because they are waiting for that one person to get there. To say goodbye. Then peace comes. Rest. Falling asleep in Christ.
Enter Simeon. Simeon being at the crossroads for us between the “hello” and the “Goodbye.” Simeon having waited, received a promise from God. “You will see me. Just wait.” So he waited for that “hello.” Imagine the number of days he entered into the temple in hopes of seeing Jesus and left disappointed. The times he wanted to find him and did not. Then, he was there. Simeon’s entire life must have been one of watching. Of waiting. Of having the seeking of that consolation or comfort that was to come in Christ as the focus of his life. Consolation being a visitation word. A funeral word. A word we use to speak of comfort coming at loss or pain or grief. God being that consolation for his people. We have lost something. Lost our God. The one who says he is yours. And so to know that true comfort and solace and peace has come in Jesus. Jesus being the embodiment of our needs in that peace. That comfort. What would that look like for us? To realize that the focus of God’s Advent into history, of Christmas itself, is something to keep us alive to wait for that “hello.” To have our life be one in seeking after this Jesus. To find him. To rejoice in him. To have that “hello” be the source of all we do, of all we are, of all we say or feel.
Once Simeon found him, then the “Goodbye” came. Now let your servant go in peace, for your word has been fulfilled. That phrase used to be part of our funeral rite. Where we would sing of our dearly departed as ones who have had their baptismal promises fulfilled. They died in their baptism and live in Christ. Simeon sings this as he leaves the temple that day knowing that all of his life has come to completion. That if he were to die at that moment, all for which he lived for was worth it because he found Christ. He held God’s salvation in his hands.
Anna takes it a step further. Spending her days in seeking after God. Called a prophet, she was there to proclaim. She heard Simeon sing. Saw the child. Her whole life culminating in that moment. To stand up and say – Freedom is here. He is saying “hello”. Say “goodbye” to the fetters that bind you. The chains of sin and time. Where sin and death are no more because now this child is here. This child who has come to bring freedom and to make known all for which we have waited. To have an identity no one can criticize. To have a life no one can take away. To have a soul that is healed, whole, for Jesus’ sake. Anna being the one to point us once more to the Christ child. That we might have our whole lives focused on this Jesus.
It is because of this message that I love this story. What I love even more is that here in this part of the Gospel narrative we have the two portions of our society that we tend to relegate to the margins, to the corners, become the voice and picture to turn us to God. A baby. A child. He, the God of all creation, making himself known to us. And this same God, Jesus Christ, later tells us that we must become as children. Become dependents. Become the relegated and the shut-out in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Become like that child, as God came to earth. Small, meek, weak, in need of nurturing and life from somewhere other than ourselves. Ones who we usually need to baby, treat like children, like unintelligent, to complain about and God comes to us as that baby and now makes that baby the focus of all redemption.
Even more, the voices who speak of this baby are the elderly. The most senior among us. Not millennials, Gen-Xers, Boomers. Simeon and Anna could have been both over 100 years old. We would have sent them to a home. Thought of them as eccentric or weird. But here God uses them to break our wills and to tell us of that Christ’s coming for you is so essential that a life spent seeking him is not wasted. When our eyes are fixed on this Christ, then our eyes are not fixed on ourselves. Eyes fixed on Christ see as he sees. Seeking the lost. Needing to speak of the Kingdom to all who would hear. Wanting to proclaim peace. Needing worship to be the place where we fall on our knees and let ourselves die and he live in us. When our life becomes enfolded into his, making the focus of all things him, we then don’t become lost in some heavenly splendor that keeps us from loving others. We lose ourselves in Jesus and he turns us to all those around us, needing them to find the peace and freedom that comes in Christ. Speaking peace. Leading prayers. Worshiping. Becoming prophets. Where we live out our baptism and life in Christ, we cannot but love our neighbors more. It is when we spend too much time worried about ourselves, and not about Christ, that we lose the eyes of Jesus to love those who need him.
Simeon and Anna become this extension of the Christmas story for us because it is in their lives that the true work of God becomes manifest for us. Those who have been freed by the “hello” of God see fit to say “goodbye” to all the junk that rules us in this world. Goodbye to all the other expectations and all the pressures that make us think that life is about success or advancement. When life in Christ, life as the Christian is a life of death. A life built on seeking the “Hello” that we might then depart in peace and have God become our source for all things in him. Thanks be to God. Amen