First Day After Christmas

S. Christmas 1.23 Luke 2:22-38

“And this man [Simeon] was righteous and devout… And there was a prophetess, Anna… and she began to give thanks to God…”

First thing, a small thing: this passage shows that Luther wasn’t always right about everything. Now, he was right about the Gospel, knew the Word of God and taught it faithfully. But, in “daily life”, he could, sometimes, be… wrong. For instance, he freely admitted that if Katie his wife didn’t handle the money, the Luther family would have been broke, and also that Katie had more design sense in her little finger than Luther had in his entire body. Parsonage design, furnishing, was (mostly) Katie… 😉

Somewhere else in the Table Talk, Luther also said that, Christianly speaking, you can’t expect anything much from oldsters, and so, must direct all your efforts in pastoral ministry to the young who might listen and get it.

I have taken that last remark very much to heart in 31 years of pastoral ministry and found it often true. But today, our Gospel shows a couple old duffers, real relics, who are not totally clueless, who actually get Jesus completely when everyone else—save a few shepherds, 3 foreign magicians, some cattle, and 1 little drummer boy are either a) trying to hunt Jesus down and kill him, *cough* Herod! *cough* or are b) ignoring him…

And as, I’m getting along in years, certainly not young anymore—though like they say: “You’re only young once, but you can be immature forever”—Bonnie got me a book for Christmas that measures your immaturity level with a series of simple tests, and I’ve scored extremely high on all of them! High standardized test scores are good, right? Getcha into those fancy schools! Jesus loves the childish! Or was it child-like …?

Anyway, as I get older, I’m glad to learn Luther isn’t entirely correct that none of the oldsters can be exemplars of faith.

Simeon, like Keith Richards, was perennially near the top of those “How are they not dead, yet?!” lists. So old, Simeon was, God revealed he wouldn’t get to die until he saw the Lord’s Christ, for plot purposes…

So, what an amazing day, when Simeon comes in and sees the Christ! Because, tomorrow…! ah, you never think about that when you think about this text, probably, do you? [Pr. Stoppenhagen does] It’s the first thing I think about! Once Simeon sees the Christ, well… time’s up! See ya! Like Hezekiah, 14 years 364 days after God granted him 15 more years of earthly life. 😉 Just imagine everyone’s joy, that year! “Happy Last Birthday, Dad!”

Hey, Simeon knew the score. Look! He gives his own eulogy, holding the baby Jesus: “Lord now you are letting your servant depart in peace…” But, because Simeon gets Jesus, his exodus is not fearful or sad; it’s a joyful thing. As long as we’re beholding the Christ, we don’t care where we are—heaven, earth, hell, Buffalo, it’ll all be awesome. That’s the Spirit!

That’s how you get your “Ho, ho, ho” back at Christmastime, if you’ve lost it. Or watch the wonderful film “Violent Night”. That certainly helped me.

But how do Simeon and Anna get Jesus in such a death-defying way, when almost no one else does? What was special about them, besides being old as dirt?

As Pastor Smith said on Christmas day: “regular listeners of this Podcast” will not be surprised the answer will be found diving more deeply into the Greek, and translating it… better.

Simeon is described as righteous and “devout” but that is a super lame translation of the Greek ευλaβης which is literally “taking hold of well”. What Simeon [and Anna] took hold of well is the consolation of Israel. Here’s something that the modern world grasps hardly at all: that the Old Testament is not a bunch of rules about what to wear, eat, or where to live—that, if you perform them adequately, God will reward you.

No! Simeon [and Anna] took hold well of the OT as a promise that God will take on our sinful flesh, bear our sin, spill his own blood in place of ours, taste death for us all and rise victorious with healing in his wings.

As we said on Christmas Eve, simply SEEING THE CHRIST is what changed everything for the shepherds. To see the Christ is to be absorbed into his time, his world—it wraps our arms around him. Like Paul says: “I pursue, that I may take hold of that for which I am taken hold of by Christ.”

The Gospel God gave to Israel in the Old Testament has nothing to do with rule-following morality or piety. It’s a faith thing, as Simeon and Anna know and show; it’s a seeing thing, a seeing that makes us superheroes, with super powers so that we can fly (the best superpower of all) to heaven with Jesus, and in that flight, find our old fear of heights finally melts away…

Anna seems older still than Simeon; married probably in her mid-teens, and after 7 years of marriage, Luke says she’s a widow of 84 years, so she’s like, about 104! She never leaves the temple, and coming in at the very hour Mary and Jesus had brought the baby Jesus, perhaps seeing Simeon holding him, she knew: this is the Christ!

How did they recognize Him, Simon and Anna, when no one else did? Faith! Eyes of faith! They knew the Word, the promise—‘cause they’re regularly in the divine service of the temple, so they recognized God even when He is a newborn baby.

Jesus says His sheep hear His voice and they know Him. No one in the Gospels ever has trouble recognizing Jesus is the LORD, God. They have trouble believing what they see because an encounter with the holy God means death for unholy people.

There is no such thing as death by “natural causes”! We die only because we are sinners!

And that’s what the world can’t see, can’t face—that death’s the payment our sin well deserves! We just can’t agree that God is right to kill us, so we just can’t face… him.

The ESV, KJV all say that when Anna saw the baby Jesus in the temple, she “began to give thanks”. But… no! the Greek ανθωμολογειτο is literally: “come to an agreement with”. Anna saw Jesus and in the seeing she came to an agreement with God about everything. She agrees she’s a poor miserable sinner and death is all she deserves; but, hearing the Word, she knows this child is the Christ, God himself, who will bear our sin and be our Savior.

He will turn your death into a glorious tear-down and rebuild super-schmucks reborn a superheroes with all the divine powers (and none of the human fears 😉

In “Violent Night” [plot spoiler, so earmuffs if you’re going to watch it, but you never watch the movies I recommend, so whatever] the dying Santa says he’s lived longer than any man should have, and that his whole Santa thing is “Christmas magic” that he’s never understood, that can only be believed…

He’s fine entrusting himself to that “Christmas magic” which turns out to be stronger even than death… 😉

Jesus is the real Christmas magic, turning sin, death, and hell, into forgiveness, life, and salvation. You see him right here, right now, as Anna and Simeon did—Christ, Savior, God. And believing, [non-rejecting] the Word made flesh, you, like Santa-Simeon-Anna, are fine with dying, because Christmas magic is stronger than death.

You’ve come to an agreement with God that we’ll just let him do with us as he thinks best; and if only we might behold him—even if just for a fleeting instant, the last breath we take—all will be well. And the peace that surpasses all understanding guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Merry Christmastime!

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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