The Holy Spirit Proclaims Jesus as the Christ - First Sunday after Christmas
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Luke 2:21-40
December 27, 2020

In the Gospel reading we see Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem. They dedicate Jesus as the firstborn son. They offer the sacrifice according to what was spoken in the law of the Lord. They offer two turtle doves and two young pigeons. They did that to fulfill the customs established by the law of the Lord through Moses (Exodus 13; Leviticus 12). Mary and Joseph knew no other word of the Lord about these things. So, as humble people of faith in God, they followed the instructions given by the Lord through Moses.

As Mary and Joseph are with Jesus at the temple, they encounter a couple of interesting people of faith. One is Simeon. The other is Anna.

Let’s talk about Anna first. She is well advanced in years, about 84 years old. She has been a widow for a long time, nearly 60 years. As a widow, her life has been dedicated to serving God at the temple with fasting and prayer.

Anna is called a prophetess. This is because she speaks to the people who are waiting with her for the redemption of Jerusalem. She speaks to them about Jesus as the redemption they have been waiting for. She was not exercising the prerogatives given to the priests. But she undoubtedly was well-versed in the Scriptures that spoke of the promise of the Christ. We can glean this from the reference to the redemption of Jerusalem. By the Spirit, she knew of Jesus as the Christ and spoke of Him to others. Would that all God’s people were prophets (Numbers 11:29) and spoke to others about Jesus as the Christ.

Now let’s talk about Simeon. Luke tells us that Simeon was a righteous and God-fearing man. This means that he was faithful to God, by faith keeping the terms of the Scriptures given through Moses and the prophets. These words from our Psalm for today can describe him: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding” (Psalm 111:10 ESV). We are also told that the Holy Spirit was upon him (Luke 2:25). As a result, Simeon identified Jesus as the Christ and spoke about Him as he was being led by the Spirit.

This is what the Spirit does. He points out Christ. He proclaims Him. He shows Christ to the eyes of our faith. He speaks Christ into our hearts by His word. He proclaims the significance of Christ and how decisive Christ is. He brings the peace Christ has won for us with God to us.

So Simeon sees Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. He takes the baby Jesus in his arms. He sings a song as he is moved by the Spirit.

We sing Simeon’s song as part of our service of holy communion. We know it as the nunc dimittis. These words are Latin and mean now you are letting depart. They are the first two words of Simeon’s song in Latin, which is why Simeon’s song is referred to in our liturgy as the nunc dimmitis.

So Simeon sings: “Lord, you are now letting your servant depart in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation. This salvation is for all peoples. This salvation is a light for revelation to the Gentiles. It is the glory of the people of Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

Let your servant depart. What is this departure Simeon was talking about? Was it like leaving the temple that day after the services? No, actually. Simeon is speaking here of his departure from this life. He was speaking of his death. He was saying that he is now prepared to die because he has seen the salvation God had promised. He has seen the Lord’s Christ.

We know Simeon is talking about his death because the Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Christ that the Lord had prepared and sent (Luke 2:26). Now that Simeon has seen the Christ, he is prepared for his death.

Seeing Jesus as the salvation God has prepared, Simeon is at peace with God, because he knows that God is at peace with him in Jesus. Now that Simeon has seen him, holding the baby Jesus in his arms and blessing God, Simeon is at peace and is prepared to depart this life and meet God in peace.

Do we find it odd or even distasteful, however, that the Gospel today talks to us about being prepared for death? After all, it’s the first Sunday after Christmas. Shouldn’t we only think about being prepared for death when we are actually in our very last moments of life here?

Now, it is certainly the case that Jesus and the Spirit bring great comfort to Christians when they are in their last few days, or facing serious medical issues, and even, the threat of death. This is exceedingly important.

But there can be more to it than that. I am thinking about what Hebrews says: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself [i.e., the Christ] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

This passage from Hebrews identifies a problem we humans have. It is the fear of death. It then also speaks of how the fear of death is enslaving. It is a very powerful thing. And a huge problem is that the devil and tyrants know how to use this fear to manipulate us. This can affect our lives a great deal. And I am talking here about our lives when we would not otherwise consider ourselves to be on our deathbeds. Having an antidote to the fear of death can be a very important part of life; it can be a very important part of having courage to resist manipulation by evil people; to be able to stand up for the Christian faith and what is true and right; to be able to stand up against tyranny, because tyrants know how to use the fear of death to enslave their people.  

Now having this peace in the face of death that Jesus gives is not a license for recklessness and disregard for the gift of healing God brings about through a healthy use of reason. On the other hand, being prepared to die in Jesus’s peace, enables one to use reason well, because fear clouds reason and sound judgment.

There is a spiritual battle we can be in at any stage of life. It is a spiritual battle with the fear of death. So being at peace with God to be prepared for departure is an important part of life. It is an important part of the formation of Christian character and Christian courage. By the Spirit Simeon recognizes Christ as the salvation God has provided, who has made our peace with God.

As I mentioned, we sing Simeon’s song after receiving Holy Communion, after having received the body and blood of Christ according to His word. It is quite appropriate for us to sing Simeon’s song then because one of the benefits of Christ is for our hearts, inspired by the Spirit, to be able to say: Father, I have seen the salvation You prepared. The light for revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel. This revelation is that You have made peace with me, Father, through Him, my Lord Jesus. You claim me as Your own. I am ready for whatever may come. I have the promise of your strength to fight the good fight of faith and to keep your word. Nothing can separate me from Your love, not even death. Through Christ, by the Spirit, strengthen me for the fight and keep me in Your eternal care, as You has sent Christ to overcome all evil for me. In Jesus name. Amen.


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