Text: Luke 2:33-40
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
While the rest of the world goes back to normal after briefly celebrating the birth of the Christ, we, the Church, carry on. That is, we continue to marvel at the birth of Jesus Christ. Or at least we should marvel at the birth of Christ. It can be rather easy to forget the miraculous nature of Christ and who he is. It’s not that any of the facts about Christ and his birth and childhood are new, it’s just that they are, indeed, marvelous. Jesus is born of a virgin. Is that not astounding? This little baby will be the Savior of the world. He is the one who was promised long ago to Eve, to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to David, the list goes on and on. Isn’t that something? Again, these are things that we know and have known for years, but they can—and should—continue to cause us to marvel just as Mary and Joseph marveled at what was said of Jesus. Just before our Gospel lesson for this morning, Simeon had just sung the Nunc Dimittis. This song of Simeon affirmed that Jesus was the light to lead the Gentiles and he was the glory of God’s people Israel. That is, Jesus was and is the Savior of the world.
This is not new information for Mary and Joseph. The angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus who would save people from their sins. Joseph was likewise told to name the baby Jesus for this reason. Elizabeth referred to Mary as “the Mother of her Lord” as John the Baptist leapt in her womb. Mary and Joseph have known for over nine months who Jesus is and why he comes into the world. But they still marvel. It doesn’t get old. Let us never let these things be old to us, either! Let us marvel along with Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna that God has veiled himself in human flesh and made his dwelling among us.
Simeon says that Jesus is appointed for the rise and fall and rising of many in Israel. This thought is echoed well by St. Paul in his letter to the Church at Corinth: “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” The message of the cross is, without a doubt, the sweetest message of all messages for us Christians. We see, in the death of Jesus Christ, our salvation. But it is not sweet for everyone. As St. Paul wrote, this same message that causes much rejoicing for us as we see it as the source of our salvation causes the Jew to stumble and the Gentiles find it foolish. That is, they reject it. As we well know, those who reject Christ and the message of salvation that he brings are damned.
The fact is, though, that all people fall at the teachings of Christ. For all see in the teachings of Christ and his Word that they have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We see that we have sinned against God in what we say, do, and think. This is what it means for the thoughts of man’s heart to be revealed. It’s not that hard, after all, to keep from committing grossly evil sins. We can hold ourselves back from them. But all along, we harbor such evil, despicable things in our hearts that the world would gasp in horror if they could only see all the filth that is within. The difference for we who believe, though, is that Christ does not leave us in this fallen state, but he stoops down to save us. This is the entirety of Christ’s mission, really. He, the very Son of God, stoops down to earth, descending from his royal throne next to his Father, because in his mercy he desires to raise us up. He desires to be our brother. He desires to suffer and die on our behalf.
This mercy comes at great personal cost to Mary, of course. This is what Simeon means when he says that a sword will pierce through her heart. The fulfillment of this comes when Mary, at the foot of the cross, watches as the Son she conceived miraculously as a virgin is nailed to a cross by Roman soldiers, his side pierced to make sure he was dead, and his cold, lifeless body laid in the tomb. I have no doubt that the sorrow of a mother who loses a son is hardly surpassed by any other sorrow in this world. Simeon’s choice of metaphor is quite appropriate. Of course, couched in this metaphor, as painful as it is, is the fact that this piercing of Mary’s heart, that is, her emotional reaction to the death of Jesus, is not without hope. Likewise, when Good Friday rolls around, we have great sorrow, but it is not a sorrow without hope. It is a sorrow over sin, but the sorrow we have has joy lurking in the background for we know that Christ defeats death in his death and brings life and immortality to light in his resurrection.
After Simeon’s witness of Christ, St. Luke turns his attention to Anna, the prophetess. After 400 years of silence, there is an explosion of prophecy as Jesus, The Prophet foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18, has come at last. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist prophecies of how Jesus comes to visit and redeem his people and how his Son will be prophet of the Most High who will prepare his ways. We sing his Benedictus in our Matins services during the week. John the Baptist, of course, will do just what his father said he would do. He will prepare the way for Jesus and will point people to him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Anna here, likewise, prophecies of Christ. That is, she tells whoever she can about Jesus. She tells them that the Messiah has, indeed come. That God has visited his people. While this little passage is all we have when it comes to information about Anna, we can be sure that people listened to her prophecy. Luke says that she was quite old, having been a widow for 84 years. She was always in the temple. She was certainly a woman who was well-regarded as faithful and pious. When she spoke, people likely listened to her. Here she speaks the most marvelous things of all as she bears witness to Christ, who he is, and what he will do.
After everything was fulfilled according to the Law of Moses, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus returned to Nazareth. This may seem, at first glance, to contradict the timeline that we usually picture when it comes to the early life of Christ. This visit to the temple is taking place when Jesus is just 40 days old, for that is the time appointed for baby boys to be presented in the temple. Mary and Joseph made the sacrifice of 2 turtledoves to redeem Jesus because he was the firstborn son of Mary. We know, from Matthew’s Gospel, that the toddler Jesus was taken from Bethlehem to Egypt to escape King Herod’s plot to kill him before returning to Bethlehem for a time before they eventually settled back in Nazareth. Luke’s gospel seems to indicate that the move to Nazareth happened when Jesus was still an infant. Just because Luke leaves out the flight to Egypt doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, though. Luke does not specify how much time elapsed between the time that Jesus was presented at the temple and encountered Simeon and Anna and when his family moved to Nazareth. He simply writes that they did move to Nazareth.
When they did return to Nazareth, Jesus grew strong in the Spirit, full of wisdom, and the grace of God was with him. Jesus, on account of him being true God, was already full of wisdom, but as he grows, the glory of God is revealed more and more in him. We’ll see this as we get into the season of Epiphany. Jesus reveals himself as true God and true man more and more as he performs multiple miracles and shows, through his teaching, the wisdom of God that he has. The birth of Jesus, as marvelous as it was, was just the beginning. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, grows strong in the spirit and reveals himself more and more for us that just as the fullness of God dwelt in him, he might dwell in us.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.