Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Sunday after Christmas + December 30, 2018
Forty days after Jesus’ birth, He was brought to the temple according to the Levitical Law. Also there at the temple is a man named Simeon. A righteous man, to whom the Holy Spirit revealed that he would not die until seeing the Lord’s Christ. And this day will be that day.
I suppose Simeon could’ve taken that promise and ran with it. He knows the Christ is coming to Israel. That’s what God promised through the prophets. Might be a great time to go see the world. Visit Rome, Visit the East. See how big God’s world really is. He had all the time in the world—as long as he refused to look for the Lord’s Christ.
Turns out, that line of thinking is prevalent today. Somehow, this world of ours started believing that we could avoid death. Any time the day of death threatens to show, all we have to do is hide our faces, close our eyes, and go to a happier place. If we just look elsewhere everything will turn out fine. If we look elsewhere, we’ll have all the time in the world to enjoy ourselves.
So we refuse to talk about death. We insist that funerals be a “celebration of life.” We demand that the dying aren’t told the truth of their condition, for their own good. We lie to our relatives because we don’t want them to worry or grieve with us. And we pretend that moment of death never actually happens to anyone. Only the before and after. Here happy with us, or there, happy with Jesus. Nobody actually dies in the world’s eyes, because no one has seen it happen. It’s scary and unknown, and it’s out of our control. Ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is to never die.
This is one of the biggest reasons why the world hates Jesus. Because to see Jesus is to see death. You cannot look at Jesus, hanging there on that cross, and not talk about death. Maybe that’s part of the reason plain crosses without a corpus are so popular. Then the cross can be a symbol of a tepid Christianity that strives only to make its adherents happy. But, you cannot look at Jesus, with the nails in His hands and feet, and think it’s a celebration of life. You can’t look at Jesus, saying “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” and hide the truth of death away. You can’t look at Jesus giving up His Spirit with a great shout, and pretend death doesn’t really happen. You can’t look at Jesus and be ignorant about death any longer. So the world refuses to look for the Lord’s Christ.
But here stands Simeon. He hadn’t escaped. He hadn’t refused to look. Simeon came to temple, probably every day, hoping to see the sign of the consolation of Israel, like a kid who checks the front porch every day for an expected package. Yes it would also mean his imminent demise. That was the price it cost to see the Lord’s Christ. And this, he saw Him with his own eyes in flesh and blood. He held Him in his own arms. There would be no way to avoid death now. No way to pretend it wasn’t at his door. Simeon only had moments left to live. And he knew it. And this is what he said.
Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the sight of every people. A light to reveal you to the Gentiles and glory to your people Israel.
Don’t misunderstand. Simeon wasn’t at peace with death. And don’t you be either. For God Himself is not at peace with death. And Jesus’ own death was anything but peaceful. The reason death and Jesus are so intertwined is because death is what Jesus came both to do and to destroy. Jesus dies. And that is the very center of the Christian faith. Jesus dies. And that is how our sins are forgiven. Jesus dies. And that is how He is with us always. Jesus dies. And that is what had to happen first before there could ever be a resurrection.
Simeon is not at peace with death. Simeon is at peace with God. For He held in his own arms, he saw with his own eyes in flesh and blood, God’s salvation from death for him. Because of this infant Jesus, all who die will live again. You will live again. That’s why we use this text at funerals. Because those words of Simeon are about the victory over death that Jesus won for us through His resurrection. That’s why we also use this text in the liturgy. After communion, after we have held Jesus in our hands, seen Him in flesh and blood, we too can say, Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.
The world is afraid to look at death. Afraid that they might be taken next. Afraid that they might have to deal with the pain, the tears, the grief. So we’re asked only to remember the happy times. Only to bring up the good stories. Celebrate. Be happy. Anything to chase death away.
Therefore the world is afraid to look at a Jesus who dies. Refuses to look for the Lord’s Christ. Even though in that death, all the things they fear die with Him. Even though death comes for all, no matter how deep they hide their head in the sand. If all we remember of Jesus are the happy times. If all we bring up are the good stories. If all we do is celebrate. If all we look for is to be happy, then there is no Gospel. There is no good news. There is no need for Jesus. Because there is no need to conquer death.
We look to Jesus, even
though to do so is to see death. Because we’re no longer afraid to look at
death. Even our own. Because we have seen Jesus fight death head on and
win. And that victory, that resurrection
is ours through Him. We have seen the salvation of our God with our own eyes.
Therefore we depart now, and will depart then, in His peace, according to His
Word, both after we see Him in His Body and Blood today given and shed for us,
and when we pass from this life. The
sting of death has been removed by Jesus’ own death, and what remains for us is
His resurrection…our resurrection which we anticipate on the Last Day. Thanks be to God! Amen.
 Matthew 27:46, Psalm 22:1
 John 19:30, Matthew 15:37