Our guest preacher at St. Peter and Bethel this morning is none other than Stefan Gramenz, member of St. Peter and seminary student in the final year of his Master of Divinity Studies. What a pleasure and blessing to have him around for the holidays!
This Sunday, like the Sunday just after Easter, is usually a little anticlimactic - it doesn’t seem to measure up to the happiness and the excitement of Christmas a few days ago. Then, we sang all of the hymns that everyone waits for all year, we heard the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke’s Gospel, and many of our families got together and observed our usual Christmas traditions: eating, and opening gifts, and everything else we love about Christmas.
But what about now? The angels are nowhere in sight, the shepherds have gone back to their sheep, and that manger that Jesus was laying in is being used as a feeding trough again. And for us, it’s back to ordinary, everyday life. Back to school, back to work, back from vacation. And so it is for the holy family in the Gospel lesson today. They’re back to everyday life, back to the ordinary way of doing things. They’ve left Bethlehem, and they’ve gone up to Jerusalem and into the temple, so that they can fulfill the Law of God that said that every firstborn male must be presented in the temple to the Lord God.
And so we come to Simeon. Like the holy family, Simeon was not any ordinary man. St. Luke tells us that Simeon was unique: the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
Can you imagine what life must have been like for Simeon? He lived every day knowing that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Christ. He went to sleep every night and opened his eyes every morning with the hope and expectation that today could be the day! Today could be the day that he would finally see the Christ. In a way, Simeon stands in for all the faithful people of God over the centuries. From Adam and Eve to Abraham and David and Isaiah, God promised that he would send the Christ to save his people. So Simeon stands there, himself representing all the Old Testament people of God who waited and watched, morning and night, for the coming of the Christ. All the people who lived under the Law of God, to whom God had promised the Messiah, and who had died trusting in that promise.
And so Simeon stands there in the temple, waiting; the last in a long line of the faithful who have waited for the Christ. But this Christ isn’t like anything that anyone ever expected. This Christ didn’t return to his temple in a blaze of glory and triumph, so that everyone would know that he had arrived. No, he returns as an infant, just like any other boy. Simeon only knows who he is because the Holy Spirit told him. So Simeon comes to meet the Holy Family, and the three of them - Simeon, Mary, and Joseph - stand together, holding Jesus, in the middle of the ordinary crowds of people coming and going and praying and making sacrifices and offering incense. Nobody else knows. Nobody else realizes what is happening.
We’re not all that different. Here we are, gathered in the presence of Christ: a few people who have stopped what they are doing, who have put our lives on hold, and have come here, because Jesus holds our attention. While others have moved on from Christmas, while others go on with their ordinary lives and jobs, we realize that Jesus is still here, and that we aren’t done with Christmas yet. We’re only on the seventh day of Christmas, after all.
And the Holy Spirit isn’t quite done with Simeon yet. He’s told Simeon that this child is the one, and now Simeon turns to Mary, and speaks again, saying, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel.” Because Christmas isn’t all about stars and angels and shepherds. Christmas is about Jesus, about the God who is incarnate, who takes on human flesh and becomes a Child. And this child, this Jesus, will be the cause of people falling and rising, dying and being resurrected. The coming of Christ means death for the old ways of life - no more animal sacrifices, no more presentation of firstborn boys in the temple, no more burnt offerings. The coming of Christ means that the kingdom of God is expanding beyond the borders of Israel. It means new life and new hope for the whole world.
And now one more person in the temple notices. An eighty-four-year-old woman named Anna, who stays in the temple night and day, fasting and praying. She, too, sees Jesus. And she, like the shepherds before her, cannot contain her joy, but goes out and tells the whole city about the Christ, and about the coming redemption of God.
And now you find yourself in the place of Anna and Simeon. You find yourself in the house of God, ready to approach the presence of Jesus in his holy sacrament. You see the incarnation again, as Jesus descends from heaven and takes his place beneath the forms of bread and wine. But you, unlike Simeon, don’t gather up an infant in your arms. You receive Jesus in your mouth.
So do as Simeon did, and receive him here in faith and in joy. Then live as Simeon lived. Wake up every morning with the joy that today could be the day your Savior returns. Live as Anna lived, waiting out your life in prayer and fasting and telling others about Jesus. And when you die, die as Simeon died. Depart in peace, knowing that the same Lord that you have seen here beneath a veil, you will see one day face to face with your own eyes.