December 27, 2020 First Sunday of Christmas The text is Luke 2:22-40.
22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeoncame into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The church calendar commemorates this morning as the first Sunday of Christmas. God has broken into the world in the person of Christ Jesus, Mary’s baby, born in the manger in Bethlehem. Luke recounts that she and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to be presented in the temple in Jerusalem. This event would have taken place 40 days after Jesus’ birth. Jewish Law required that a first-born son was to be presented in the temple and thus be dedicated to God. This requirement has its origins in the miracle of the Hebrew Passover. While the first-born of the Egyptians who held the Israelites in slavery were struck down, the Jewish males held in bondage were spared by God’s mercy. Tradition required that an offering must be made at the temple to acknowledge that the baby would be dedicated to God in thanksgiving, and that his freedom was thus secured.
St. Paul makes it clear in this morning’s letter to the Galatians, that Jesus was in fact bound by this pious Jewish tradition. And that his parents, Mary and Joseph were themselves devout followers of the Torah. Paul writes, “that God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God”. Thus, Jesus is brought to the temple and the offering is made to secure his position as a free first-born Jewish male.
An additional aspect of Luke’s Gospel is the specific mention that the offering to God at the temple consisted of two small birds; pigeons or turtledoves. Most often, the sacrifice would be a lamb; the payment of two small birds was the least that could be offered by a newborn child’s parents.
And this was an indication that it was the most that Joseph and Mary could afford, as they strove to comply with their religious obligation; Jesus was born in a lowly animal feeding trough and the first example of his religious responsibility was also immersed in poverty. His lifelong mission to serve the poor that he encountered was rooted in this first poverty driven action taken by his parents.
As his parents are presenting Jesus at the temple, we read that they are approached by Simeon, a strictly religious man, whom the Holy Spirit has told he would meet the Messiah before Simeon died. As soon as he saw Jesus it was confirmed to him that this was, in fact the Son of God. We must assume that Simeon was an old man and that he has been waiting his entire life to be rewarded by God by being blessed by meeting God’s Anointed One. After he held the baby Jesus in his arms, he thanked God for the blessing he had received, and that he could now depart in peace. Which brings us back again to the waiting we have all done during Advent, when we waited with anticipation for the birth of Jesus. Now that we are firmly in the Christmas season, and have celebrated Christ’s birth, for us the waiting is now over; just as it was for Simeon.
And just as he knew that God would dismiss him in peace because of his revelation, we too have been blessed to depart in peace with our knowledge that the wait is over and the Son of God has come among us. And if this concept seems familiar it’s because every time we gather in worship, our dismissal is some version of, “go in peace”. We have come together to hear the Word of God, we have confessed our sinfulness, and we have engaged in worship of the Trinity. And the final act of our services is that we are admonished to depart from the gathering place, “in peace”. And even this morning, while we are not meeting in-person, we are still able to “go in peace” as we transition from worship to our lives beyond the confines of our virtual gathering place.
We should also remember that the peace we are blessed with is not confined to a line spoken at the end of the worship liturgy, but that this is simply a reminder that the peace of Christ is with us always. And that during worship we are called to offer a sign of Christ’s peace with one another.
So, are we simply sharing our wish that our sisters and brothers don’t find themselves in situations where there is discord, strife, or conflict in their lives? Is “go in peace” just a nice thing to say as we depart from one another; is this a religious version of, “have a nice day”? No, this is our fervent wish for others that they might truly feel the sense, the inbreaking of the peace that faith in Jesus Christ provides for those who believe in him. We pray that all might be overwhelmed with the same peace that Simeon felt when he cradled the infant Jesus in his arms in the temple. This is the very same peace that Christ bestowed upon the disciples, and us with these words, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” This is the peace that comes upon us as we ponder the nature of Christ and of God, as we are reassured that God’s promises will never be broken, and that the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ confirms this.
Thus, “Go in peace” is much more than a “have a nice day” kind of gesture. It’s rather more a reminder that we are saved by the work of the Christ who grants his peace to us, and that we are bound to live in response to this freedom by desiring this peace for others. Simeon’s prayer after encountering the infant Savior that he would be allowed to be “dismissed in peace” was acknowledgement that he was now ready to die, his lifelong wish having been granted by God. For us, our “going in peace” should serve as a reminder that we are tasked with living into lives that reflect our thanksgiving for the peace that we have inherited. The peace that is intertwined with God’s promises and Christ’s commands; and all that these mean for followers of the Way of Jesus.
For, if we live in faith and trust, the peace we long for will follow. The wait is over, the Savior is born, the sacrificial offering has been made, and Simeon knows he is now able to “go in peace”. God’s promise has been kept and we too are free to live as redeemed recipients of this promise. Free to hold this peace within ourselves and more importantly, to wish if for the world.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious and Holy God, you allowed Simeon to gaze upon your Son and to know that the world would be redeemed by his life, death, and rebirth. Bless us also with the knowledge that the peace that you granted Simeon is bestowed upon us, on all your children. And we pray these things the name of Jesus Christ, the One who provides the peace of the world. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.
Go in Peace!