Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
December 31, 2023
Simeon took the baby Jesus into his arms and blessed God. Why did Simeon bless God? Because God had fulfilled His promise and let Simeon see the Christ. What does it mean that Simeon got to see the Christ? It means that he got to see the one God anointed to be the Savior of the world. St. Paul puts it succinctly, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent for His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5).
When the fullness of time had come, that is, when God chose from eternity to fulfill what He had promised through the prophets. God sent forth His only begotten Son, who was with Him from the beginning and who is God from the beginning. Born of a woman; God was born of a woman. God now has a mother. The virgin conceived and bore a Son, Immanuel, which means, God with us. This fulfills what God spoke in the garden of Eden, that He would put enmity between the woman and the serpent, and between the woman’s seed and the serpent’s seed. The serpent would bruise the heel of the seed of the woman, but He would crush the serpent’s head. (Genesis 3:15) God’s Son was born of a woman, fulfilling the promise to the people of Israel, that one descended from Abraham and David would bless all nations, and yet being born of a woman, He was born for all peoples. He is the Savior of the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
He was born under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law. That is why Jesus is in the temple. He is there to do what is prescribed in the law, by being presented before the Lord and having a sacrifice offered to God. Yet, already at eight-days-old, Jesus had begun His subjection under the Law. He was circumcised (Luke 2:21). St. Paul tells us that whoever accepts circumcision is obligated to keep the whole Law. (Galatians 5:3). So, this little baby Jesus is obligated to keep the whole Law. This is important, because He actually does it! Jesus fulfills the entire Law. This is called His active obedience. Jesus does in human flesh what we human beings have failed to do!
Why does Jesus submit Himself to the Law? To redeem us who were under the Law. Scripture again says, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law and do them.” (Galatians 3:10; Dt. 27:26). This describes our situation. We are born under the Law. Everyone born of woman is born under the Law, because the Law is what God our Creator demands of us. This New Year is a good time to examine how we have lived under God’s Law. What New Year’s resolutions did you make last year? Did you resolve that you would sin less? You should have. Well, did you sin less? Did you become more devoted to God’s Word? Did you take control of your temper, your lusts, and your bad habits? Have you filled the unforgiving minute with sixty-seconds distance run? Or have you waisted the time and talents God has given you? Have you abided by all things written in the Book of the Law? No? Then you are cursed.
But Jesus did abide by everything written in the Book of the Law, even as an infant. Yet, it is Jesus who was cursed by the Law on the tree. This is how Christ redeemed us. He paid our debts. He lived in our human flesh as we should have lived, yet He suffered the punishment we should have suffered. This is called His passive obedience. This is why Simeon sings praise to God at Jesus’ presence. Seeing Jesus is seeing His salvation, and not only His salvation, but salvation for all peoples, to the Jew first, but also for the Gentile.
Although Jesus is the salvation prepared in the presence of all people, and a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Israel, He is appointed for the rise and fall of many. He is a sign that is opposed, that is, spoken against. People are offended at this Christ and at the Redemption He brings. They are offended at His incarnation, that a man is God in the flesh, that our God can be found in a manger, on a cross, and in a tomb. They are offended at His suffering, that their Savior comes in such humility that He suffers death on a cross. They are embarrassed to claim Him as their Lord. They are offended that He offers free salvation through the forgiveness of sins, and not based on their own works. They want to be praised for their works, so God’s grace to forgive apart from works for Christ’s sake offends them. They are offended at the means by which Christ gives them His grace, because they must be received through faith and not through rationalistic human reason. They are offended that He offers forgiveness and rebirth in Baptism, that He promises forgiveness of sins through the mouth of a man, and that He offers His own body and blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is a sign that is opposed, because people do not want to receive Him through faith.
And we could shake our heads at the shame of it all, and say, “tsk, tsk,” at those others who are opposed to Christ. But you don’t have to look that far to see opposition to Christ. Just look at your own heart. Your own sinful heart has risen in opposition to Christ, and you have seen this by how you have chosen your sins over Christ again and again. You have valued the things of this world over Christ. You have refused to say in your heart, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace,” because you have been too in love with this world to depart it in peace. Instead of praying, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly,” you pray, “Not now, Lord. Come later.”
And so, you should see your pressing need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, as Simeon is, so that you can rejoice at the sight of Christ. And you should see your own pressing need to crucify your flesh with its sinful desires and renew your commitment to Christ. As we close another year, we get to say goodbye to our former sins, and commit ourselves to Christ again, marveling at the words spoken by Simeon, that here stands our Savior.
Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce through her soul also. This means two things. First, historically, Mary would experience great anguish as she stands beneath the cross of her own Son, watching helplessly as He dies in excruciating pain. As only a mother knows, she feels that spear in her own heart as she watches her Son stabbed to confirm His death on the cross. Secondly, there is a spiritual meaning to these words. Mary is a type of the Christian Church (that is, she represents it). She marvels at the words about Christ and ponders them in her heart. And so, the Christian Church is where Christ’s word is marveled and treasured. As Jesus is pierced through, so is Christ’s Church pierced through. As Jesus is spoken against, so His Church is spoken against. And so, Christians should expect persecution from the world, which opposes Jesus.
And yet, even in the midst of persecution, Christ’s Church rejoices. With Simeon and Anna and with Jesus’ parents, she marvels at the words of Christ, she blesses God for His salvation shown in Jesus, she tells everyone who will listen about this Redeemer. And so, the Christian Church joins Simeon in singing His song of deliverance.
This is one of the greatest things the Lutheran Church did for the Western Liturgy. We added Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis, as a Post-Communion Canticle. Every time we receive Communion, we sing, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant, depart in peace, according to Thy Word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.” When we receive the Lord’s Supper, we are prepared to die! We have received everything we could possibly need or want. The same Christ, whom Simeon held in his arms, has come to us, having redeemed us from all our sins. In this meal, we receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Having received such promises, we are ready to die. None of our sins can make us fear death. And no treasure in this world can keep our hearts back from going to Him, who bought us.
What is perhaps even greater, we have added Simeon’s song to the rite of the Commendation of the Dying. When you are dying and your loved ones call the pastor to give you your final blessing, he will sing Simeon’s son, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant, depart in peace.” Having received the forgiveness of sins, we are not afraid to die. We go to the Lord’s Supper as if we are going to death, so that we go to death, as if we are going to the Lord’s Supper. Christ is all we need here in this life, so we are not afraid to leave this life to be with Christ. It is the greatest privilege to sing the Nunc Dimittis with Simeon. It is the greatest privilege to not be afraid of death, because you have already received your reward through faith.
As we approach the end of a year and the beginning of a new one, we hope to be better Christians in the coming year. We hope to put off the works of darkness and walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. We have greater concerns than New Year’s resolutions about dieting, quitting smoking, exercising, or reading more books. Our concern is to grow closer to Christ and to live lives pleasing to Him; to not live as slaves of sin, but as children of God.
Yet, this song of Simeon reminds us that Christ has already fulfilled the Law for us. This does not give us an excuse to go on sinning, so that grace may abound. Quite the contrary. We sing the song of Simeon as a confession that we are ready to leave this world behind with all its sins and false gods. But we rejoice that our sins will not drag us down. Christ has fulfilled the Law for us. He has paid our debts on the cross. We have seen His salvation and tasted that He is good. Christ knows your sins and your failed resolutions, your doubts and embarrassing secrets of your heart, and He still loves you and forgives you. And so, as we embark into a New Year, we see the goal of this next year completed in Christ. We cannot achieve a single resolution without Him. The Law is forever unfulfilled without Him. Our sins and damnation cling to us forever without Him. But when we have Christ, when we have received His grace through faith, our resolutions are complete, the Law is fulfilled in us, our salvation is accomplished. We find Christ with His grace in His Word and Sacraments. So, when we receive Christ in His Word and Sacrament, we are ready to depart this world, because we have a treasure much greater.
Let us pray,
Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant, depart in peace, according to Thy Word. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people. A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.