Grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This Sunday has many celebrations attached to it, because of the short Christmas season this year. Some years we have more than one week between Christmas and Epiphany – but not this year. So, we have to choose what we will celebrate, of all the options. This Sunday could be celebrated as Epiphany, but we are saving that for next week. Or we could celebrate New Year’s with a reading from the end of Matthew, in which Jesus is not only grown up, but has died and risen from the dead. It’s a little soon for that, I think.
So, today we celebrate the first Sunday of Christmas. Actually, it is the only Sunday of Christmas. And we get to hear a little more about baby Jesus from the beginning of the Gospel of Luke. Jesus is still a baby. I guess, this year, I just wanted to stay at the manger with the baby for a little while. I love babies. I thoroughly enjoyed my children when they were little, tiny babies. So full of potential, so sweet and innocent, and cute too.
At least I thought they were cute at the time. Looking back at those first baby pictures, I’m not sure I was really seeing them clearly. Maybe it was mother love, but that very first picture of the pink wrinkled face… the poor things look a little squished and scrunched, not exactly beautiful. Some babies just need a little time to grow into those cute roly-poly bundles we can't get enough of.
When Mary and Joseph went to the temple in Jerusalem, baby Jesus was about 40 days old. They were following the rituals of their faith, making an offering on behalf of Mary, and dedicating Jesus, their firstborn child, to the service of God. Since they were poor and couldn’t afford a lamb, they offered two turtle doves.
Like many first time parents, Mary and Joseph were probably very protective of their newborn. So it’s surprising then, that Mary and joseph didn’t object when this strange old man, Simeon, took the baby in his arms. They must have seen something in his eyes. Or maybe they could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in him. In fact, the Gospel tells us he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Simeon was waiting for the Messiah. He had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died.
But then he says something strange, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” These words are familiar to us because we often sing them during Sunday worship after Communion. We sing with gratitude that God has kept the promise of eternal life. We have seen and do see the promise of the Resurrection in the bread and wine of Communion.
Simeon’s statement is joyful, but also uncomfortable to hear, because it seems Simeon, having seen the promised Messiah, is asking to die. Here we are, in the middle of celebrating Jesus’s birth, and the Gospel begins talking about death. How strange! Except, of course, it isn’t really strange, is it? We know where the story of Jesus’s life is headed. And after all, Christmas is a time when we, if we are honest with ourselves, experience both joy and sorrow.
We are reminded of times gone by, and people who are no longer with us – by the hymns and carols we sing, maybe a special ornament on the Christmas tree, or even the meal that just isn’t the same without Aunt Mary’s special stuffing.
Simeon, being an old man, has likely experienced many of these same emotions. We can imagine that he has tasted love and loss, joy and despair, hope and fear, just like you and me. Is that why Simeon can speak so honestly? Because he has experienced so much of life and death? If we listen to Simeon’s song, we can hear the real reason. “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Simeon was promised he would see the Messiah before he died. And now that promise has been fulfilled. And notice – the promise is for all people, both Jews and Gentiles! So Simeon’s song is really one of hope and joy. And a reminder that the promise of the baby in the manger holds true for us. We can share that love with everyone we know! Amen.