Our text is today’s Gospel (Luke 2:25–40): 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that 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 his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. (ESV)
This past September, as part of our tour of Central Europe, Sandy and I visited Auschwitz in Poland. Walking the grounds of the former concentration camp, one cannot help but be sad and somber as one reflects on the horrors that were committed there. How does one make sense of it all? Well, that morning I encountered two attempts to make sense of suffering.
First, I passed a woman wearing a t-shirt with a slogan emblazoned in large letters. The slogan read: “Follow your dreams and they will come true!”. I felt like stopping that woman in her tracks and saying: “really, of all the things you could have worn to a concentration camp, you chose to wear that? “Follow your dreams”—is that the advice you would have given to the inmates of this camp?”
And then, when our tour group was back on the bus, our tour guide summarized the whole experience by saying: “well, perhaps one thing we can take away from this visit is that no matter how bad you think you may have it, it could always be worse”.
There you have it—two of the world’s attempts to deal with suffering and evil. But in today’s Gospel, we have God’s way, how God would have us live as we journey though the valley of the shadow of death. God gives us two saints of old—Simeon and Anna—to show us the way, how we are to live as God’s holy people in an unholy world. And this way can be summarize in one word: “wait”.
Our lives often revolve around waiting. We are waiting either for the end of some affliction or for the start of something good. Our problem is that we make this earthly waiting the focus of our lives. Our thoughts and emotions are consumed by waiting in dread or waiting in joyful anticipation. Whether we are dreading an upcoming surgery or looking forward to a vacation, our focus is on waiting for something to either end or start.
There are at least two problems with building our lives around earthly waiting. First, we may be utterly disappointed. We wait for an affliction to come to an end, but it may remain with us until we die. We wait for a much-anticipated vacation, but something may happen that forces us to cancel the trip. And then, secondly and more seriously, our focus on earthly waiting takes our focus away from God. We start to think and to live as if earthly matters matter most.
But dear Saint Simeon and Saint Anna are teaching us this morning that earthly matters do not matter most. What truly matters most is the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem. Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel and Anna spoke of the Christ Child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. This is the kind of waiting you and I are to focus on each and every day.
How are we to live as God’s holy people in an unholy world? Earlier, I had given a one-word answer: “wait”. But now I need to expand upon that answer. As we live in Christ, we wait, but we always wait in hope. In this world, we wait sometimes in despair. We wait, hoping for good news from the doctor but perhaps also expecting not-so-good news. But when God tells us to wait for His redemption, then we can rest assured that God intends for us to wait in hope. When it comes to our salvation, there is no despair to our waiting but only hope.
As God’s holy people living in an unholy world, we wait in hope. But there is more. We wait for the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem. Now, of course, we do not mean here modern day Israel and Jerusalem. The resurrection of Jesus has brought about the New Israel, which is the Church of Christ. And His Good News of salvation is for all people—Jews and Gentiles. As Christians, we wait for the same consolation for which God’s people of old were waiting. We wait for all the gifts God gives in giving us the Christ Child. The consolation and redemption God gives us in Christ gives us hope and comfort even in the greatest of afflictions. It is the comfort of sins forgiven, as Isaiah had prophesied: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins (40:1-2).
Now, there is a sense in which we are no longer waiting for God’s consolation. For the
fullness of time [has already] come, God [has already] sent forth his Son…to redeem [us}…[and we have already] receive[d] adoption as sons (Galatians 4: 4-5). We are already redeemed, saved, in Christ. And in Holy Baptism, we have already been adopted as sons of God and heirs of heaven. And thus we have already received God’s consolation.
But there is a sense in which God’s consolation and redemption of sinners in Christ is not yet complete. You see, the full consolation of God and the redemption, the salvation, which Jesus won for us through His death and resurrection—God’s consolation and redemption will only be full and complete when He raises and glorifies our bodies on the Last Day. And so you and I are truly still waiting for God’s consolation and redemption with the same holy longing of Saint Simeon and Saint Anna.
How are we to live as God’s holy people in an unholy world? Well, not by focusing on following earthly dreams or by finding our ultimate comfort and consolation in the things of this world. Rather, in an unholy world filled with great evil, we live as God’s holy people rejoicing in the forgiveness, life, and salvation which we already have now in Christ Jesus. And as we rejoice in God’s gift of salvation now, we also wait in holy longing for the fullness of God’s consolation and redemption. In this world, you have your struggles and sorrows. But as you live confessing that you will be with your Lord Jesus in Paradise on the day you die and that on the Last Day God will raise up and glorify your body and reunite your body and soul for all eternity, then you can cope with the suffering and evil of this fallen world. For you know that your present afflictions cannot compare with the eternal glory which is yours in Christ.
And with that holy perspective on suffering, you can say with Saint Simeon: Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation. Actually, the English translation is rather weak. What Simeon really said was: Master, now You are setting Your servant free according to Your Word in peace. It is not just that Jesus is letting you depart, as if He were dismissing you from His presence. Rather, Jesus is setting you free. And that is a much stronger image.
For starters, we must consider to whom Simeon is speaking. Normally, he would pray with his eyes looking to heaven and his hands upraised. But right at the moment, his hands are full. He has taken up in his arms the child Jesus. And so, do you see? Simeon is addressing his words to the Child in his arms. Simeon is calling Baby Jesus his Lord and Master, and himself a servant, a slave to Baby Jesus.
And then, Simeon is attributing great things to this little Child. “Jesus, Master, You are setting me free”. That is why God’s Son became Man, to set us free from condemnation and sin, free from suffering and evil, free from death and hell.
While he speaks these words, Simeon is rejoicing because he knows that God is keeping His Word. “Jesus, Master, You are setting me free according to Your Word. The promise You made long ago to save sinners—that promise is now coming true.”
And finally, Simeon speaks of the peace which the Christ Child came to bring. We like to think of Christ’s peace as a peace for us individually—peace between God and me. But the peace of which Simeon speaks is a cosmic peace. It is a peace greater than just your personal relationship with God, as wonderful as that is. Rather, when you were adopted by God in Holy Baptism, you entered into a peace that pervades the entire Kingdom of God. It is not just peace inside you or even your peace with God. Rather, it is God’s peace that rules throughout His entire Kingdom of grace. Imagine that you are living in a war-torn country. Bullets flying through the air and bombs being dropped from the sky are a daily occurrence, so that you are living under constant distress. But then, someone delivers you out of that war-torn country and brings you safely into a country where peace reigns. Wherever you go throughout that land, you encounter people living in peace. That is what God has done from you— He has delivered [you] from the domain of darkness and transferred [you] to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom [you] have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14). And living in God’s Kingdom of peace, you do not allow your struggles to distress you; rather, the Holy Spirit works in you so that you cry out “Abba! Father!” in the Name of the Son.
How are we to live as God’s holy people in an unholy world? Well, by God’s grace, we live devout lives as did Simeon and Anna. One aspect of being devout includes being on guard, keeping careful watch. Simeon was devout in his keeping watch for God’s consolation, and Anna kept watch through her fasting and praying. And how do we keep watch? Well, God is calling us to live devout lives by being on guard and keeping careful watch against anything that would lead us away from trusting in God’s consolation. And that is why God calls His children to gather together every Lord’s Day around His Holy Word and Supper. It is the way God would have us live devout lives—by affirming that we are righteous in God’s sight only through Christ, by confessing that we have sinned through our not looking to God for consolation, by trusting that God forgives us for the sake of Christ, and by being renewed through Word and Sacrament so that we look past our struggles and this world’s pleasures to God’s comfort and consolation in Christ. And having been forgiven and renewed in the faith, we tell God once again that we are ready, that He may set us free to depart this world in peace at any time. We may not be alive to receive the Lord’s Supper next Sunday. But that is okay. For we die as we live, rejoicing in and waiting for God’s consolation.
How are we to live as God’s holy people in an unholy world? Well, we live by singing Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis, and confessing Christ’s redemption, as did Anna. And as we join in the song and confession of Simeon and Anna, we receive a joy that no one can take from us, a joy that is mightier than our sorrows and struggles. For by God’s grace, we call Jesus our Master, our Lord, and we confess ourselves to be His servants and God’s adopted sons and thus heirs of heaven. We have already received the consolation of sins forgiven. And we are currently waiting in hope for the consolation of the resurrection of the body to life everlasting. Behold what consolation is ours because the Christ Child laid down His life and bore all our sins on the cross. In Christ, we see the salvation of God, for Christ has set us free from the eternal horror we deserved to suffer. And the day is coming when Christ our Lord will set us free to depart this world in peace, knowing that He will receive us with the eternal consolation of life in heaven with Him. Amen.