Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is the Gospel Reading from Luke 2. We will be focusing specifically on verses 22-35.
1. In our text, we hear the famous story of Simeon. It’s the interaction with Simeon which causes this Gospel Reading to be so well-known. But, the reason why Simeon even enters Luke’s Gospel account at this point is because Joseph and Mary have taken the baby Jesus to the temple in order to fulfill the law of the Lord regarding the presentation of Jesus and the purification of Mary. By the time this text begins, it has been 40 days since the birth of Jesus, despite the fact that in our own experience we were just celebrating Jesus’ birth yesterday. But in our text it has been 40 days since the birth of Jesus. And this is important because this was precisely what was required by the law of Moses. Leviticus chapter 12 prescribes how purification following childbirth was to take place. Eight days after a male child was born, he was to be circumcised, at which time he was traditionally named. In the verse immediately preceding our text, we see this happening exactly. Then 32 days later (a total of 40 days after the birth), the woman was to present herself at the temple and offer appropriate sacrifices to complete her purification. In addition, there is instruction in Exodus 13 that every firstborn male shall be shall be presented to the Lord. And so, at the beginning of our text, we read this:
And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they [Joseph & Mary] brought him [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:22-24).
In this portion of the text, we see that Luke goes to great lengths to demonstrate how Joseph and Mary (and by extension, the baby Jesus) are diligent to keep the law perfectly. And it couldn’t have been easy to do all of this. Having your first baby is stressful enough, but even more so in their situation when you factor in the travel for the census when Mary was 9 months pregnant and the less-than-ideal birthing conditions. Even in one of the most stressful seasons of life that you could possibly imagine, they are diligent to keep the law perfectly.
2. In verse 25 we are introduced to the man Simeon. He is seemingly an old man who has been faithfully waiting for the Messiah, whom he was promised to see by the Holy Spirit. We read:
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. 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. And he came in the Spirit to the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:25-32).
Now, notice the first details we are told about Simeon—he is righteous and devout and has been waiting for the consolation of Israel. He is waiting for the consolation of Israel. It’s easy to skim over this phrase in order to focus on the incredible things that follow, namely Simeon holding the baby Jesus in his arms and praying the beautiful prayer that we have come to know as the Nunc Dimittis. But this detail that Simeon has been waiting for the consolation of Israel is important. What does “the consolation of Israel” mean? Well, a synonym for “consolation” is “comfort.” So to put it differently, Simeon has been waiting for the “comfort of Israel.” Ah! Now we’re starting to get somewhere. Those words, “comfort of Israel” should remind you of the famous words of Isaiah chapter 40:
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 (Isaiah 40:1-2).
This is what Simeon is waiting for. He is waiting for the comfort of Israel when the voice of God will speak tenderly to Jerusalem that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned. This is the comfort or consolation that Simeon is waiting for. The reason I can say this confidently is that the word “consolation” in Luke 2 and the word “comfort” in Isaiah 40 are from the same word: παρακαλέω (parakaleō)—comfort. Simeon was waiting for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy when Israel would be comforted by the message of peace and salvation which would replace sin and warfare.
3. But next we are told that Simeon had a pretty good idea what the comfort and consolation of Israel would entail. He knew that it wouldn’t be as simple as some guy showing up and saying, “Here you go!” There would be suffering and sacrifice involved for the one who would bring this comfort and consolation. Beginning in verse 33 of our text, we read:
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 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 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:33-35).
Just moments earlier when Simeon had sung his beautiful Nunc Dimittis song, he had said, Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. He has seen the salvation of Israel. In fact, he is holding the salvation of Israel in his hands, but as these next words make clear, that salvation hasn’t fully come yet. The comfort and consolation that the Messiah would bring wasn’t fully here yet. Simeon knew that the comfort and consolation of Israel would be achieved by what Jesus would do in his life. He also knew that this comfort and consolation would only be won at great cost. This is why Simeon warns Mary: And a sword will pierce through your own soul also. Mary’s soul would be pierced, metaphorically, of course, as her son was literally pierced on the cross. This cute baby Jesus was not born to bring comfort and consolation from the manger. He was born to bring comfort and consolation from the cross. Jesus’ brutal suffering and death must be in view even at Christmas because it is only through the cross that comfort and consolation can come to God’s people.
4. At Christmas time, most of us would rather not focus on the cross. We would rather think about the shepherds out in the fields who hear the angels proclaim peace on earth and good will to men because of the Savior’s birth. We would rather think about the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. We would rather think about how God has come to be with us. But the cross…can’t we save that for Lent and Holy Week? The truth is, we would rather focus on something other than the cross because Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross is a reminder of our sinfulness which put him there. Christmas time is supposed to be a time of peace and joy. But the truth is, without the cross there can be no true peace and joy—certainly not peace and joy that endures. Without the cross, we’re left with a Christmas time filled with nothing more than empty sentiments and hollow traditions. The cross is uncomfortable, but it is the cross which gives Christmas its meaning. The cross confronts our sinfulness by reminding us that we are chief contributors to the brokenness of this world. The cross confronts our sinfulness by reminding us that it is for our sins that Christ suffered and died. Without the cross, we would never have true peace and joy. Without the cross we would be hopelessly left to live in our own sin and brokenness. Without the cross, there would be no comfort and consolation for broken sinners like you and me. This is why the cross gives Christmas its meaning. Because Jesus went to the cross to suffer and die for our sins, his birth is a source of comfort and consolation.
5. But just as was the case for Simeon, the comfort and consolation which Jesus’ birth brings to us is a comfort and consolation which hasn’t fully come yet. Our eternal comfort and consolation haven’t fully come yet, but they are just as guaranteed for us today as they were for Simeon when he held the Savior in his arms. I can say this for two reasons. First, Our eternal comfort and consolation are guaranteed because Jesus has given us the Comforter. If you’re familiar with John’s Gospel, then you probably know what I mean by this. If not, then let me explain. Remember how I said that the word “consolation” in Luke 2 and the word “comfort” in Isaiah 40 are from the same word? Well, the word which Jesus uses to describe the Holy Spirit in John 14, 15, & 16 is also from the same word: παράκλητος (paraklētos). This is why some Bible translations have been known to refer to the Holy Spirit as the paraclete. The Holy Spirit is the comforter. This is why Jesus said in John 16: “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit is the one who brings true comfort and consolation to God’s people on this side of eternity. This is the first reason why our eternal comfort and consolation are guaranteed: because Jesus has given us the Comforter.
6. The second reason is this: Our eternal comfort and consolation are guaranteed because our hands have held and our eyes have seen the salvation of the Lord. There is a reason why we sing Simeon’s famous Nunc Dimittis song immediately after receiving Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. This past week I ran across a picture online. Actually, it was two pictures compared side-by-side. On the left side was a picture of the old man Simeon from our Gospel Reading. His hands were extended as he held the baby Jesus in his arms. On the right side was the picture of two hands extended, the right hand being held open in the left hand. In the middle of the right palm was a round Communion wafer, engraved with a cross. Across the bottom, spanning both pictures were the words: My eyes have seen your salvation. This is the second reason why our eternal comfort and consolation are guaranteed: Jesus comes to us in the Lord’s Supper. At the altar, our eyes behold the salvation of God. The cross accomplishes it. The Sacrament delivers it. The Comforter seals it. Our eternal comfort and consolation are guaranteed through Jesus who was born at Christmas so that he might win our salvation at the cross. Thanks be to God!
In the name of Jesus. Amen.