Christmas 1, Proper B1
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 2:22-40 Sermon
December 28, 2014
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
92 "Now Sing We Now, Rejoice"
103 "To Shepherds As They Watched By Night"
645 "Behold A Branch Is Growing"
136 "Angels From The Realms Of Glory"
“DEPARTING IN PEACE”
Text (vs. 25-26): “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”
"Fill the air with joyful noise, ring the bells and raise your voice. Let there be peace on earth! Let there be peace on earth! Lift your light, let it shine. Shine, shine, shine! Let there be peace on earth! Let there be peace on earth!"
If you're anything like me, I've heard that song so much this year that it's beginning to wear a little thin. In order to explain this a bit more, let me set the scene. A young man is sitting at a grand piano. He is surrounded by a whole variety of different candles. He plays a four-measure introduction, and then he begins to sing the words I just quoted.
The commercial is for Glade candles; and according to him, the scent of Glade's "Sparkling Spruce" candle reminded him of his Christmases at home and the associated smells. That, along with the other limited edition winter collection candles consisting of "Merry Citrus Melody," "Apple Cinnamon Cheer," and "Frosted Cookie Party" gave him the inspiration to write a song entitled "This Is My Wish." The part we recognize that is used in the Glade commercial is the refrain, or chorus of that song.
The singer's name is Kevin Ross, a young Motown artist who has had a handful of hits. He lives inBoston, and is a song writing major at Berklee College of Music. He has been described as "something special," and has been compared professionally to Stevie Wonder and the late Donnie Hathaway. He is obviously a very talented individual, and he has been a great icon for Glade candles and the Johnson's Wax people, Glade's parent company.
In our Gospel lesson for today, we meet a man by the name of Simeon. He was inspired to write a song as well. It's a song we have come to know as the "Nunc Dimittis," which begins "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace." It's even part of our liturgy in the Communion and Vesper services. The words are very familiar to Christians. It's a song about peace; but unlike Kevin Ross's composition, it is more than just a wish. It is a statement of fact. It is a statement of something miraculous that he has now witnessed, right before his eyes. It is a song about the peace the Christ Child brings.
The topic of peace is a continual Biblical refrain throughout the Old and New Testaments. Just by word count alone, peace occurs some 269 times in the Old Testament, and 92 times in the New Testament. Certainly it's used in a variety of circumstances, but the main theme that interests us today is when it is in connection with Jesus; and this time of the year, we are reminded that his birth brought the kind of peace the world had never known.
Let's look at what the prophet Isaiah records. Chapter 9 verses 6-7 read: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."
Chapter 26 verse 3 reads: "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you."
Chapter 52 verse 7 reads: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'"
And finally, the words of Chapter 53 verse 5 are probably the most difficult for us to hear: "But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed."
The kind of peace that so inspires Simeon isn't just wishful thinking. This is the peace that God has established through Jesus. His very birth gave rise to the angels' song: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men." This was the beginning of something big.
Some years ago, I was having a conversation with a veteran pastor. It was after services, and that Sunday we had the same Gospel reading from Luke chapter 2 about Simeon and Anna. He pointed out something that really stuck with me, and that I have since shared frequently.
Do you realize that the Bible doesn't tell us how old Simeon actually was? We know that the prophetess Anna was advanced in years, that is made very clear. We also know that God had promised Simeon that he would see the Lord's Christ, the promised Messiah of the Old Testament before he died. From that, people have surmised that Simeon was also quite old, and perhaps standing at death's door. That's what the artist's rendition on our bulletin cover this morning depicts. And that may very well have been true, quite possibly in fact.
But the Bible is still silent here. And I think that's a good thing, because the peace Jesus brings isn't just for an elderly person who is approaching death. This peace is true for anybody of any age. A 16 year-old high school student who knows Jesus can look forward to a peaceful relationship with God. The 25 year-old soldier can go forth in hostile surroundings with the knowledge that his soul is at peace and safe in God's hands irrespective of what happens. And the elderly person who knows the clock is ticking away can be at peace knowing that Jesus has prepared a mansion for them in heaven when they breathe their last.
Regardless of age, Simeon's song fits everybody. "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace." God's prophecy has been fulfilled. Simeon saw his Saviour, and through the eyes of faith we see him too. We are the recipients of God's peace that passes all human understanding.
The poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a famous poem on Christmas Day in 1863 entitled "Christmas Bells." His wife Frances had recently died from accidental gun fire. Then his son Charles, who was fighting as a Union soldier, had been severely wounded. Longfellow's life was pretty dismal on that Christmas Day.
I think we have all heard this poem set to music with the words, "I heard the bells on Christmas Day." To get a better idea of what Longfellow was feeling, I'm going to first quote some of the stanzas that we seldom, if ever hear:
"Then from each black, accursed mouth, the cannon thundered in the South, and with the sound, the carols drowned, of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
"It was as if an earthquake rent, the hearth-stones of a continent, and made forlorn, the households born, of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
"And in despair I bowed my head; 'There is no peace on earth,' I said; 'For hate is strong, and mocks the song, of peace on earth, good-will to men!'"
"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 'God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.'"
I've heard people say, "Oh, if only everybody would just love everybody else, then everything would be perfect." Unfortunately that's wishful thinking. It's something that is not humanly possible. It's like prohibition thinking. The temperance unions in the early 20th century reckoned that if they got rid of all the liquor, then all of society's ills would be cured. If there was no more alcohol, then there would be no more drunkards or alcoholics.
But we know that this line of thinking just doesn't work. During prohibition, all it did was to drive the liquor business underground, put it into the hands of the crime syndicates, and make the problem worse than ever.
Sin is the problem. Sin is the enemy of any sort of peace. On a global scale, a ruthless dictator is lusting after money and power. Somebody wants more oil, more land, or more resources. Or somebody wants to promote a false religion; they put anybody to death who would dare to contradict or even believe something with which they do not agree. If you look at any and every instance of man's inhumanity to man, sin is always the root cause.
Like I said before, everybody just loving everybody else is wishful thinking. It's like trying to cure cancer with mercurochrome and a band aid. You can't fix a problem by working on the symptoms; you need to fix the problem by attacking the root cause. The root cause, like I just said, is just plain old-fashioned sin.
Peace is not something that can be brought about superficially. Wishful thinking cannot make it happen. For peace to occur, it has to come from within, from inside the person. It starts with the likes of you and me.
Let's look at our own lives. Personally, I like to think of the words recorded in 1 John chapter 1, all of which are appropriate. However, I'm going to quote verses 7-9: "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
We can't point a finger at somebody else without examining our own lives. Sin has affected each and every one of us. We've all done things in our lives that are anything but peaceful and loving. I have even witnessed people who will preach "peace and love" out of one side of their mouth, while at the same time spew words of hatred and rejection out of the other side of their mouth, and exhibit inexcusable behavior, even toward members of their own family. There are many examples of this that happen time after time, and I have had to deal with it both professionally and personally. People wish for peace, and they get frustrated when it doesn't happen.
Sin frustrates us all, and the cure starts with each of us individually. John reminds us that when we confess our sins, we will be forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness. This happens through faith in Christ Jesus our Saviour. This happens when we have a personal relationship with him, and he lives in us and through us.
Simeon was overjoyed. He held on to God's promise, knowing that God was 100 percent faithful and would not let him down. When the baby Jesus was handed to him, he had a personal relationship that was a fulfillment of what God promised. Simeon was a sinful human being, as was Anna, as was everybody else in theTemplethat day. Simeon knew that he held the Messiah, the Saviour in his arms, and that through faith in him, he had forgiveness and a sure hope. He could depart in peace.
A personal relationship with Jesus through faith alone is something we all need, because this is a relationship that brings us the peace that can only come through the forgiveness of sins. That's why we sing the words, "Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled."
We can't be messengers and promoters of peace unless that peace lives within us first. Anything else is only a pseudo peace, a sham, or a facade. Change on the outside can only come from a change on the inside.
Back in 1971, an advertising executive by the name of Bill Backer was stranded because of an unexpected layover atShannonairport inIreland. People were angry, irate, and otherwise in a variety of bad moods. After spending the night, Mr. Backer observed a group of the weary travelers who were laughing and joking while drinking Coca Cola. After observing this, he scrawled a note on a napkin that said, "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" and handed it to his traveling companion.
From this event, a song was written: "I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony; I'd like to hold it in my arms, and keep it company." This launched one of the most successful advertising campaigns in history. The commercial began with one person singing by a Christmas tree holding one candle. Then more people were added, and more candles, until there was a full choir.
Of course we know that having everybody drink Coca Cola won't bring peace to the world, but it does tell us that peace is something that most people desire.
Young Kevin Ross who performs part of "This Is My Wish" confirms this. Peace is something we all want, whether it is peace from the telephone or doorbell while we're trying to take a nap, all the way to praying for peace in theMiddle East.
In his second letter, Paul warns Timothy in chapter 3 that there will always be those who are "...burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth."
We can't find peace by devising all sorts of ways on our own. We know that true and lasting peace can only come from our Saviour Jesus Christ, and our continual faith relationship with him. This is the knowledge of the truth that Simeon knew, and what inspired his song: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy Word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou has prepared before the face of all people. A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel."