Sermon for the First Sunday of Christmas – December 27, 2020
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Miss Elva, our lead teacher at our preschool here at Oak Harbor Lutheran Church, recently had her first grandchild – a beautiful baby girl named Coraline. Because of COVID restrictions she had to wait, and wait, and wait to see that baby in person. She had to wait, and wait, and wait, to hold her in her arms. You could sense her longing to see that precious child in person. You could sense her frustration in having to wait so long. For a while there she was pretty restless, pretty agitated. Whenever she mentioned that baby her eye would twitch and her voice would get high and she’d clench her teeth.
In order to see the baby at Thanksgiving, Elva went into a two-week period of quarantine beforehand. We brought in an array of substitute teachers to cover for her. When she returned after having seen that baby over Thanksgiving, I think she was floating about two feet off the ground. Her eye twitch was gone and she was beaming with joy. She showed the staff pictures on her phone of the happy moment when she got to take that precious child in her arms at last.
Some of you know that Elva fought off breast cancer last year. She is 100% recovered and healthy and has every reason to believe she will enjoy many years with Coraline and subsequent grandchildren, but I can’t help but think that her brush with cancer, as well as specter of COVID hanging over everything, made that long awaited cuddle time with that baby that much sweeter.
In our gospel reading for this first Sunday of Christmas we hear about how Simeon and Anna, after a long period of waiting, finally got to see the baby Jesus. I want to be sure and point out that Elva is much younger and healthier and better looking than Simeon and Anna were. These two were much, much older! But I couldn’t help but think of Elva and her granddaughter as I began to work through this gospel reading. As we heard, Mary and Joseph, in keeping the law of the Lord, came to the temple forty days after Jesus’ birth so that the baby Jesus could be presented to the Lord and Mary could be purified after childbirth. Simeon and Anna just happened to be in the temple that day, and each of them got some special time in the presence of the baby Jesus.
Simeon in particular had been waiting specifically for this moment. He had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Simeon, we are told, was righteous and devout, and because he was both of those things, he looked forward to the consolation of Israel, he looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, the savior. He had faith and trust that it would happen in his lifetime, that he would see this baby with his own eyes before he died.
Enter Mary and Joseph and Jesus. Simeon took Jesus into his arms. Here was something even better than a grandchild! Here was the savior, the long-promised Messiah. Simeon praised God, singing a song that should sound familiar to many of you: “Now Lord, you let your servant go in peace, your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people. A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people, Israel.”
Having received his savior, Simeon could depart this world in peace. His song has entered into Christian liturgy. It is commonly sung after we have received communion, and for good reason – after we have received the Lord Jesus in our own hands, we too can go in peace.
As exuberant as Simeon’s joy is in getting to hold the baby Jesus in his arms, the moment is tinged by a measure of sadness too. For this baby won’t be received with joy by everyone. Simeon foresaw that Jesus was destined for “the falling and rising of many.” He saw that he would opposed by many, and that Mary his mother would have a grief that would pierce her heart. Even as we celebrate the joy of the Christmas season, we dare not forget why this child has come. We dare not forget the sacrifice he would make for us. The wood of the manger points to the wood of the cross, and Simeon acknowledges this.
But then we’re cheered again by the arrival of Anna, the prophet. Anna was 84 years old and was at the temple day and night – showing that the church has always depended on Grandmas to keep things going! We have a few Annas at OHLC, who are here so much that from time to time I’ve offered to set up a cot for them in one of our back offices. I wouldn’t be surprised if they get mail here.
Anna arrived at the temple as Simeon was holding the baby Jesus. She saw the child and immediately she too began praising God. And then, with all the excitement and joy of a new grandmother, she began to show off the baby! She started to preach about Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel.
St. Augustine once wrote that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. We live so much of our lives in this restlessness. We live so much of our lives in anxiety and frustration, with a twitch in our eye and our teeth clenched. We go through life with this nagging sense of longing, longing for wholeness, longing for fulfillment, longing for peace. We live in fear of death, afraid of our lives coming to an end before we get to do all the things we want to do, afraid of what comes next.
I understand all of that. I am human and experience those things too.
But today the Lord God has sent Simeon and Anna to be our preachers. These wise, elderly preachers point us to Jesus, who is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to us. They point us to Jesus, who brings us forgiveness, life, and salvation. Today, through their preaching, God places the baby Jesus in our arms, so that our hearts wouldn’t be restless anymore, so that our hearts would rest in him, so that we would know Simeon and Anna’s joy and the peace that Christ brings.
Take this baby into your arms today. Take this child into your heart. Receive the savior born for you. And then go in peace, for his Word has been fulfilled.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church