The First Sunday after Christmas
December 31, 2023
Good News of Great Joy—Peace on Earth!
22When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
25Now 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. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared in the sight of all people:
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. (NIV1984)
Dear fellow worshipers of the Christ-Child,
Every Christmas Eve we listen to the children as they recite the very familiar words of Luke chapter two. Even though we know those verses so very well our hearts are filled with comfort and joy every time we hear them! One of my favorite parts is when the children say with all the gusto they can muster, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” I look forward to that part each and every year!
But, have those words ever left you wondering, “Where is this peace on earth?” There certainly isn’t much peace between the various nations of this world. In fact, when we look at places such as Ukraine, Russia, Israel, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq there doesn’t seem to be much “peace on earth.” When we look around here in our own country we don’t see an abundance of “peace on earth.” In fact, it seems as though the disagreements have only grown more contentious with one group screaming angrily at another group. We might not even have a great deal of peace in in our own homes and among our own family members. All of this might leave us wondering— what were the angels singing about on that first Christmas Eve so many years ago?
That is the question that our sermon text for today both addresses and answers! With that in mind let’s study these words of our God under the theme: Good News of Great Joy— Peace on Earth! As we study these words God the Holy Spirit focuses our attention on three groups of people, three examples that we would all do well to follow.
The first group of people consists of Mary, Joseph and the Christ-Child. The opening verses of our text remind us that Mary and Joseph were extremely conscientious when it came to following the written Law of the Lord their God. To ensure that the Son of God and the Son of Man would be a legitimate member of the covenant which the Lord God had established with His Chosen People Israel, Luke tells us, “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.” If Mary and Joseph did not have Jesus circumcised on the eighth day in accordance with the Law of the Lord, the baby Jesus would not have been a part of the covenant relationship that God established with Abraham and his descendants which would have meant that there would not be any hope for peace on earth— ever.
In addition, Mary and Joseph knew that the Law which God had given to His Chosen People not only required that every male child be circumcised on the eighth day, but it also required that forty days after the birth of a first-born male child that child had to be “redeemed.” To remind each and every generation of Israelites what the Lord had done for His people when He brought them up out of slavery in the land of Egypt every first-born male child had to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem and “redeemed” at the price of a lamb, or if the family was poor, “two doves or two young pigeons” (Leviticus 12:8). At the same time every first-born male child was also “consecrated” to the Lord. And so in humble faithful obedience to the written Word of their God Joseph and Mary brought the Baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after His birth. When they left the Lord’s Temple their hearts were filled with the peace of knowing that in faith they had done what the Lord their God had required of them.
Mary and Joseph give us the example of how faithful obedience to the Word of God brings peace into our hearts and into our lives. Sadly, we live in a day and age when many individual Christians and when many so-called Christian churches have all but forsaken God’s holy Word. Clear teachings of Scripture have been tossed out as being unscientific, illogical, old-fashioned and outdated. God’s Moral Law as summarized by the Ten Commandments has been watered down so that they are often seen as ten “suggestions” at best! Faithful study of God’s holy Word is deemed a waste of time. Regular attendance at church is considered unnecessary. Faithful stewardship of time, talents and treasure is considered an imposition placed upon the people by self-serving clergy.
If any of that rings familiar to you then perhaps you would do well to travel with Joseph and Mary from the stable to the Temple and learn from their humble example of faithful obedience to what the Lord God of heaven and earth has revealed to us right here in His holy Word. I fear that all too many people today— perhaps even people in our own circles— have forgotten what the Lord Himself has told us in John 12:48-50. The standard, the guide, the yardstick according to which we will be judged is our faithfulness or lack of faithfulness to the Truth as it is revealed to us here in the Bible. Joseph and Mary’s example of humble obedience to God’s Word is an example we would all do well to take to heart this morning. When we take to heart their example of obedience to God’s Word then we will know how God’s Word brings true peace into our hearts and into our lives!
Luke goes on to tell us here in our text that when Mary, Joseph and the Christ-Child arrived at the Temple they were met by a man named Simeon. Simeon gives us the second example that we want to consider this morning. Simeon occupies a unique position in the history of the Lord’s Church. Perhaps more than anything else Simeon is described to us as a man whose heart and whose life was truly influenced by the Holy Spirit. Just look at verse 25-28 of our text, “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. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God….”
Can you imagine what this must have been like for Simeon? For thousands of years God’s faithful people had been anxiously waiting for the “consolation of Israel” to be born. Generation after generation came and went without that precious birth taking place. And then somehow— we are not told exactly how— but somehow God the Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon that he would see the Lord’s Christ with his own two eyes, he would hold the long-awaited Promised Messiah in his own two arms. Every single morning when Simeon woke up he undoubtedly thought to himself, “This could be the day!” And then one day it was! Simeon was “moved by the Holy Spirit” to go to the Temple— and Simeon knew exactly why! Anxiously he watched and he waited and he watched and he waited and he watched and he waited until suddenly through the gate of the temple courts walked a man, his wife and their infant Child. Instantly the Holy Spirit let Simeon know that this was the Child!
Filled with the Holy Spirit Simeon now celebrated his own personal Christmas. Without any lights and without any decorations but with the best Christmas present of all right there in his arms Simeon celebrated— because he knew! He knew exactly Who this Child is! He knew exactly why this Child had been born! Speaking words which are used by God’s people to this very day Simeon praises the Sovereign Lord for fulfilling His promise and sending into this world the only source of eternal peace and salvation: the Christ-Child. Not only did this Child give Simeon the peace that comes from knowing that through faith in this Child all of his sins are completely forgiven, but Simeon knew that this Child is the source of true peace and the source of true Light for all people— both Jews and Gentiles alike. Truly, my friends, Simeon’s personal celebration of Christmas gives to all of us an amazing insight into the blessings that a person enjoys when their heart and their life is influenced by the Holy Spirit. When we know Who the Child of Bethlehem is, when we know why the Child of Bethlehem came into this world then we have true peace on earth!
Yes, my friends, Simeon gives us the example of how blessed a person is when they are influenced by the Holy Spirit. Are you perhaps searching for guidance and direction in your life? Could you use a little more certainty and confidence? Would you benefit from an inner calm that would enable you to close your eyes in absolute peace— whether that be at night as you lay your head on your pillow or at the time of your death? If you answered any of those questions with a “yes” then perhaps you need to examine how often you are allowing the Holy Spirit to influence you. Remember, my friends, that the Holy Spirit only works through the Means of Grace— the Gospel in both Word and Sacrament. So if you want to be more like Simeon, if you want an inner calm and an inner peace that no one can ever take away, if you want to be able to personally celebrate Christmas each and every day of your life then perhaps you need to make sure that you travel from the stable to God’s Temple on a very regular basis.
The third example that is given to us here in our text is that of Anna. When I look at Anna what I see is an example of patient trust. Anna is first of all described as a “prophetess.” This means that Anna not only understood God’s holy Word, but she also had the ability to explain God’s Word to others. Since we are told that Anna “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” it is not surprising that Anna was there when Joseph and Mary faithfully brought Jesus to the Temple in obedience to God’s Law. Nor does it surprise us that Anna heard Simeon’s praise-filled explanation of Who this Child is. And it certainly does not surprise us to hear what Anna did in response to what she had now learned. Anna had been waiting patiently for the Lord her God to fulfill His promise of a Messiah. Remember, my friends, that Anna was a “prophetess.” She knew her Bible. She knew the promises the Lord her God had made. She trusted that when the time was right those promises would all be fulfilled. She knew that when the Lord fulfilled His promises there would be the Source of peace here on this earth! So now that the Messiah had been born just as the Lord had promised Anna “gave thanks to God and spoke about this child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” And since she lived right there in the Temple Anna knew exactly who would want to hear this good news of great joy as soon as possible!
Anna now gives to us the example of patient trust. Now I will be the first to confess that patience is not one of my strong suits. I all too often want what I want when I want it. I will also be the first to confess that I have a tendency to trust in what I can do, in what I can understand and in what I can fix. So when I look at Anna’s example of patient trust I have to ask myself, How did she get to be like this? The answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it? Anna was a pillar of patient trust because of the three top priorities in her life: worship, Bible study and prayer. Anna did not become a “prophetess” overnight. She studied God’s Word over and over again until she knew what her Lord was saying to her. Only then did she share and explain to others what she herself had learned. Her insight into God’s Word naturally led her to worship her awesome Savior God. Her insight into God’s Word gave her an inner peace which had a powerful impact on her life. Plus, her insight into God’s Word automatically influenced and directed her personal conversations with her Lord. So if patient trust is something we could use more of perhaps Anna would be a good example for us to take home with us today.
It’s only been a week since you and I went to the stable in Bethlehem to worship our newborn King. And yet, I am already looking forward to Christmas Eve 2024. I am especially looking forward to hearing the children say with all the gusto they can muster, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” I look forward to this because I need this reassurance. When I look around in our world I do not always see “peace on earth.” When I look around in my own personal life I do not always feel “peace on earth.” And when I look into my own heart I know that on my own I will never be able to achieve “peace on earth.” I need the example of Joseph and Mary so that I remember how important it is to receive true lasting peace from the pages of God’s holy inspired Word. I need Simeon’s example so that I am assured of the peace that my Savior gives to me every time I receive His holy body and His holy blood as the visible tangible guarantee that through faith in Him my sins are forgiven. And since patience is not one of my strong suits I need the example of Anna so that through faithful study of God’s holy Word I can experience and explain the “peace on earth” that only the God of heaven can give.
My prayer this morning is that you will take the examples that the Holy Spirit gives to us here in our text and apply them to your own heart and to your own life. Then, my friends, no matter how much chaos you see taking place in the world around you, no matter how much chaos you might experience in your own life, you will always be able to wrap your heart around the glorious proclamation of the Christmas angel: I bring you Good News of Great Joy— Peace on Earth!
To God be the glory!