Beloved. Today we are at the half way point of the Christmas season—the sixth day of Christmas, the day on which, according to the song, my true love gives to me six geese a laying. For many, Christmas is already done with, and attention is turning toward New Year’s; for many of the rest, Christmas is still sort of going on but will wrap up with the New Year’s celebration, and things will then return back to normal. But dear Christian, let us use the full 12 days to ponder and meditate upon this great Christmas mystery—God becoming man, born of a virgin.
Today’s Gospel again brings us to the great truth of Christmas and what Christmas is really all about—the birth of the God-man, the birth of the Savior of the world. On Christmas we heard the announcement of the angel [Lk. 2.11]: …I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born for you this day…a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. But even before His birth, by the angel there was the glorious announcement of Jesus’ conception, birth and work to Mary [Lk. 1.31-33]: …you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name “Jesus”. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest…and of His kingdom there will be no end; and to Joseph [Mt. 1.20-21]: do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name “Jesus”, for He will save His people from their sins. And today in the Gospel we hear the result of Jesus’ coming as St. Simeon speaks by the Holy Spirit: Listen carefully, this child is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too. It does us well to ponder these words a few moments today as we think about Christmas and what makes Christmas so vital for us.
Today’s Gospel brings us to the temple, 40 days after Jesus was born, where a sacrifice was to be made and Jesus presented to the Lord as the OT law required. At that time there was a man living in Jerusalem named Simeon. Scripture describes him this way: righteous and devout, waiting for the comfort of Israel. That means he was one of the OT faithful—one who lived a godly life and was in faith waiting for the long promised Savior. Surely there were many like that at that time. But Simeon was different. St. Luke says of him: the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. The Lord had shown Simeon a great grace—he would not die until he had seen the long-promised Savior. And so that 40th day after Jesus was born, Simeon, moved by the Spirit…went into the temple courts. … [T]he parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what was customary according to the law. Somehow, some way the Holy Spirit led Simeon to the Baby Jesus, revealing to him that that Baby was the long awaited Savior, and Simeon took him into his arms and praised God. After praising God, Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Listen carefully, this child is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” That is the result of Christmas, the result of God becoming man, the result of the coming of the Savior. Every parent, when a child is born, certainly thinks/ wonders: what will happen to, what will become of this this baby? And here, St. Simeon addresses Mary and tells her: Listen carefully, this child is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. To put it differently, Jesus is the great divide. One is either for Him or against Him. There is no middle ground. It was that way during His earthly ministry and it continues that way down to our day. May we always be among those who are for Him.
This child is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel. When we are confronted with Jesus, with His holy work and work, there is and can be no neutrality. A person either accepts Jesus’ claims to be who He said He is—the Son of God and the only Savior of the world—or a person rejects that claim.
Jesus’ claims, though, are not without basis—after all, not only do we have the miraculous accounts we just celebrated of His conception and birth, but also His miracles showed Him to be who He said He is; they confirmed His claims. And of course, the greatest basis for Jesus’ claims as being true is His resurrection from the dead. There beyond any shadow of a doubt is God Himself validating Jesus’ claims that He is the very God-man and our only Savior from sin, death, devil and hell. Since He is not a liar, nor is He a lunatic—both of which are confirmed by His miracles and resurrection—Jesus, then must be Lord.
Precisely because He is Lord, means that this child is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel. There is no consequence for rejecting Him if Jesus is merely a liar or lunatic—but there is if He is Lord. That’s why Jesus is that great divide—a person will either have to accept Him and His claims, or reject Him. Now, so close to Christmas, it is vital that we strip away all the sentimentality and look at that Baby in the manger and see who exactly He is. Even as that Baby, He is still that great divide. As Jesus is pushed out of the way at Christmas to make room for that orgy of materialism that has seemingly become the hallmark of what makes Christmas Christmas, there too Jesus has become the divide. That’s why it does us good to follow Sts. Mary and Joseph, when St. Simeon held the Baby Jesus in his arms and praised God for sending the Savior: Joseph and the child’s mother were amazed at the things that were spoken about him. That “amazement” is in the sense of marveling. They were marveling over God’s works. After all, how—except by the Holy Spirit’s special work of revealing it to him—could this complete stranger to them, St. Simeon, say and confirm the same thing the angel did when Jesus was born, when the angel announced His conception and birth? That knowledge and insight could only have been by the Holy Spirit.
And Mary and Joseph were also certainly amazed/ marveling as St. Simeon’s words reminded them once again of all the miraculous events surrounding Jesus’ conception and birth; it made it all fresh in their minds who and what this Baby boy of theirs is—the very God and Savior of the world. That’s why the yearly celebration of Christmas is so vital for us. Each year as we look into the manger of Bethlehem, we see God’s work for our salvation; we are reminded that the only way we could be saved from our sin, death and hell is if God Himself did the work for us; and so He had to become one of us and come into the world to do it for us. Each year/ Christmas, looking again at the Baby born in Bethlehem, we see the entire counsel of God for our salvation.
Joseph and the child’s mother were [marveling] at the things that were spoken about him. That’s for us this Christmas as well. As we marvel at Christmas—all that God did for us and our salvation—we are brought and led to the further knowledge of God—who He is and His thoughts and love toward us. Don’t let Christmas go by with just a superficial look into the manger but keep pondering and marveling all that God has done and is doing for us and our salvation. As we think about the truths of the faith, find delight in and think about them all the more, we will find in the old message of Christmas—of Jesus being born—always new depths of God’s grace and truth. As we do that, then for us Jesus is one appointed for our rising: This child is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel. Many will stumble and fall over Jesus and reject Him, His claims, His work. May it not be us!
But even for His dear Christians, Jesus serves us both for our falling and our rising. This is in the sense of our daily lives of repentance and faith. We are still sinners even as Christians, who daily sin much. We are full of our natural pride and self-righteousness. That natural pride and self-righteousness must fall—through His holy word of the Law Jesus calls us to repentance. Let us hear Jesus calling us to repent as we take His holy Ten Commandments in hand and examine heart, life and deed in light of them. As we recognize our sin, we fall before Him, crushed by the guilt and condemnation of our sin.
But what happens? —Jesus is also appointed for our rising. This child is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel. He raises us as He gives us the forgiveness of our sin, as He takes away our guilt, as He gives us the Holy Spirit, creating and strengthening in us the new self that fights against sin and wants to do the Lord’s will. Not only is Jesus the great divide so that unbelievers stumble and fall over Him rejecting Him but the Christian is raised by Him out of sin and condemnation; Jesus causes us to fall by His holy law precisely so that He can raise us up in faith by His holy Gospel, by the forgiveness of our sin.
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Listen carefully, this child is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Jesus is also appointed as a sign. A sign requires action. A stop sign requires one to stop—but one can blow it; a sign pointing left to Corning requires you to go left if you want to go to Corning—but you can turn right instead. Here, Jesus is a sign—He is a sign of God’s favor toward us; He is a sign that God is gracious to us sinners; He is a sign that your sin is forgiven; He is a sign to you of your salvation. That’s the sign that we see as we look into the manger of Bethlehem. That babe wrapped in swaddling cloths is the Immanuel, the God with us—the God who is come to be our Savior. That sign of the Baby in the manger requires action from us—that sign requires us to believe it, to believe that that Baby is not only the Savior of the world but also my Savior from sin, death, devil and hell.
Just like the person who sees the stop sign but purposely doesn’t stop, by that reveals they don’t care about other’s safety, reveals they are only concerned about self, reveals disregard for the laws of the land, so too Jesus is appointed for a sign that is spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. When people reject Jesus—the Son of God and Savior of the world—they are by the revealing what is in their heart, what controls and motivates them. When confronted with Jesus in the Gospel, and people reject Him, they are by that saying that they have no need for a Savior from sin; they are saying that they live by their own law—they are their own god; or if they recognize that there is a divine being, they are saying there is nothing unique about Jesus, that He is one of many, that He has no claim on them. In short, a person’s attitude toward Jesus shows the condition of their heart. But the simple fact remains Jesus is appointed for a sign that is spoken against. Notice, He is spoken against but He is not overturned; He stands. No matter what people say or think about Jesus, He is still the Son of God and the Savior of the world. That’s what the holy saints Simeon and Anna recognized in simple faith when they saw the Baby Jesus. That is our faith, too, dear Christian; the very faith the Holy Spirit worked in Sts. Simeon and Anna, He worked in you, dear Christian. They saw the Son of God and Savior of the world in Mary’s arms. We today see Him in His holy word and Sacrament and behold Him with the eyes of faith. By His grace we see, believe and receive Him as He comes to us with all of His gifts and blessings. As we continue to ponder the Christmas miracle let us truly recognize the One in the manger—true God and true man and my Savior from sin. By His grace, may that be our thoughts of/ faith in Him. This child is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. INJ Amen.