First Sunday after Christmas
“For unto us a child is born, to us a Son is given.” [Isaiah 9:6]
“Lord, now you are letting Your servant depart in peace.” [Luke 2:29]
Manger to Altar: Christ Comes into His Temple
Servants of the Lord, God is letting you depart in peace. Unto you His Son has been born, His Child, born of Mary, is given. Blessed Christmas to you. The Christmas gift is the Gift of God’s Son given for you – given in a manger, given on the Cross, given in His Temple.
Jesus Christ, this Child-gift, was born under the Law. In today’s Gospel, in accord with the Law of Moses, Mary, Christ’s mother, and Joseph, take the child Jesus into the Temple in Jerusalem. Under the Law of Moses, 40 days after the birth of a son, the mother was to bring herself and the child to the Temple for their purification. Also, the first-born male was to be presented to the Lord.
The prescribed sacrifice was to be offered – either a Lamb as a burnt offering and a and a turtledove or pigeon as a sin offering, or, if the mother could not afford a Lamb, she could bring two turtledoves or two pigeons to fulfill both offerings. Mary and Joseph can only afford to bring the two turtledoves as their offerings - Yet, for the first time, in Mary’s arms, the true Lamb, the Lamb of God, is brought into the Temple.
Now there was serving in the Temple on that day a man named Simeon – a man filled with the Holy Spirit. To Simeon it had been revealed by the Holy Spirit that he would not depart this life until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. When Simeon sees the child Jesus, he knows he has seen God’s salvation for mankind with his own eyes.
Because the First-born of God, the Lamb of God who takes away sins, has entered God’s Temple, Simeon can now depart in peace – Simeon blesses God, “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 (all nations) , and for glory to your people Israel.”
You, brothers and sisters, need not depart this life before you see God’s salvation for you. Many people, for many centuries, could only believe a hazy promise of SOMEONE to come. You, however, have now seen and know who that someone is – Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, born of a Virgin. And you not only believe what you hear, but you, like Simeon, depart in peace believing what you have seen, what you have felt in your hand, what you have smelled – and for you - what you have tasted on your tongue, in a mystery, but nevertheless truly present. Christ enters His Temple for you.
The Child Born who was brought into the Temple then is brought into God’s Temple now. God’s Temple is His Church, scattered abroad. God’s Temple is in many buildings with many Christian altars, filling the earth. The Child who was born, who was brought to the Temple, who was raised to Maturity, who was brought to the Cross and to the Grave, and who was brought up alive again to the right hand of God, is now brought to you.
Under a mystery, you see, feel, taste, touch, and smell the very Body and Blood of the offered Child and Lamb of God under the forms of Bread and Wine. The Child who entered Simeon’s Temple enters yours, here in this place. You all die, you all depart, privileged to be Simeons who have first seen the salvation of God. And, therefore, having seen, you are privileged to depart in peace. And you are blessed to be at peace as you see each other depart. You have seen your salvation here.
Simeon saw and received the Child of God born who was yet to become the Lamb of God offered. In the Supper of the Lord, you see and receive Christ who has been offered. You see and feel and taste the atonement and forgiveness of your sins. Christ on this altar, this table of the Lord in the Lord’s temple here, is Christ pierced for you, yet now living. In this Temple, you receive fully of that Sacrifice which has saved you once and for all. Simeon saw the beginning of salvation in that Child - you see the end, the completion, in the Sacrament here.
So, after becoming like Simeon week after week, receiving Christ in this Temple, you now sing like Simeon week after week. With angels and archangels and the company of heaven, you join in Simeon’s song after having seen and received the Body and Blood. You sing Simeon’s Song, the “Nunc Dimittis”, “Now Let Us Depart”: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation”, etc.
You depart each day, you depart this life, you depart the Divine Service (the Sunday Service) in peace. And Christ who enters this Temple with His sacrificed true Body and true Blood, enters also the Temple of your body. Your bodies are the Temples of the Holy Spirit who always delivers to you nothing but Jesus. Christ truly dwells in you as you dwell in Him. By Baptism you have become Christ’s home and Temple – you have even become the home of His death and His resurrection, as He is forever crucified and risen in you. Christ has entered you, His Temple, and is entering again and again.
The Temple in which Simeon sang and into which the Christ Child entered to be seen by him was a Temple rebuilt. Centuries earlier, the Temple had been destroyed. Then, after re-occupying it, the people of God rebuilt its ruins. We call it the “Second Temple”. Christ, the Child Born, was carried by Mary’s arms into a rebuilt, restored, remade Temple in Simeon’s day.
We prayed in our Collect of the Day this morning, “O God, our Maker and Redeemer, You wonderfully created us and in the incarnation of Your Son yet more wondrously RESTORED our human nature…” You too are now being made a “Second Temple” – a rebuilt, restored, remade Temple into which Christ enters. In you, human nature which had once been corrupted and broken down by sin is now being restored more wondrously. As Christ now dwells in you, you are, day by day, being restored into a more fitting Temple.
So now, as often as He is given, become like many Simeons – receive Christ and depart in peace. Tomorrow night you have yet another opportunity to behold our Lord Christ entering His Temple on this altar in His Body and Blood (7pm tomorrow, New Year’s Ever, is a communion service). Come tomorrow, and you will again see and encounter the Lord’s salvation – the Lamb-of-God and Child-Born, given here for you. Come as often as He is given so as to depart in peace and prepared. Amen.