Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas based on Luke 2:22-40
Dear rejoicing Christians: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
We try so hard to have a joyful Christmas. We gather with as much family as we can get together. We buy presents for our children and other loved ones in the hopes that receiving such a gift will brighten their Christmas. We may even buy ourselves something which we’ve been eyeing for a while. We cook and bake the best foods, preparing ourselves feasts. We may even help out those less fortunate, because then we think we can really feel good about Christmas.
We can have a good Christmas when our family is around and when we have money for presents and elaborate dinners. How good would our Christmas be if we were all alone and broke? How good would our Christmas be if we just received a diagnosis of terminal illness or if a loved one passed away? Some of us have such situations in our future. Some of us are living through them right now.
These are the situations of the characters in our Gospel reading. This first Christmas, Mary and Joseph were far from their family. We know they’re not well off. The Old Testament Law required a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering (Lev. 12:6). Those who were too poor to afford the sacrifices could instead offer just two pigeons or two turtledoves (Lev. 12:8), and that is what was offered by Joseph and Mary. They could not even afford the normal offerings for purification, indicating that they were quite poor. Does this make for a good Christmas?
Anna was very old. She might have been eighty-four years old, or a widow for eighty-four years after being married for seven, making her over one hundred years old. Surely she was suffering the aches and pains of old age, especially at a time when they didn’t have the advances in medicine we have today to at least help with some relief. She had been a widow for many decades and was spending Christmas by herself in the Temple. Does this make for a good Christmas?
What about Simeon? The Bible doesn’t tell us how old he was even though he is always pictured as an old man and that is what the text certainly seems to indicate. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel. He was waiting for the double comfort Isaiah prophesied and we heard about during Advent. He had been told by God that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Lord’s anointed. Well, he saw the Lord’s anointed, so he knew death was coming. It’s about the same as getting a diagnosis of a terminal illness. Does this make for a good Christmas?
And then Simeon speaks a prophecy by the Holy Spirit to Mary, saying that her Son will be opposed and that a sword will pierce through her soul. Add to that why it would not pierce Joseph’s soul also – because by all accounts Joseph died before Mary’s soul was pierced at the foot of the cross of her Son.
Where is the Christmas cheer? Where’s the festive gathering and the feasting? Where are the gifts that brighten Christmas?
Well, they are all actually there. If you listen to Simeon’s song of praise, it is full of Christmas cheer and joy. “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, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Simeon said that he’s ready to die. He’s got everything so there’s no point hanging around anymore. He has peace with God through the baby Jesus. He sees His salvation in the face of this infant. He knows Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promises ever since man’s fall into sin.
And Anna begins to thank and praise God. She, despite her age, starts running around telling everyone who this baby is. She’s as excited as a little girl who just unwrapped the Christmas present she’s been waiting to open for so long. Anna also is filled with Christmas joy.
And Joseph and Mary just returned with the baby Jesus to their home in Nazareth, and go back to regular, everyday life. They marvelled at what was said about Jesus and they witnessed the praises of Simeon and Anna. Joyful about the birth of Jesus, and witnessing the joy of Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph could return joyfully back to their regular lives.
So why would we allow poverty to ruin our joy of Christmas? There’s no reason to have a bad Christmas even if family isn’t around, if you can’t have the great feast you’d like to have, or if old age is catching up with you. You can have joy at Christmastime even if you have been a widow or widower for decades like Anna or have just recently lost your spouse. You can have joy at Christmastime even if you have just received a diagnosis that you will soon die.
Because poverty isn’t the problem. Sickness isn’t the problem. Loneliness and sadness aren’t the problem. Even death is not the problem. The problem is sin.
Some families struggle to meet daily needs because there is sin in the world. There is sickness, loneliness, and sadness in the world because there is sin in the world. The only reason why there is death in the world is because of sin, because the wages of sin is death. The problem is sin.
That’s why Anna and Simeon were so joyful. They knew that Jesus was the solution to sin. God had promised that He would send a Saviour to rescue us from sin, the root cause of every problem in the world. Simeon could sing that he has been saved from sin, that he himself had seen God’s salvation. Anna could run around telling everyone that the redemption of Jerusalem had arrived, the Saviour who would redeem us from our sin.
Because with our sin forgiven, what is illness or sickness or loneliness? What is death but the doorway to heaven and a reunion with our loved ones who have died in the faith? Our Christmas joy doesn’t need to be crushed even if we don’t receive a single present, are near death’s door in a nursing home, long since widowed, without family around to even visit us for Christmas. All of this is the result of sin, and yes, we suffer in this world because of sin.
But sin is conquered. All of your sins are forgiven. The devil can’t accuse you of anything. Your guilty conscience can take a hike. You may suffer in this life because of your sin and you cannot undo those things that you regret, but Jesus paid for those sins with His holy blood. Your sins are not on your slate; they’ve been wiped away. All the sins on your account have been paid by Jesus.
We can continue to sing the joyful Christmas hymns throughout the Christmas season. We don’t have to stop just because our relatives have gone home and there are no more presents under our trees. Our Christmas joy continues. We don’t have to throw out our Christmas joy with our used wrapping paper just because the world has moved on to look toward the next holiday.
In fact, we can celebrate the joy of Christmas every day of the year, no matter what is going on in our lives. We can sing with Simeon. We can run around with Anna. We can return to our regular lives with Joseph and Mary because we have the joy that Jesus has defeated sin. We can be ready to depart this life in peace because we have received the joy of our sins forgiven. We can have joy all the way to death’s door, where we will enter our eternal joy forever. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.