12-31-23 Christmas 1

Bible Text: Luke 2:22-40 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus

When St. Paul says that God sent His Son in the fullness of time, he’s not simply saying that it was the perfect time in human history to send Jesus. It was that. You couldn’t pick a better time, when all the known world was under Roman control, when the Greek language was spoken everywhere – St. Paul’s missionary journeys prove this – he can go through all Turkey, through Thrace, through Macedonia, through Greece, all the way to Rome and Spain, and speak the same language the entire time with no need for an interpreter or a passport. You can’t do that today and you couldn’t do that at any other time in history. It was the perfect time for the spread of the Good News to the nations. But that, again, is not all St. Paul is saying. Nor is it simply that all the prophecies are now fulfilled – though again, this is true, hundreds of prophecies, detailing Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem, his virgin birth, the kind of death he would die, are all fulfilled in this fullness of time. Israel itself is fulfilled, all its laws, all its ceremonies, its temple, its sacrifices, its reason for existing, all of it. But not even this fully explains these beautiful words, “the fullness of time.” It’s not that God had to wait for the fullness of time to become a man, it’s that God becoming a man makes the fullness of time. It’s why time exists, why the world exists, why you exist. God becoming a man is why human history took the course it did up to Jesus’ birth and why it’s taken the course it has since his birth. Time may be linear, that is, you can map it from the beginning when God created all things, through to the flood and then on to Abraham and then on to Moses and then on to Jesus and then on to us in the modern day, and finally to the last day. But God, the Creator of time, God who lives outside of time, marks time’s fullness from His entering into it, and becoming subject to it, this is part of what it means that He is born under the law, the God who is outside the laws of nature, because He created nature, subjects Himself to these laws too, including time and space and growth, as he lies a little baby in Bethlehem. All time before this fullness feeds into it, and all time after it flows from it.

Simeon knows this. It’s why you find him singing to a baby in the Temple. Most of us have sung to a baby, I heard my brother doing it last night, singing an old Norwegian nighttime hymn to his baby. But instead of a lullaby or a hymn sung to comfort a crying child, Simeon addresses this six-week old in his arms as Lord. He calls himself this baby’s servant. Simeon is not looking into heaven when he says, Lord. He’s looking at that baby. His prayer isn’t directed to God up there, it is directed to God in his arms. That’s what the fullness of time means. It is when the fullness of God dwells in the little body of Jesus that the fullness of time has come. And though this is so cosmic, so far-reaching that Simeon has to sing about the Light of the Gentiles, that this baby is Savior of the whole world, it is also very personally directed to Simeon. The Holy Spirit led him there, he holds that baby in his arms, his eyes see his salvation.

You are to see yourself in Simeon. You should not think of Simeon as someone so saintly that you cannot compare. He is the picture of the Christian. He’s not a prophet. The Gospel says nothing of that. He’s not a priest either. He’s a pious man waiting for Jesus to come. What is so extraordinary about that? This is the definition of faithful, of devout, of Christian, to wait for the coming of Jesus. And Simeon’s waiting is not like Anna’s, where she’s day and night in the Temple. There’s nothing like that said about Simeon. Simeon is no doubt married, with children, with a job, and all the regular tasks and concerns of life that you have. But above everything, he’s a Christian, waiting to see the promise of God fulfilled before his eyes, waiting to see salvation and hold it in his hands, looking forward to going to the Temple and seeing his salvation.

And that’s you, that’s the Christian. You’re not monks, you’re not nuns, and you’re certainly not unaffected by cares at work, worries at home, sin in your conscience, death in your body, and neither was Simeon. But when Simeon held that baby he saw life, so that he was ready to die, and he saw salvation, so that no sin could oppress his conscience and no fear of hell and God’s punishment could torment his soul. Because that baby in his arms hadn’t come to threaten him or punish him. He’d come as He said, weak and lowly, to bear away Simeon’s death and sin and open the way to everlasting life. And this is how He comes to you. He comes in his body and his blood not to condemn or threaten, but to forgive and give life and salvation.

This is why Simeon applies his experience universally, to you. He says, “This child will be for the fall and the rise of many in Israel. He will be a sign that is spoken against. He will reveal the thoughts of hearts.” When faced with this Jesus, the world faces a crisis. You can either do as Simeon did, welcome Him into your arms, humble yourself and admit you need this little baby, that He is your salvation and your peace before God, or this little baby will be a sign of offense. There is no middle way. He who is not with me is against me, Jesus says. And he who does not gather with me, scatters. This is the universal relevance of Christmas. This is the fullness of time.

And it must be this way. Because God became a baby. God walked on this earth. The eternal Creator. He breathed this air in His lungs. Simeon held his little body in his arms. He grew up in Nazareth. He preached and taught and performed miracles and then suffered torture and death on a cross. He rose again the third day. What do you think of Him? He can’t be ignored. He says He comes to bear your sin. He says you need Him. That He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one goes to the Father except through Him. He offers eternal life to all who trust in Him. He gives peace to the pained conscience, He gives meaning to lives that seem useless and futile. He reveals the thoughts of the Christian heart, yes I am a sinner, yes I have wasted so much time, yes I have obsessed over the most useless things, and I confess it all, vanity, vanity, all is vanity, except this baby in Simeon’s arms, there is no vanity there, except the body and the blood placed into my mouth. Here is life. There is no wasted time here. Here is to know God, to know His love, to know you are a son and an heir of your Father through His Son Jesus Christ your Lord, that you have access to the ear of God, that He hears your prayers, that you don’t have to slave and work like a servant to win his favor, because your Lord Jesus has won His favor for you, He has given you His Spirit, made you a child of His Father in you Baptism. This is what Simeon means when he says that Jesus will be the rising, the resurrection, of many.

But he will also be the ruin of many. Jesus didn’t come to ruin. He came to save. But those who reject Him ruin themselves. And again, the thoughts of hearts are revealed. What do you think of this Jesus? That you don’t need Him? That you never asked God to become a man and bear your sin? That you don’t believe it? That your sin doesn’t require that kind of sacrifice? The unbelief of man does not determine reality. It is nothing but the whining of a bratty and disobedient child against its father. The truth is the truth regardless of the judgment of sinners against their Creator. Let God be true and every man a liar. In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.

We were all, as St. Paul says, under the law. That means under the law’s condemnation. The law requires perfection of us. To love God above all things and to love each other as ourselves. Countless religions tried to come out from under the law. The Jews tried, the pagans tried. They obeyed rules upon rules. They sacrificed and they worked. But none of it could stop the law’s accusation, you aren’t good enough for God, you can’t call Him your Father, you haven’t behaved like a son. The law always throws the slave out of the house. He can’t inherit with the children. But then the true Son steps in. The Son of the Father. He comes in the fullness of time. Born of a woman. Born under the law. He takes all the law’s accusations on Himself. He cries out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” He bears it all for us, to redeem us, to make us sons. Because if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

The time after Christmas is known as the most depressing time of the year. Did you know that? More suicides, more depression than any other time. It has something to do with being the middle of winter. But it has more to do with the obvious vanity of it all. We’re all like Ralph, wanting the red ryder bbgun, getting it, and then shooting our eye out. The good times pass so quick. Christmas is gone. The gifts you looked forward to once again didn’t give you the lasting pleasure you thought they might. The family came, but it wasn’t like old times. And once again the age old proverb proves itself – vanity, vanity, all is vanity. What is this life about anyway?

And that is why you need to remember that Christmas has ushered in the fullness of time. Let Jesus expose the thoughts of your hearts. All the sin, all the unfulfilled hopes, all the feelings of emptiness, all the continued expectations for the future in this sinful world, all the vanity. And let Jesus fill you with thoughts of Himself. There is no vanity with Jesus. No emptiness. Only fullness. Pure love for You from God Himself. Adoption into the family of heaven. Sins erased. Enmity and bitterness broken down. An eternal future, fullness of time that has no end. Perfect peace and contentment. The Spirit of God living in you. His angels watching over you. That’s what Christmas means.

Simeon, by the way, didn’t believe because he saw. It’s not like Jesus was shining in his arms. There was nothing special about this baby on the outside. His parents were poor. They offer a couple pigeons for Mary’s purification, because they couldn’t afford a lamb. The baby was only a baby to the eyes. Simeon confesses, “My eyes have seen your salvation” not because his eyes see some wonder, but because he believes God’s Word, that this baby, born of a virgin, born in Bethlehem, is Immanuel, God-with-us. And the same holds true for us. When we sing Simeon’s song, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word,” we’re making the same confession, that we have seen and we’ve tasted common things, but our eyes have seen salvation; and God in the flesh has touched our lips. Therefore we have peace, we have salvation, for me to live is Christ and to die is gain, because then I will be with Him. And so we’re ready for anything time brings, anything the New Year brings, for death, for life, because we are God’s children, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and this is His world, His time, and He is ours and we are His.

Let us pray:

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child
Make thee a bed, soft undefiled
Within my heart that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for thee.

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