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Sunday after Christmas, December 31, 2017 - St. Luke 2:33-40

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Posted: Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018 by Pastor Westgate

The Church takes us through our Lord’s life over about 6 months. But the events don’t always come in order. This Saturday we celebrate Epiphany, the coming of the wise men. Yet a few days ago, on the 28th, she remembered Herod killing Bethlehem’s baby boys, which only happened after the wise men went home. As it is, Saturday can’t be the day the wise men came, because they came after the events of today’s Gospel, which took place on February 2; the Church reads the previous verses in Luke 2 on that day. So today we’ve fast-forwarded 40 days, even though Christmas was only 6 days ago. We’ll read about our Lord’s Circumcision and Naming tomorrow, which happened 33 days before what we just read.

Today we find The Christ Child in a place very familiar to Him, the Temple. Just not this Temple. He was the glory that made Solomon’s Temple so glorious. His ancestor Zerubbabel built this new Temple. But the people cried that the glory wasn’t the same. They remembered the old temple. Maybe the new one wasn’t as beautiful. But they also realized God’s glory hadn’t entered it. Had not Ezekiel seen Him leave in a vision before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it? In response, Haggai the prophet told them the glory of this temple would actually be far greater than that of the old temple. God’s glory would enter it, just not that day. He would enter it not as a cloud, but as a human being.

The time was fulfilled. The Law stated a first-born son was to be presented to The LORD in the temple, along with an offering to redeem Him from being pressed into God’s service. (In return, the Levites served as priests). They were supposed to bring a lamb, but since they were poor, the Law allowed them to bring 2 turtledoves or pigeons. They went and presented Him and gave the birds. But they did not forget the lamb. For they brought with them The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.

They had hardly walked into the building when old Simeon approached them. He may have been last in the line of faithful rabbinic fathers who taught the Scriptures to the people and knew Messiah was coming very soon. He had been praying to see Yahveh’s Messiah. The Spirit told him somehow that his prayer would be granted. They walked in and he knew by God’s grace this Child. He went to them, took Him into His arms, and sang the canticle we sing every Sunday after we take Jesus into our bodies, the Nunc Dimittis.

Today’s Gospel starts once he’s done singing. He says something very unchristmasy, something very opposed to our thoughts of a cute, cuddly baby. He talks about the falling and rising of many in Israel, about a sign being spoken against, about a sword going through Mary’s soul, about the thoughts of many being revealed. And all of it due to this cute, cuddly little 40-day old Boy. How is this possible? How can this be? What happened to all the warm thoughts of Christmas trees and hot cocoa and presents and cookies?

Nothing happened. Nothing changed. It’s just that this Baby isn’t born to be cute and cuddly. He has a purpose in life, a purpose He determined for Himself before the foundations of the world were laid. He is fairer than the children of men, yet His goal is to make Himself bloodier than the bloodiest of men. Grace is poured into His lips because of what He is born to do. He is born to suffer great things. He is born to die on a Cross.

So what’s the problem? The Cross is the problem. God crucified is the problem. The world doesn’t like it. The flesh can’t stand it. It stinks. It stinks like death and the flesh just doesn’t like it. He caused the falling of many in Israel. Simeon knew his students would kill this Child. He knew they would hate His Cross and many more would hate it too. He knew this would reveal what people think of God. He also knew he could not begin to imagine the anguish Mary felt as she saw her Son suffer and then die on The Cross. What makes The Cross such a problem? It tells us 2 things very clearly: 1. You are a sinner. 2. You can’t save yourself.

You are a sinner. You know this very clearly from The Ten Commandments. They keep reminding you that you have never kept them. They say: You shall do this and you shall not do that. If you don’t realize it by the time you’ve read each commandment, you do when you’ve read Luther’s explanations – you have definitely not kept the Law.

So what’s the problem? Our flesh doesn’t want to hear it’s sinful. To be more precise, it doesn’t like to hear there’s such a thing as sin and I’m guilty. It’s perfectly happy to call other people evil, but never to call itself evil. We especially see this today when people try to change morality. They call us bad for sticking to Bible teaching, and they call the things they promote good even though Scripture calls them sin. We want to think everything we do or say is fine and dandy, while everybody else can screw up as much as they like. We don’t want to be sinners. We don’t want to confess we’re sinners. The flesh certainly hates the idea that if we’re going to do anything good in God’s sight, we need His direction.

You can’t save yourself. You believe this. You confess that every time you kneel to confess your sins. But the flesh doesn’t like that idea either. If it admits to being a sinner, it still wants to get itself out of that problem. After all, we like the idea of making our own way. The flesh thinks it must be able to free itself of sin.

How does it think it will ever be able to do that? He sets up different paths. They have to do with what he does. If he just balances out his bad with good, if he just does some really good things, if he does a good enough job, then he’ll be fine with God. The problem is you can never do enough good to outweigh the bad and you can never be good enough because God demands us to be sinless from conception to birth. No one can do that. Even if we tried we’d still fail because we’d have sinned before we started trying.

The Cross of Jesus makes us confess we are sinners from not just birth but conception. That’s the thing people can’t stand. We don’t want to believe we pass sin down from sire to son. We don’t want to believe we can’t free ourselves from sin or finally save ourselves by our own strength or merits. Sinful minds want to do it themselves. So The Cross is despised. And when The Cross is despised, those who despise it fall. They cannot be part of God’s Israel.

But love of that Cross causes people to rise. That Cross is the fountain of grace, of God’s loving-kindness towards sinners. At that Cross you find rescue from sin, the antidote to death, freedom from Satan. There you, O sinner, see all your sinfulness fly off your own shoulders and onto Christ’s. There you see Mary’s baby Boy pierced through by nails and spear. But those words above it, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” say not just Who He is, but why. In flaming letters they say: “FOR YOU!” Believe in Him, and you rise into His people Israel. Israel is not a genetic race. It is the sheep of the Good Shepherd. They are the people The Shepherd of Israel, The Child Mary bore, The God-Man, is leading to eternal life. They believe in Him. They trust in Him for salvation. They believe He shed His Blood for them on The Cross and that He is bringing them, sight unseen, to life everlasting. A sword pierced Mary’s soul, but you have eternal joys awaiting you.

So Jerusalem is redeemed, the holy city is rescued, the people of God are ransomed. God sent forth His Son to rescue us from The Law’s demands of eternal death for sinners. He declares us His people, His children. You are His holy household. And the grace of God is upon you.

Categories: Pastor Westgate's Sermons

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