In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit
St. Luke 2:27-32 And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel. “Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon who appeared to be near death. This could be because he was advanced in years, or it could be because he was a young man who was dying of cancer or some other sort of unknown disorder; we simply do not know. But whether he was young and sick or old and feeble, Simeon was a devout man whose heart was set on the consolation that would come with the arrival of the Messiah.
God had revealed to Simeon that he would not see death before he had seen the Christ. Or, to put it another way, Simeon would not see death until he had seen Life –tangible, real, and everlasting life in the flesh in Jesus. We see death all around us – in the world, in our own bodies. But to see Jesus is to see life, the life of God given to man, perfect life with God that never ends. When Simeon took the Child Jesus into His arms, he praised God and said, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” Right here, in the body of this infant, is deliverance from death and the devil. Right here, in this ordinary-looking baby is forgiveness of sins. Simeon saw salvation because he saw Jesus.
The other people in the temple must have thought that Simeon was nuts to say such a thing. They may have supposed that he was drunk or senile or had his head clouded with the incense he was burning, or that he was just a foolish man. How could this Child be the Savior and the Light of the world when He had nothing but ordinary swaddling cloths and Joseph and Mary had scarcely a few coins in their pockets? This didn’t look like a mighty Messiah. This looked like just another poor peasant boy being brought in to the temple to fulfill the requirements of the Old Testament Law.
But while some rejected Simeon’s words in unbelief, Mary and Joseph marveled at them in faith. Simeon sang of how Jesus would not only be a small, limited light, as before when God shone His light only on the Jews, but also a far-reaching, brilliant light which would brighten the whole world like the sun. Jesus would be a light to lighten the pagan Gentiles, as well as the glory of His people Israel. The light of Christ would overcome the darkness of the sin of the whole world.
The thought of this caused Joseph and Mary to marvel and to be filled with believing joy. And that, dear fellow redeemed, is the way faith is: the more firm one believes, the more one marvels at what God does. When faith is absent, there is neither joy nor wonder, but only staleness. But if we believe with certainty that the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, is our brother, our flesh and blood; if we believe that Christ’s righteousness is our righteousness, that His life is our life, then we will marvel like Joseph and Mary and be so overjoyed that we cannot meditate enough on this infant Child.
The truth of Christ is truly a marvel. You should be amazed to think that you are baptized into Christ’s own body. Through Him you have become the conqueror of sin and death and the devil. As a child of God heaven and all creation must work all things together for your good. Even if you were to become a billionaire, what would that be compared to having Christ? On the day of judgment, He will say to you, even as He already does, ‘You are my dear brother; everything that is mine is yours, you shall live with me in eternity.'” We should not give way to fear or depression but say with sure faith, “Even if I lose my health and wealth and everything in this life, this treasure still remains, that I have been made free from sin through Christ and have been rescued from eternal death by Him. That no one can take from me. If only this Christ child remains, the rest may go.”
It is with such confidence that we can say along with Simeon, “Lord now let your servant depart in peace.” Having the unconquerable life of Christ, we are made ready to die with calm and clear consciences cleansed by Jesus. Not that we seek death in some morbid fashion, for the end of our life is not something for us to determine but God. And yet we know that what is in store for us with Christ in heaven is far better than any of the so-called joys of this world.
When I first became a pastor it used to bother me that very often in my hospital visits, parishioners would express the wish to die, even sometimes when they weren’t in very bad shape. Somehow, that didn’t seem right to me. Perhaps it seemed like a low-budget escape. But over the years I have learned to see that this wasn’t only a desire to escape pain or loneliness but sometimes a real and faithful longing to be with Jesus. It is as St. Paul said, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain . . . I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Phil. 1:21 & 23).
St. Paul himself, as he wrote those words to the Philippian church from prison, said it would be much better for him if he could be done with this life and be with his Savior. And yet as long as the Lord gave him life in this world, he had a calling to fulfill for the sake of others. In the same way every one of you also has a calling to fulfill as long as the Lord gives you breath. For your times are in His hands. We pray for a blessed end as much as we pray for Christ’s second coming, so that we can be rid of this mortal life once and for all and put on immortality, so that we can be with the angels and those who have gone before us in the faith, and above all so that we can see Him who is the Light of the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel face to face and marvel in His presence forever. “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.”
The Church traditionally sings Simeon’s song on two different occasions. It is first of all the traditional hymn of Compline, the prayer at the close of the day. Just before we go to sleep at night, we pray, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.” Sleep is a picture of death just as rising in the morning is a picture of the resurrection which we surely have in Jesus.
Later in history, Simeon’s song came into the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper. What a perfect place to sing Simeon’s song of deliverance. For Christ is no less present for you here in the Supper than when His little body was cradled in Simeon’s arms. So after receiving Christ we sing, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your Word, for my eyes have seen your salvation,” salvation wrapped not in cloths but this time in bread and wine. We go to the Sacrament as though going to our death, so that we might go to our death as though going to the Sacrament.
Simeon spoke somberly to Mary, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against.” Even as an infant, the cross casts its shadow over the Christ child. Many would stumble over Him in unbelief and fall to their condemnation. Some would look to Him in faith and rise to eternal life. He would be a sign spoken against, despised and rejected, a curse on men’s lips.
So it is still today. Jesus remains an offense to both Jew and Gentile. He is a stumbling block for the wise of this world and the self-righteous. They simply can’t bear to have their wisdom, their righteousness, and their piety count for nothing. They may love the idea of religion, but they can’t stand the teaching that they are full of darkness and death and that light and life are found only in Christ. They declare Christianity to be intolerant and closed-minded. They want their spirituality to be centered in themselves, not outside of themselves in Jesus, and so they stumble over Him, never again to rise.
However, Jesus is also set for the rising of many who are laid low. These are the ones who acknowledge that by their own wisdom and works they cannot help themselves. They confess that their help comes only from Jesus, the world’s Savior and Light. Christ is the longed-for champion to whom they cling, and through whom they are saved.
This is how Jesus reveals the thoughts of many hearts. For some He is a pitfall, something they trip over along the path. But for others He is a sturdy rock against which to lean and lift one’s self up. The proud, the bigwigs, the self-righteous butt up against him with their heads, fall back, and slander and mock him. But the so-called fools and poor sinners stand by Him and believe in Him. Those who come humbly before Him stand tall, while those who vaunt proudly fall. Through Christ, only the helpless are saved, only the foolish are made wise, only the sinful become holy.
Finally, Simeon says to Mary, “Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” Mary’s heart and soul would be pierced through by having to stand by and hear her Son being slandered and spoken against, and then to watch her Son suffer and die for the sins of the world.
So it is still today. The sword of the world continues to pierce the soul of our mother, the holy Church of Christ. She too is slandered; the Gospel teachings she holds to are mocked and ridiculed. As the body of Christ, Christians must yet suffer, surrounded on all sides by ungodliness. But even as Mary saw the risen Jesus, so also the Church will behold her victorious Lord when He comes again in Light, and all sorrow will be turned to gladness that can never be taken away.
So trust in Simeon’s prophecy which he spoke by the Holy Spirit. Look to this Child that Mary wrapped in a blanket and brought to the temple. Receive this Child in the empty arms of faith. Hold Him as your own, for He has come to be your Light and your Salvation. Jesus is the Glory of God come down to you.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, whether you are good or bad, rich or poor, young or old, married or single. This Child has come to save you, so that you too can depart in peace.
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.