Sermon on Luke 2:22-40, the 1st Sunday after Christmas 2020 (B), "Ready to Go!"
“To us a child is born, to us a son is given—Christ our Lord!” Amen. “Is everyone ready to go? Piling into the car to leave the house is always a test of readiness. Do you have your mask? Your lunch? Your backpack? Your water bottles? Your shoes? More than once, the answer was an irritated “YES!!”, and we drove away, only to find out 10 or 15 minutes later that the true answer was “NO!” You can multiply the example in a thousand different ways, with your own “ready to go?” moments, and the worry before a trip whether you packed everything before heading to the airport, or the stress after you left and realized what you forgot. “Ready to go” can mean you have everything with you, or your state of mind where you’re mentally ready to leave without delay.
Today in our Gospel we face elderly Simeon, who joyfully, truthfully, and sincerely announces he’s “ready to go!” He had long waited for God’s redemption to draw near. Faithful in his watching and prayer, God specially revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. He would get to see the promised Savior—the Christ, the Chosen One—who would redeem God’s people Israel.
On any given day up till this one, Simeon was not ready to go. Everything else was ready. He was watching, waiting, prepared. But the final item on the checklist was not up to him. “Go-time” was up to God. God would choose the day that Simeon got to see the Savior. Simeon just had to be patient and wait. Last week we talked about the struggle of waiting, and how the season of Advent disciplines us into the practice of joyful and expectant waiting. A holy awe at the coming of God, and a need for us to repent of our sins, so that we are ready to receive His coming in blessing. So, Simeon waited “for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him”. The Spirit kept the flame of Simeon’s faith burning brightly, eyes intently watching for the consolation, the comfort, the promise of the Savior.
And now that our Advent waiting is over, the joy of Christ’s arrival! Christmas is here! Christ has come! And now baby Jesus comes in the arms of Mary and Joseph, to waiting Simeon. The joy when he held Him in his arms! But does Jesus come also to you? Yes! You are not left on the outside looking in, but Christ comes to you too! Lutherans have a particular way of confessing this. We sing Simeon’s song in the liturgy, right after communion. When Simeon was holding Jesus, he sang these words:
“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.”
He was saying, “I’m ready to go! I’ve seen your salvation!” He was in the right state of mind to be ready to go home to heaven, because he had seen God’s promise in Jesus. We sing these words after communion because there we see God’s promise in Jesus. Cradled in our hands and mouth is the body and blood of Jesus, given for the forgiveness of our sins. Not an empty symbol, but Jesus said Himself: “Take eat, this is my body, which is given for you…take and drink, this is my blood of the covenant, shed for the forgiveness of your sins.”
They are Jesus’ own words of promise, that He has visited you, and come near in His body and blood for you. Through time and space, Jesus forwards His gifts won at the cross to you. He wraps them, packages and delivers them in the humble forms of bread and wine, but its His body and blood for your forgiveness and life packaged inside. His promise, His Word; and may the Holy Spirit be upon you as you believe and not doubt that His Word is true. His body and blood are for you.
These promises were not for Simeon and Israel alone. Yes, Jesus was the consolation of Israel, but He is also “the light for revelation to the Gentiles”. How could the words and the deeds of this baby in a distant land reach us at the far ends of the earth? Because He was committed to die on the cross and rise to life again. His everlasting glory is sandwiched between a short life of some 33 years on earth, between the miracle of His Christmas birth, and the miracle of His Good Friday death and Easter Resurrection. In that life was enough wonder and awe, and life-changing truth, to power an eternal light undimmed by 2,000 years, still shining ib the Gentiles—all nations of the earth. And since then, the Gospel has circled the globe many times over, and it’s light still finds those in darkness and bring them the hope and the promise that kept Simeon waiting until joy was revealed!
Not only does Jesus come to us in the Lord’s Supper, but He comes in His Word, when His living voice is read to us from the Scriptures, preached in the pulpit, and spoken to us by fellow Christians in encouragement. He daily walks with us in Baptism, as our lives are joined to and hidden in His. Are you conscious of His daily presence with you? And He promises that here in worship, wherever two or three are gathered, He is with us. We’ve learned in our Hebrews Bible study, that Jesus is our heavenly liturgist, the one who leads His gathered brothers and sisters in praise and worship, standing before God’s heavenly throne, leading angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven—including the faithful believers who have gone before us—in worshipping God. So Christ comes to you, not in Mary and Joseph’s arms, but in His Word and Sacrament, in His worship service, and His daily presence in your life via baptism.
So back to readiness. Are you “ready to go” like Simeon? The last item on anyone’s checklist is when God calls us home. “Go-time” is up to God, not to us. We just need to be “ready to go.” The other day Jay shared this quote from the Christian author C.S. Lewis. Lewis was asked about the ominous reality of the atomic bomb that threatened his age. His words are equally fitting for today’s coronavirus epidemic. Yes, the possibility of death is true and real. It has always been so. Lewis describes the world as already bristling with numerous different possibilities of painful and premature death. How should we live with that knowledge, he asks? “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.” Death has always been a certainty, not a mere possibility. We all will die one way or another. The only matter is when or how.
Lewis finishes: “the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”
Lewis’ point is really the same as we see in Simeon. Simeon was ready to go because he’d seen the Lord. We can be “ready to go” whenever death comes for us. We don’t need to spend our waking hours thinking about bombs or viruses or occupying Roman soldiers. We don’t have to live in fear; but we can do sensible human things while we wait—praying, working, worshipping, playing, enjoying life with friends and family. Life does not have to come to a halt. People can take the precautions they feel are sensible and best, but our minds and our hearts must be free to live and trust boldly that whenever death comes, we are ready for Christ! I’m ready to go! Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace!
To “go in peace”. Don’t let fear destroy this moment, or steal the enjoyment of the days, months, or years that are left to you. It’s no use worrying—Jesus has said be sure of that—worrying can’t add to your life. In fact it does the opposite. Simeon and Anna found their joy renewed by worshipping the Lord faithfully and praying in the Temple. Lewis mentioned praying, bathing the kids, playing tennis and chatting with our friends. Martin Luther is reported to have said that if he knew Jesus were going to return tomorrow, he would plant an apple tree. The idea is that the peace of the Lord rules our lives when we look to Jesus. Televisions and phone screens and the horrible tragedies and epidemics that rage through our world from generation to generation, will continue to wrench our eyes away—but find your peace in beholding the Lord’s salvation. Live in peace, with eyes fixed on Jesus.
My own eyes have seen your salvation. Let your eyes see it. Put Jesus in front of your eyes like the Israelites put reminders of God’s law all over their house, their doorways, their arms and foreheads. When the world would steal away your peace with fear, put Jesus back in front of your eyes. Worship Him, pray to Him, do sensible human things, loving your neighbor and enjoying your life in His peace. See Him in your brothers and sisters in Christ. See Him in the neighbor in need. See Him in the Sacraments and hear Him in the Word. His salvation is yours, and it’s for your peace. And as long as you have His salvation you have His peace, and you will truly be, ready to go! Lord, now let your servant go in peace, according to Your Word! Amen.