“Not Just Shepherds and Wise Men . . .”
Text: Luke 2:22-40
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The shepherds and the wise men get all the press. They’re in our nativity scenes and on many Christmas cards. They have Christmas carols written about them that everyone knows, and they’re in children’s Christmas pageants. We hear about them on big days in the church - Christmas Eve and Epiphany. Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the shepherds and the wise men, right?
The guy we heard about today - Simeon - well, he kind of falls through the cracks. He’s not in any nativity scenes or on any Christmas cards. No well known carols about him, and no child rushes up to the director of the Christmas pageant and asks to be Simeon! Maybe its because we usually hear about him the Sunday after Christmas, which is called a “Low Sunday,” meaning its not usually one of the better attended services of the year.
So Simeon? Well, Christmas is just fine without him.
Except . . . of those three: the shepherds, the wise men, and Simeon, who can we most relate to? The shepherds? They got to see and hear from the angels and leave their flocks and go to Bethlehem the very night that Jesus was born. That’s pretty cool . . . but something I’ll never get to do. And the wise men? They got to see and follow a special star! They journeyed a long and perhaps difficult way, and then fell down and worshipped Jesus. That’s pretty cool, too . . . but again, not something I’ll ever get to do.
But Simeon? He’s a bit different. Kinda ordinary. And he didn’t go see Jesus - Jesus came to him. In Church. And Simeon didn’t get to see angels or a special star - what He had was the Word of God. Simeon . . . he’s like us.
So maybe he’s the part of the Christmas story where we fit best. And maybe that’s why the church decided to give him more press than the shepherds and the wise men. For while they get the big days of Christmas and Epiphany, the words of Simeon are sung by us many Sundays throughout the church year. We sing them right after we see our Saviour - taking Him not up in our arms, as Simeon did, but even better - taking Him into our mouths, and so into us, as we eat His Body and drink His Blood in the Lord’s Supper. We get to be Simeon. You even probably have your lines memorized:
Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace
according to Thy Word,
for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,
which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people,
a light to lighten the Gentiles
and the glory of Thy people Israel.
With those words, Simeon is saying something significant. The shepherds went to see the Lamb of God lying in a manger. The wise men went to see the King of kings. But Simeon tells us what this means for him, for you and me, and for all people: that because Jesus has come into the world, we can depart in peace. For God’s salvation, God’s sin offering is here. The King who came to serve His people. The Lamb who came to offer His life. That we who die may die in peace.
And that’s a great Christmas present, really. Most people I have spoken to want to die in peace. They don’t want to be in a hospital or in great pain - they want to die at home in their sleep, peacefully. Some get to, and some don’t. But Simeon is telling us that even in the hospital, even in great pain, even suddenly or unexpectedly, we can die in peace. The peace of knowing that death is not the end. The peace of knowing that our sins will not haunt us. For the one who conquers sin and death is here. He has come to put our spiritual affairs in order, so we can die with a peaceful mind and a peace-filled heart.
Yet while that’s a great Christmas present, I guess it’s also why Simeon hasn’t really caught on as part of the Christmas story - nobody wants to think about death at Christmas. But sometimes death intrudes on our Christmases. When we try to celebrate for the first time without a loved one, or when we know that our loved one won’t make it to the next Christmas. I still remember getting the phone call from my father just a couple of days after Christmas telling us that my mother was going on hospice care and that this was going to be her last Christmas with us.
Sad . . . but Simeon teaches us that there is never a “last Christmas” for those who die in Christ. In fact, for them, they enter the Christmas that never ends. Can you imagine that? Every day Christmas Day? Every day with your Saviour? Not with Him in your arms, but with you in His! Perhaps that is a good way to think about eternal life.
But not just eternal life, but your life even now. For even now, each day that we live is a day in Christ’s arms; a day in His love and care. It may not always seem like it, just as another Hebrew mother and father bringing their child to the Temple didn’t seem like anything special. Simeon had probably seen it dozens of times before. But the Word and promise of God, and the Holy Spirit, told Simeon this one was different. This one was special. This one was the one he had been waiting for . . .
And for us, too. It is the Word and promise of God, and the Holy Spirit, telling us that though our lives seem quite ordinary or even bad, that we are in the love and care of our Saviour. That this water really does wash away our sins and give us a new birth. That these words really do change our status before God. That this bread and wine really are the Body and Blood of Simeon’s promised child . . . and of our crucified and risen Saviour. That God uses the ordinary in extraordinary ways, and to do extraordinary things.
And that’s really what makes Christmas merry, isn’t it?
So maybe we could start a campaign to “Keep Simeon in Christmas” . . . but I don’t think we’d really get anywhere. Keep Christ in Christmas in catchier, and hard enough.
So how about this? That we make Simeon our New Year’s Eve commemoration? We always hear His story around this time, and this day needs a better name anyway; better than the Eve of the Circumcision of our Lord. And Simeon is perfect for this day, for New Year’s Eve, it seems to me. For this day was a turning point for Simeon. His waiting was over, the promise was fulfilled, and he now looked to the future with confidence. He was ready to die and ready for whatever else came his way. He had held his Saviour in his arms! What could possibly overshadow that?
And this too - we don’t know how long Simeon lived after this. Was he an old man - like is often assumed and like is pictured on the cover of the bulletin today? And so he didn’t have many years left to live? Or was he a young man who could have lived for many more years, even maybe long enough to see the child he once held in his arms held by nails to a cross? Or was he a young man who died young? We just don’t know what happened to him after this day . . .
And we, too, don’t know what this New Year will bring for us. This day is a turning point for us - the close of one year and the start of a new. This day is when many look back to the year gone by and look forward to the year ahead. The joys and regrets of the past and the hopes and dreams - and maybe the fears - of the future. But like for Simeon, Jesus changes things. Like Simeon, we can face the future - whatever it brings - with confidence. For our Saviour has come for us with forgiveness for the past and hope for the future. So that whatever happens, whatever comes, we are ready when He is with us.
And also like Simeon, none of us knows how much longer we have to live. Maybe you’re old and have not many years left. But maybe you’re young and will die young. Or maybe you’ll live many more years and see things you’ve never imagined - not just the changes that will surely happen in our world, but also, maybe, you’ll get to see the Jesus we now eat and drink returning in glory on the clouds of heaven. We just don’t know.
But from that day on, this Simeon knew: he could depart in peace. And that we know too.
We can depart this year in peace and we can depart this life in peace, because our sins, our failures, our mistakes, our screw-ups, and our rebellion have been forgiven. All of them. There’s no old man skeleton in the closet or monster of sin under the bed, waiting to come out and make God want to toss us out or disown us. They’re gone, slain, with Jesus on the cross.
So now, for us, is a new life. The turning of a new page - not just of a new calendar, but of new life. In Christ.
So let the shepherds and the wise men get all the press and good carols. Long after the press cycle has ended, the cards have been recycled, and the carols put away for another year, we’ll still be singing Simeon’s Christmas carol and making his joy ours as well.
And pay attention, too, to the words of the hymn we’ll sing at the end today, our closing hymn (LSB #897). As you sing those words, imagine Simeon saying them. How appropriate those words are to sing, to proclaim, today. Simeon’s day. New Year’s Eve. Maybe we can sneak them into some Christmas pageants next year . . .
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.