New Year, New World

Good Morning Brothers and Sisters,

Today marks the final Sunday of the year. This year has been filled with a lot of uncertainty and yet there is hope for this new year that is ahead. For many of us a new year really means a fresh start. Maybe things didn't go completely the way that we had planned. Maybe we made some mistakes this year and want to make corrections for them or maybe we have already picked a new years resolution to try and make these dreams come true in our lives.

Today is what we call Christmas 1, in church terms. This means that the celebration which we have been singing songs about, speaking of the joy of the season, or even opening presents for, continues this week as well. The joy that we spoke about is meant to sustain us, and thats what we see in this passage from John 1. That this joy came into the world and came into the world to bring us grace and truth. We saw this beginning with Moses and the law and we see this continued with Jesus and grace.

We have this account from Luke, it is now forty days after Jesus’ birth. If you don't know much about Jewish custom it is important for you to know that based on Jewish law any woman who gave birth was considered unclean and that she was not allowed to enter the temple. After forty days the tradition was that the woman and her spouse would come to the temple and would offer a sacrifice. This sacrifice would cleanse her and consecrate their son, Jesus. While in Jerusalem and at the temple a man named Simeon comes rushing towards them. He takes the baby Jesus and proclaims these words, “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel."

Beautiful words, to be sure, but also troubling, for let's not kid ourselves, when Simeon asks that he be allowed to go, he's asking to die. And so I wonder, why does Luke record this strange scene and song. Why would he move from the beauty and light and joy of the nativity straight to Simeon's morbid request for death? And why must we focus on that request, and therefore on death, just a few short days after our own celebrations of Christmas.

Surely this is not something that was necessary to place in this context. There are many things that are not told to us about Jesus childhood, in fact along with this incident there are only a few, the visit of the magi (Matthew 2:1-12, Epiphany every year), the slaughter of the innocents (Matthew 2:13-23, First Sunday after Christmas in year A), and Jesus in the temple as a twelve-year-old (Luke 2:41-52, First Sunday after Christmas in year C). So why did Luke choose to put this in this gospel? Why would the author take the time to specifically talk about something like this, when so little else is even brought up about Jesus’ childhood?

Some of us have experienced loss in this last year and that makes for a difficult holiday season. Many of us are reminded of loved ones from a stanza in a hymn, a favorite ornament on the tree, or some fleeting but vivid memory of a Christmas past. For myself, I am reminded this week about my moms parents and my uncle from the memories that I often reflect on this time of year. This year will mark 20 years since my grandfather and uncle passed and 18 since my grandmother passed. It is never easy to not have our loved ones that have been lost with us during these special times of the year and Simeon is no different. He's an old man, and has been around the block more than a few times, and so we can imagine that he has tasted love and loss, joy and despair, hope and fear, just like you and me. And so he sings of death simply because he can't help it; because he, like us, lives with it everyday.

St. Luke is clear that Simeon is able to speak of death so honestly only in the light of the coming of the promised messiah, only, that is, by the confidence that in this helpless child God has come to redeem Israel and save all the world. "Lord," Simeon, sings, "now you can let your servant go in peace; for your word has been fulfilled." Simeon perceives, you see, that in the Christ-child God has kept God's promises; that in this babe, set for the rising and fall of many, God has acted once and for all to address the question and specter of death with the promise of life.

Simeon is not asking for death, rather he is accepting it with courage knowing confidently what is in store for him because of this Christ child. This child, having done nothing by the way, brought hope into the life of a man who would die long before the ministry that Jesus was to take up. Just his mere presence in the life of Simeon was enough to bring hope.

This is important for us today as we are about to begin a new year. As we reflect upon all that happened to us this past year, both good and bad, know that there is hope because Christ has come into this world. We can be confident, like Simeon, that God is present in our lives because God has kept the promises made to our religious ancestors of old. Those who were brought out of oppression in Israel believed that God would be faithful and so God has been faithful.

I love how the author chooses to end this section of scripture and wrap up the story which we have been speaking about today. “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” I love this because God truly is bigger than all of the problems that we encounter in this world. We can live life free like Simeon and appreciate all that is around us because it is God who is being faithful to us. Now this doesn't mean that there wont be times of hardship and tragedy, but it does mean that we can do what Paul told the Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

And so as we begin to bring this year to a close, let us refocus our hearts on the Christ that lives and breathes through us. Let us take this moment to care for the hurt and the lost. Let us keep our hearts trained on the hope of Jesus and remember that even in the darkest time of the year, there is Jesus the Christ. Amen.