The Gifts of Christmas
Luke 2:22-40. First Sunday After Christmas.
The presents are unwrapped, some may even be returned already, and we are grateful for the welcoming fragrances of candles, cookies, or soaps. We snuggle into the warmth of wool socks or luxuriate in the feel of a cashmere scarf. Our eyes delight in the sparkle of a new diamond or in the beauty of a child’s kaleidoscope. Memories flood back to us of Christmases long ago as we savor a bite of a favorite cookie or other holiday treat. And our hearts are filled with joy upon hearing the “I love yous” and “Merry Christmases” from our family members and friends young and old. The celebration of Christ’s birth is always full of gifts to our senses, and we see the same kinds of blessings given by God and received by His faithful people in our Christmas lesson for this morning.
Our Gospel lesson says, “And it had been revealed to [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (v 26, emphasis added). And … “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (vv 29–30, emphasis added). How blessed were Simeon and Anna in our text, for they had the privilege of seeing the infant Christ with their own eyes! Simeon, and perhaps also Anna, even had the joy of holding him in their arms. Oh, that we were each so privileged!
Perhaps. But the truth is that seeing or even holding the Savior is not of first importance. No, God Places His Redeeming Word into Our Hearts through Our Ears, Eyes, and Arms, but begins with our ears.
Humanity was created to receive the Word of God into our ears and hearts. The primacy of God’s voice is seen in creation: “And God said” (Gen 1:3). But the original sin was doubt in the Word that God has placed into our hearts through our ears: “Did God really say . . . ?” (see Gen 3:1). Our spiritual deafness makes us spiritually blind and incapable of holding on to God’s saving promise.
Even Mary and Joseph in our account for today would have rather believed what they saw than what they heard. They saw in their arms a beautiful baby being adored by well-wishers (vv 25–33, 36–38). But they heard the painful words of Simeon’s prophecy (vv 34–35). Those words, though mysterious regarding their full meaning at the moment when they were spoken, must have taken some of the joy out of that first Christmas for Mary and Joseph. Even though they were words of truth and of the deepest love from God’s own mouth, it’s likely that the loving father and mother would have preferred to dwell on the glory of the angels’ proclaiming the Savior’s birth or the sacred quietness of the shepherds’ vigil over the sleeping infant than hear warnings about His suffering and death.
So, even as Mary and Joseph maybe felt a little deflated by the ominous words of Simeon and Anna about their lovely Child 40 days after His arrival, what are our thoughts about God’s great Christmas gift just six days after our initial joy? Has the gift of Jesus already lost some its shine or delight as we go back to our usual routines and let the words of the world, the devil, and our old sinful nature fill us with worry instead of Christmas peace?
As much as we may joke about how easily broken New Years’ resolutions seem to be year after year, isn’t it tragic that our Christmas joy—rooted in the faithful promises of God and His saving love for us in the Christ Child—are even more fleeting? I must admit that there have been more than one Christmas mornings when, after all the wrappings had found their way into the trash bag, I faithlessly wondered, “Is that all there is?”
If Christmas joy founded in the birth of our Savior is not ours this morning, we need to repent of our jaded hearts and again embrace the truth that we hear in Scripture—everything in the realm of salvation is to be “according to [God’s] word” (v 29). All other senses serve our hearing of the Word in Scripture, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper (Ps 48:8), not the other way around.
Newborns receive Christ’s redemption by hearing their names connected with God’s name at Baptism, even before they can see or understand who is holding them.
We begin to hear the Gospel even before our birth as our family speaks and sings the Word of God.
In the same way as when we were young, our growth as Christians into and during adulthood depends on discerning truth from falsehood by hearing the voice of the Christ Child through the prophets and apostles (1 Jn 4:6). The hard saying of Simeon (vv 34–35) was actually the word of salvation to be heard and believed. The sword piercing Mary’s soul would be the cross by which her Son has saved us all.
Simeon and Anna join all believers in putting faith in that righteousness of Christ that we hear is given to us, despite our fallenness, that we see constantly. We learn to trust what God says about us in Christ rather than believe what the devil says about us in our own fallen sinfulness. God is always true in what He says, and we know that the devil is always a liar, but it is so easy for the accusations to rob us of our Christmas joy!
So today, let us remember now and throughout this Christmas season that the hidden Christ Child is to be seen and held through our ears!. Our human condition is spiritual deafness and in need of much more than a new hearing aid; we need re-created ears, eyes, arms, and hearts. This Re-creation, like the first creation, is by God’s gracious Word, and it will reignite our appreciation and gratitude for the most wonderful Christmas gift.
Now, though we don’t see or hold the Christ Child as did Simeon and Anna, we may see and hold him too—through our ears. Jesus is the Word of God, beheld in the manger, held on the cross, seen in the Scriptures, held in the Sacraments, in order that he may be seen in faith and held in our hearts.
How will we keep God’s Word in our ears this week? Remember the words spoken at the font, at Absolution, at the Communion rail, reading Scripture, singing hymns, praying back to God his saving promises, and talking about the Christ Child of the Bible to those who have not yet heard (cf. Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel [St. Louis: Concordia, 2004], 35).
This morning, where is the God who comes to save? In the voice of his Son, who says, “I have been born that I may redeem you and your ears and your eyes and your arms.” And faith in our hearts sings back to our gracious, gift-giving God the words of the Nunc Dimittis: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word” (LSB).