Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Singing Saints

First Sunday after Christmas, Dec. 30th, Year of Our + Lord 2012
St. John  and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, MT
Singing Saints - Luke 2:22-40

Luke is the singing evangelist.  He records several songs in his account of the life of Christ, songs which have become part of the liturgy of the Church, like the Gloria in Excelsis, the first song of the historic liturgy, the song of the angels on Christmas night, Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth. 

And then we have the song of Zechariah, the Benedictus: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel…  Zechariah thanks God for the birth of his son, John the Baptist, and for the Christ whom John foretold. 

Luke also gives us the song of Mary, the Magnificat, which Mary sang to Elizabeth, and John the Baptist, listening in her womb, as Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord, and her spirit rejoices in God, her Savior. 

Today we have Simeon’s Song, known in Latin as the Nunc Dimittis, the song that faithful Simeon sang as he held the Christ Child in his hands, a song of joy, and confidence, a song about the victory of God, for us.  Simeon’s song has been set to music hundreds of different ways, the version we just sang being one of the best. 

Lord bid Your servant go in peace, Your word is now fulfilled.
These eyes have seen salvation’s dawn, This child so long foretold.

Jesus is here, the Babe of Bethlehem is in the world, and since He is God in the flesh, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, He makes things start to happen, right away. 

Simeon was an old man, a faithful Israelite who believed the promise that the Lord God of Israel would send His Savior.  Simeon had received another promise, a special promise, just for him, the promise that he would not die before seeing the Savior.  When Mary and Joseph, obeying the Law of Moses, brought Jesus to be dedicated to the Lord, Simeon knew that the Lord’s promises had been fulfilled.  So now, even though the appearing of Jesus means that Simeon could die anytime, he is a very happy old man, happy to be the servant of the Lord, happy to be the servant of the little child he held in his hands.  Simeon rejoices that now he can depart in peace, he can die with joy, for the Word of God has been fulfilled, salvation from on high has dawned in the darkness of our world. 
All of God’s promises receive their yes, in the Baby Jesus.  Indeed, all prophecy, all of the promises of the Old Testament awaited the arrival of Jesus.  All that God had promised to do for His people is fulfilled in the little baby that Simeon held, the little baby who is also God. 

Simeon rejoices that God has revealed His salvation.  But salvation from what?   And how?  Now, that may be an obvious question.  We drill this basic fact into the heads of our children.  We start the service by confessing our sins, everyone here knows that Jesus came to save us from our sins. 

Or do we?  Yes, we know it as an answer to a question, and that’s good.  But do we always believe it as the truth, about ourselves?  Our lives are very comfortable, mostly,  and by the standards of the world we are a pretty fine group of people.  We are by the ease and appearance of our lives tempted to think sin is a problem, but not for us.  We are tempted, because we can put on a pretty good show of not being miserable sinners.  We are tempted, because facing our own sin is hard, uncomfortable, it is the falling that Simeon spoke of, the reason so many times we speak against the Christ and His Word. 

By grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, lest anyone should boast.  Faith and salvation must be worked in us by God.  We know this.  But do you remember that repentance also is God’s work?  Sorrow for our sins and desperation for our sinfulness, true repentance is beyond our reason and strength, just like faith.  God works repentance in us, by preaching His Law, but even more, by preaching Christ.  For it is through the hearing of all that Christ suffered for us the Spirit works true repentance in us.  That this most wonderful person of all, this perfect, sinless, loving, wise, humble man Jesus, the Son of Mary, the Babe of the Manger, should suffer for our sins, this is the Lord’s strongest tool to bring us to repentance.  This is true, even for Mary, whose soul would be pierced, through seeing up close and personal all that Christ would suffer. 

But do not despair, for the Christ who causes the fall of many also raises many.  Repentance is bitter, but Salvation is even sweeter.  For as Simeon sang:
          This is the Savior of the world, The Gentiles’ promised light,
God’s glory dwelling in our midst, The joy of Israel.

Now here is a surprise.  Was Simeon surprised by the promise for the Gentiles that the Holy Spirit led him to sing?  Perhaps not, perhaps faithful Simeon knew that the Old Testament included promises for all people.  But certainly this news of Christ for the nations was a surprise to most Jews.  The people of Israel had been set apart by God, God made them different than the Gentiles, that is the nations, all the non-Jewish people in the world.  God set apart Israel for the good of all people, but through generations of being set apart, it was natural for the Jews to think that God only favored them.  That the Christ would be the joy of Israel, that was expected.  But the Savior of the World, the light of the nations, the hope of all people?  Many Jews were so turned inward that they hated non-Jews, or at least they considered them unworthy of God’s salvation.  But Simeon says Jesus is the light of the nations. 

The Jews were turned inward, unconcerned for the rest of the world.  How much does this malady continue in the Church today?  We Gentiles who have put on Christ, we who are grafted into the true root of Israel by faith, do we forget that Christ is still for all people, all nations?  Do we prefer to ignore the fact that He wills to work through us, through His Church, to reach out to unbelievers? 

Like forgetting about the ugly reality of our own sin, it is easy for Christians to disregard the world, forgetting that however evil the world may be, it is made up of souls for whom Christ died, souls for whom there is plentiful forgiveness and salvation, in Christ.  Christians are not of this world, for our true citizenship is with God in heaven.  And yet we are in this world, and are called to live as double agents, ordinary looking sinners, but who know a mystery, a blessed piece of news that God uses to claim more citizens for His Kingdom:  the blood of Jesus atones for the sin of all, every man woman and child. 

How can this be?  How can a tiny baby be expected to do so much?  Because the Babe is God, in our midst.  The Son of God come down to earth, to do all that it takes to save the world.  That the Savior be human was necessary so that He could truly suffer, even die, for sins.  That the Savior be divine was necessary, since no mere human death could merit forgiveness for all people.  And so we with Simeon worship the Babe of Bethlehem, God in our midst, present to save.   

With saints of old, with saints to come, To You we lift our voice;
To Father, Son, and Spirit blest, Be honor, love, and praise.

This Baby causes every saint to sing.  Every believer is called a saint, that is, ever believer is called holy, by God, for the sake of Jesus.  Sainthood does not come from doing good works, being a saint is certainly not determined by a committee in Rome.  No, God declares everyone who trusts in His Son a saint, His holy one.  For every believer finds forgiveness in Jesus’ blood, and new life in His resurrection.  This baby gives us access to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, opening the way for us to sing God’s praises forever. 

This baby who grew to be the Savior gives life to all who, through repentance and faith, are joined to Him.  Mary carried Jesus in her womb, and sang.  Simeon sang to God, holding Jesus in His hands.  Baptized into His death and resurrection, we have been clothed in Christ, He has joined Himself to us.  And so we sing. 

Mary watched Jesus die on the Cross, a sword for her soul that only the Resurrection could cure.  We are fed by Him with His Body and Blood, the Divine fruit of that Cross, fed with forgiveness and new life.  And so, at most Lord’s Suppers, after we have eaten and drank, we then sing Simeon’s Song, the Nunc Dimittis.  For like Simeon we have held the flesh of Christ in our hands, we have seen His salvation, we have communion with the Savior of the World. 

We like Simeon are ready to die, qualified for heaven by the grace of God.  We are also ready to live, filled with Christ, ready to serve the neighbors He places around us.  So we sing with Simeon, and with all the saints:  Praise be to the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Name of Jesus, Amen. 

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