Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas
December 30, 2018
Appointed for Your Resurrection
Simeon has waited his entire life hoping to see the consolation of Israel. He has clung to the promise of God to come to His people and to save them. And when that promise is fulfilled, Simeon is at peace. With some exceptions in settings one and two of the Divine Service, we sing Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis, after having held and received the same flesh and blood of our Lord in the Holy Communion, the very body and blood which has won for us peace with God and is our consolation for sin. This song is very familiar to us but the words he speaks afterward are perhaps a little less familiar. I read my own translation of verse 34: “Behold, this child is appointed for the destruction and resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against.”
Everything hinges on this child. He will be opposed at every turn. His teaching will be countered by the so-called experts. His miracles will be discounted as the work of demons. His true identity will be denied as He suffers and is crucified. It is His divine destiny. For such was He appointed in this life that He might bring that consolation to Israel. That He might save us from our sins. It is His word that divides to the bone, separating truth from falsity, which kills and makes alive.
So, how was your Christmas? Did you celebrate it as a Christian or as a secularist? Everything Christian about Christmas is clouded by the present age and that which speaks against the divine appointment of this child. What was your favorite thing about Christmas this year? Did it have anything to do with Jesus? Anything to do with his destiny? We may lament the way secularism has obscured Jesus at Christmas, but it is not just the secular world that speaks against Jesus and His destiny.
Inspired by a letter from Joy Reid’s mother that I discovered a few years ago in a book Joy had donated to the church library, I wrote a Christmas letter this year to family and friends. It was a brief letter that spoke of our need of a Savior and how it was the child of Bethlehem that fulfilled that need. I have received a response already from my uncle, one of my father’s brothers. In his letter, he explained a recent conversation that he had with a friend of his. The friend was similar in age and background. Both are Lutherans but in different parts of the country and with obviously different understandings of core Christian doctrine. In their discussion of faith, my uncle’s friend made that statement that everybody is going to be saved. With such thinking there is no need for repentance. There is no need for observing Christmas in its true sense. With such thinking, any individual spirituality or lack thereof wouldn’t make any difference. A person could be a Buddhist or an atheist and receive that same resurrection as the Christian that believes every word of the Bible. You may not be shocked that somebody believes such things, but shock should be the result that it is being taught in a Lutheran pulpit.
The appointment of Jesus from His birth that He would die and rise again certainly is a death for all, but that resurrection unto life is only for the baptized believer. It is upon this very statement that many will suffer destruction, and many will be resurrected. While Jesus was born in the flesh of all mankind and died a death to atone for the sins of all mankind, apart from faith, there is no resurrection like His. “He who believes and is baptized,” the evangelist writes, “will be saved. But he who does not believe will be condemned.” The life and teaching of Jesus stands opposed to every notion of secularism and individualism. We cannot have personal beliefs or personal interpretations of the Scriptures that stand opposed to Christian doctrine.
Our natural way of observing Christmas is to individualize it and to secularize it, that is, in our sinfulness, we will naturally gravitate towards a very self-centered view of Christmas and the baby Jesus just like the teaching of my uncle’s friend. It is fortunate for us that we don’t have any of those important “life events” recorded for us from Jesus’ youth. Luke doesn’t recall His first tooth, although there was one. Mark doesn’t talk about skinned knees or Matthew about His report cards in school. With all the talk about love, John never mentions any girls having a crush on Jesus. The only things recorded for us from His youth are significant theological events of Jesus fulfilling the Law for us and fulfilling prophecy, also for us.
That is the thing about the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, even His ascension. He did them all for us. It was what He was appointed to do. It was His destiny. He did them to save us from our nostalgic ways of thinking about ourselves and our own likes and preferences. He did them in opposition to our individual thoughts and beliefs. As Simeon said, He did them, “so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” We don’t usually think about Christmas as being a contentious time of the year. It is supposed to be all joy and peace. But as soon as we speak of Jesus, the Jesus of the Scriptures, the thoughts of hearts are revealed, the fall and rising of many is realized, and Christmas is revealed as a most contentious time of the year. It is one reason why so many stay away from church. The truth about Jesus upsets their individual ways of believing.
So, let me go back to my first question to you. Did you have a good Christmas? It doesn’t matter what was under the tree or in the stocking as much as what was in the manger. As you thought about the incarnation of our Lord, and how our God became man for you and your salvation, it was a good Christmas. It does not matter whether you can fully comprehend this incarnation, but it does matter that you believe it. As you contemplate your Christmas and cling to death and resurrection of the child born to Mary as your own, then you have had a good Christmas. If you, like Simeon have received the gift into your own hands for your salvation, then your Christmas has been good.
You may not wear the sweater that you received this year very often, but daily, put on Christ as you live in your holy Baptism, knowing that He has atoned for even your individual thoughts and secular ways. Let your destruction be to sin and desire in the death of Jesus and your resurrection be to life eternal in the resurrection of Jesus. Let the sign of opposition be the cross opposed to your sin and not your imagined doctrine opposed to the incarnate Lord. For as He was appointed to die for you, so too, have you been appointed by baptism and faith to live in Him.
Let all together praise our God
Before His glorious throne;
Today He opens heav’n again
To give us His own Son,
To give us His own Son. (LSB 389:1)