St. Paul's Lutheran Church
1st Sunday after Christmas 12/30/19
“The Spirit’s Delight”
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you, from God our Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text for today’s message is the Gospel lesson, Luke 2:22-40.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
Have you ever noticed that old people really, really delight in babies? It’s true. Old people, not only delight in them, they like to touch them. Even hold them. Now, maybe you’re an old person and can verify. But it seems they are drawn to them. Like a magnet. That has been my experience, anyway. When my oldest daughter was born, I was struck by how often complete strangers would stop and not only want to talk over her, but even try to pick her up. And it was frequently older people! Grocery stores, Church, the park…it didn’t matter the setting. At first, as a new parent, you’re a little taken aback by this. It’s disconcerting to have any perfect stranger want to touch your baby.
It was in those experiences with my daughter that I would be reminded of Simeon. So, today first…a five foot view and then a 50,000 foot view. So, from five feet. Here are Joseph and Mary, going to “church”, and all of the sudden this presumably older gentleman comes up and picks up their baby! Now, before we talk about what this signifies, just imagine the human interaction of a stranger grabbing baby Jesus! Simeon, when he sees him, takes 40-day old Jesus into his arms and blesses God. This, however, is different from the random stranger touching the random baby. Simeon is not just touching any baby. Luke tells us he has been waiting for this baby.
Simeon has been waiting. Maybe he was waiting in the Temple day in, day out. Maybe the Spirit led him to the Temple that very day. Luke isn’t clear on this point, but he makes clear that Simeon was waiting. But Luke is clear on other things—Simeon was righteous and devout, the Holy Spirit was upon him, that he would not see death until he saw the Christ of the Lord. The Messiah. Simeon had been waiting…waiting for the consolation of Israel.
What does this mean—the consolation of Israel? Simeon was waiting for God to act. For God to fulfill His promise to redeem and save His people. For God to send His promised Messiah. This Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ, would save. He would comfort. He would console. And Simeon knew that he would not see death until he saw the Lord act in sending this consolation.
But think about what Simeon saw. Not a great king, not a powerful ruler, or even a prophet doing mighty signs and wonders. What he saw was just a baby. Just a regular Hebrew child with regular, ordinary Israelite parents, bringing in their baby to fulfill the requirements of the Law. It was, on one hand, just a baby. Not a grand entrance into the Temple, but an ordinary, everyday occurrence. But in this baby, he saw what he had been waiting for. The Lord had brought redemption to His people. He had brought salvation. This is what Simeon tells us in his song---he can now depart, for God has acted according to His Word. For Simeon was able to see through the ordinary to the miraculousness of it all. It is revealed to him that in this baby, in this seemingly ordinary occurrence, all had been accomplished. In this tiny baby, God acts decisively to bring salvation to all people—the Gentiles and the Jews. A light for revelation and for glory to His people.
The Tension of the Incarnation
What’s so great about this passage of Scripture is that we see how in this seemingly ordinary way God accomplished His purposes in an indescribably miraculous way. In Jesus, God becomes man. Now we look at the 50,000 foot view of this occurrence. This seems so impossible; it is hard to put it precisely into words…how the Creator of the universe could be contained in human flesh. There is a tension in this. St. Paul helps us see this tension side-by-side. In Colossians, Paul writes that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Firstborn means pre-eminent, but also speaks to the physical nature of Jesus. And so there is not confusion, so that people can’t claim that Jesus is simply a man, Paul says in the next verse, “…for by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him.” So, Paul uses creature language (firstborn) right next to language reserved for the Creator. In other words, Paul stands the five foot view right next to the 50,000 view! This is the tension in our reading from Luke, as well. On one hand, Jesus was an infant that this [old] man grabbed out of the arms of His mother and held in his own arms. And on the other hand, Simeon calls him the salvation of God. He says I can die now. In other words, Simeon is holding in his arms the firstborn and the author of creation. True man and true God. What a revelation!
The Spirit’s Delight
Standing behind this revelation is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is referenced in the first two chapters of Luke no fewer than eight times. John the Baptist is filled with the Spirit; Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit; Mary is enveloped and overshadowed with the Spirit; Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit. And in our reading, the Holy Spirit is referenced with respect to Simeon three times! Luke wants us to know who is in charge of this narrative. And every time the Spirit is mentioned, someone starts singing. Mary and the Magnificat. Zechariah and the Benedictus. Here with Simeon and his song, called the Nunc Dimittis. Even little John in the womb jumps—no doubt he was singing.
The incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity is the Spirit’s delight. The Spirit delights in directing people to Jesus, and revealing who Jesus is. So much so that people begin to sing at this revelation. Simeon, though, is given over to believe this revelation because it is also the Spirit’s delight to give us the gift of faith. To direct all of us, in faith, to this baby and rejoice at His birth. In the delight of the Spirit, our human questions of “how” are resolved into joy through the gift of faith.
The Living Song
So, in our own lives, our own busyness, in our own stresses of the “holiday” season, we can take this comfort and consolation too. We can take a deep breath. Not because the holiday is over…I hate to tell you, unless He comes again, it will come again…the holidays I mean…as we speak, your favorite retail establishment is putting up Valentine’s Day decorations!!! So, our stresses and busyness of our modern existence are always there, like the ubiquitous holiday decorations. But we breathe deeply, and we sing joyfully, for God has sent his consolation to His people. We receive and are comforted by God’s decisive action. And so like Simeon, we rejoice and delight in the Spirit.
We have even more than Simeon. We have the good news of that baby growing up and fulfilling all that Simeon saw. We have the Gospel. We have God’s decisive action on the cross. We have the empty tomb and His glorious resurrection. We have the promise in our baptism. The consolation that He will never leave us, that He has claimed us. But like Simeon, we wait expectantly for God to act again. Our salvation is now secure, but there is more to come. Christ will come again to restore all and put all things to right. But maybe the delight older people take in babies are an echo of the faith of Simeon.
This is why we are still singing Christmas hymns today. We can make a distinction between “holiday” and Christmas. For it is Christmas still. And in the Nativity of our Lord, we pause to reflect in the decisive action of God, in time, in history, in the baby through the work and delight of the Holy Spirit. We rejoice with Simeon and all the saints in the comfort that God has acted in this seemingly ordinary way. We share his faith and his witness. We can sing the living song of Christmas. The endless hymn of how God has acted in all our lives. This is also the Spirit’s delight—to praise God for what God has done and still doing in His people. We rejoice that God, in His wisdom and in His time, sent His Son in a most vulnerable way, as an infant boy. Sin and woe, death and hell stand broken in the baby Simeon grabbed out of His mother’s arms. We rejoice. Cause it’s not just a baby. Jesus is the salvation of God. In this, the Spirit delights in us. And like, Simeon, we sing.