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Second Sunday of Christmas
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, January 2, 2022

Behold the Child

Text: Luke 2:22–40

As a young boy I enjoyed reading the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable. Arthur was a noble king and a valiant warrior who stood against evil and the dark powers of his time. I imagined what it would be like to be Sir Lancelot or Sir Galahad and wondered at the beauty of Queen Guinevere and the powers of Merlin the Magician. I imagined that if I lived back then, perhaps I could have been a noble and brave knight sent on many dangerous quests to uphold the honor of such a wonderful king and such a worthwhile kingdom as Camelot.

It would be many years later before I discovered that King Arthur, the Knights of the Roundtable, Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad, Guinevere, and Merlin were legends and there was no documentation in history that they ever existed except in the mind of author Roger Lancelyn Green. The stories were fiction written to be enjoyed by children, and they certainly accomplished that goal.

This past week I considered the stories about the coming of the Christ child and all the people who were involved at the beginning of the incarnation of the Son of God. I suspect that within our culture the retelling of these stories year after year has become so familiar that they are often treated like fiction that was simply written for the amusement of children.

Now I have no doubt that many sincere Christians are deeply moved by the stories surrounding the birth of the Christ child and find sincere emotion with the singing of the traditional Christmas carols, but the intention of the stories from the gospels is that we understand that what happened really matters. Everything about the Christmas story should change our thinking about how we live our lives before God.

From the very beginning of Luke’s account, he lets the reader know that what he is writing is very important. He wants the reader to fully understand what actually happened. We pick up on this intention from the very beginning of his Gospel. Listen to Luke 1:1–4,

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Luke is making it very clear that he is not writing poetry or children’s stories but he is recording history— the way it actually happened. The only way the reader will be able to understand all that is coming next in his narrative is if they truly understand the importance of the very beginning. Pay attention to what Luke is telling us here, in the individual stories within chapter 2 there are always key people who “were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” that was delivered to us. These people provide a word of explanation concerning the identity of Jesus.

On Christmas Eve we heard the word spoken by the angel to the shepherds in the field watching over their flocks. The shepherds took the message of peace given to them by the angel and the praise that was offered up to God by the heavenly hosts in celebration of the blessed event and told it to Mary and Joseph. Luke 2:18–20,

And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying, and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

This morning we will hear a further explanation as to the identity of the Christ child provided by an old man named Simeon. In these incidents, the central figure in each one tells us these important truths about Jesus. We must never look at these testimonies from eyewitnesses as trivial because without them the coming of Jesus into the world wouldn’t make much sense and wouldn’t mean much to anybody.

So far in the story, we have been privy to the shepherds' encounter with the angel and the heavenly hosts. We have moved from the stable and the manger where the baby lay, and this morning we move to the temple in Jerusalem and hear the message of Simeon. What the Apostle John in his gospel accomplished in explaining the divinity of Christ, Luke does in revealing the incarnation of Christ, the fact that God came to us as one of us. This is God’s word given to us that we might have a description as to what had taken place so that we might have an explanation.

Earlier I read to you Luke’s explanation as to why he was writing this gospel. He pointed to the eyewitness accounts and the fact that the “ministers of the word have delivered them to us.” In other words, the word is the significant thing.

There are many things about the Christmas season that catch our attention and warm our hearts and that’s okay, but in the midst of all of that, we should pay attention to the word that has been spoken.

Let’s set the scene of what was going on within Israel and Judah during the time of the birth of Christ. There had been four hundred years of silence between the end of the prophetic word and the time of Jesus. The Jews lost much of their national identity while in exile but seemed to have held on to Torah, and many still practiced their religious traditions.

Now suddenly God speaks by the mouth of angels and by men so that these God-ordained events are to be understood in light of God-inspired utterances. The question we will be asking is not “why these things happened” but what exactly did happen.

First of all, let’s consider the event as it is described for us. In Luke 2:21 we see,

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

In verse 22 you will notice that Mary and Joseph are proceeding with their lives “according to the Law of Moses.” You will notice that three things are involved: circumcision, in verse 21; purification, in verse 22; and presentation, also in 22—each of these things is prescribed by the law of God: the first took place when the child was only eight days old; the time of purification for the mother after giving birth, running for over thirty days, so that by the time the presentation of the child in the temple is taking place, some six weeks or more have passed.

Luke here emphasizes the fact that Joseph and his wife Mary were very attentive when it came to the law of God. Luke points out their commitment to Torah and God’s commands. If you notice, it appears in verse 22, “according to the Law of Moses”; in verse 23, “as it is written in the Law”; again in verse 24, “[as it] is said in the Law”; again in verse 27, “to do … according to the custom of the Law”; in verse 39, “And when they had performed everything according to the Law…”

As I thought about this story I found an easy comparison between Joseph and Mary and the Apostle Paul, and even much later, the Puritans. One of the common responses of those who encounter the Lord Jesus is they were committed to God, they were committed to God’s law, and they were committed to doing the right thing to honor God and express their love. That’s why it says in verse 39 that it was only “when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord” that they returned to Galilee.

Luke also points out to us their poverty. You will see it in verse 24: they came there “to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” The law of God required two sacrifices by way of the purification. One would be a lamb, and the other would be a pigeon. The law made provision for poor people so that a second pigeon could be offered in place of a lamb if they could not afford a lamb.

Not only were they faithful to God’s word, but they were also poor. Jesus was not born to a King but to a carpenter. His mother was not a princess; she was a peasant girl and socially insignificant.

Think about the pattern here for how God moved in the lives of those who were the most unlikely, in order to accomplish His divine purposes. The message first comes to shepherds who were despised because their work kept them from keeping the ceremonial law. As they moved about the country it was common for them to become thieves. They were considered unreliable and were not permitted to give evidence in courts. Why would God choose to convey such an important message through such unreliable persons?

Why choose a peasant girl instead of someone of importance and bearing to be the mother of the Son of God?. Even the Wise Men first went to the King of Israel assuming he would know of the baby being born because of its importance in Jewish apocalyptic writings. James 4:6 shows us the heart of God clearly, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Look at verse 25,

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

One thing we can know about Simeon is that he was righteous and devout and knew God’s word and promises. Again, there had been four hundred years of silence, yet here in the temple is a devout man who is seeking to know God. Here is a man who has learned how to hear from the Holy Spirit. And he is there at the exact moment for this encounter to take place.

Now, you will notice that just as Luke has underlined the place of the law in the lives of Mary and Joseph, he also does so in relationship to the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of this man Simeon.

In verse 26, “And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” And then in verse 27, “He came in the Spirit into the temple…” In other words, Simeon was moved by the Spirit to be there when Joseph, Mary and Jesus showed up. Even before Pentecost, there were those filled with the Holy Spirit who would play what seems to be a minor role in God’s purposes, and yet we should see them as eyewitnesses and ministers of the word revealed to them. Their role would end up being pivotal to the story as it unfolded in the lives of Joseph and Mary. They had heard the angel correctly and here was the confirmation. This would be a major affirmation years later when Jesus’ ministry was rejected by many, and he was crucified.

For Simeon, this is a God-ordained moment where he experiences both the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:14,

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

If you were here on Christmas we saw that the shepherds said in Luke 2:15, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing which the Lord has made known unto us.” The coming of the promised Messiah, even though a newborn baby, signaled the end of the silence of the prophetic voice.

I love the picture on the cover of the bulletin today. I can only imagine what it was like for Simeon when he turned and saw Joseph, Mary and the Christ child come into the temple to dedicate their first-born son to the Lord. When the Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon the identity of the baby I believe that his heart leaped for joy, as the Holy Spirit within him responded to the presence of God incarnate. I love the imagery of Simeon taking the child into his arms, holding him tenderly while praising God and crying out in joy,

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.

Hebrews 9:27 points out that, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” In Simeon there is no fear of judgment because he had put his faith and trust in the Messiah that was to come. Now there he was, the longed-for salvation from God, nestled in his arms. Salvation has always been through faith in Messiah. For those in the Old Testament, it was faith looking forward to what God promised, while those in the New Testament look back to the fulfillment of that promise in the person of Jesus Christ. Simeon has the joy of both looking forward to what God would do and then experiencing the presence of the fulfillment of everything that God had promised His people.

Again we see the Lord providing us imagery from His Word, and it’s seen in Simeon taking the baby into his arms. The Bible speaks to us about receiving the Lord Jesus Christ in a very personal way rejoicing that He receives us as our Savior. The joy of the promise fulfilled was more wonderful than anything else that he could ever experience.

Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20,

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Simeon is not merely making this application personal, but he also applies it globally: “My eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” The ability to see this was due to the revelation of the Holy Spirit in Simeon’s life and it is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Through the eyes of the Spirit of God Simeon sees the child for who He is and how this will change everything around the world. This is the fulfillment of God’s promises of redemption made through the Torah and the prophets of old.

That is why it is of vital importance that when we consider this scene, we do so in light of the explanation that is given. And the mouthpiece of God here is Simeon. He is a Jewish man in the City of David, in a Jewish temple, declaring the fulfillment of the Servant Songs of the Old Testament, especially in Isaiah 42 and 49.

How is it that this apparently elderly man in the temple in Jerusalem would be able to connect the dots and make it clear? By the power of the Holy Spirit. It would be Jesus who would further explain His purpose in coming in Luke 4:17–19,

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

This is what God does: he opens blind eyes, and he softens hard hearts. And if you believe in Jesus today, that is exactly what he’s done for you. He does it by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the only explanation for genuine, believing Christian faith. You can have religion and go to church every time the doors are open. You can do whatever you think might justify you before God, but only when the Spirit of God comes and opens your eyes, settles your heart, then like Simeon you will say, “Now my eyes have seen this salvation. Now I recognize this. And furthermore, I can’t possibly keep this to myself. This is for the Gentiles, for the whole world, and this is for the glory of Israel.”

It’s interesting that Joseph and Mary don’t respond by telling Simeon all that happened to them over the last year, but instead Luke writes, “And His father and mother marveled at what was said about him.”

Remember that Simeon is full of the Holy Spirit so there is more to say about this child and his parents need to know the truth. Simeon says, “Well, Mary there is a bit more to the story, and you’re going to need to trust God and His mercy. Because this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed. And you’re not going to escape it either, because a sword will pierce you.” In other words, this salvation that is found in Christ will come at a cost.

We should rejoice in the coming of the Christ child at Christmas because only through Him will salvation come and peace with God be restored. Jesus would explain what it costs to be yoked to Him. He said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it. Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

 If you follow through the Gospels in the ministry of Jesus, and the encounter he has with people and the parables that he speaks, you quickly are made aware that the only way to peace with God and eternal salvation is to deny yourself and take up your cross daily and follow Christ (Luke 9:23). Unless you bow before Jesus and acknowledge your need of him as a Savior, you will never rise to know the gift that is his alone to give.

Mary knew that Jesus was to be the Savior. How often do you think she recalled this statement made by Simeon on that day in the temple, about six weeks or so after Jesus’ birth? I suspect that she thought about it frequently, especially when He started His ministry.

Mary would have a very busy life. Jesus had four brothers, maybe two or three sisters as well. She had a lot of people to look after. She didn’t like to hear in the streets that he was “despised and rejected.” She didn’t like the fact that he was despised as “a man of sorrows,” that he was “acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) She didn’t want to stand there at the foot of the cross and watch that gut-wrenching scene. Mary understood from the beginning that Jesus was the Son of God, but she was still His earthly mother and she loved Him so much. She would need to remind herself often that Jesus was the Savior! Without the shedding of blood, there would be no remission of sins. The gift of salvation comes at great cost. He bears our sin in his body on the tree. How could she possibly prepare her heart for that reality?

Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus complete the purification for Mary and the dedication of Jesus to the Lord as the first-born male child and then leave to go back to Nazareth. All we are told is that

the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of the Lord was upon him.

It would be around 30 years before Jesus actually begins the ministry that would reveal Him as Savior, Lord and King, and would lead Him to the cross. In the meantime all that Mary could do is wait and think about those early events that she treasured in her heart.

Jesus is the Light of the World. He’s the light for the Gentiles. He’s the glory of Israel. He’s everything needed. There isn’t another savior coming, and there was no one before him who could take his place. Therefore, Christianity is inescapably and unashamedly a missionary faith. In other words, if I am in Christ, it behooves me to make much of that by my life and by my words so that others may share that with me—to tell other people that in Jesus there is a full and a free forgiveness of sins for everyone who puts their trust in him; he is the one who removes the guilt of our sin, who deals with our lurking fears, who lifts our burdens; and to say to people, “Just as Simeon received him, so must we.”

You see, there is no one who doesn’t need Jesus’ offer of salvation. There’s not a single person. And there is no one to whom he does not make that offer. So, it’s the same story every day: by our acceptance or rejection of Jesus, we make clear where we stand.

If you have decided to follow Jesus there are two great duties for each of us.

1.   We must invite Jesus to be the Lord of everything in our lives.

2.   We must tell others the good news found only in Christ alone.

This fact will always be true until the day Jesus comes back in glory to make all things new. Until that time let Simeon serve as a model that while he waited on the Lord’s promise he was busy serving the Lord. For that he received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and a joy unspeakable at the presence of the Savior. Lord, let us be found faithful.

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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