Go anywhere today and people will wish you a happy New Year. Here, we still wish each other Merry Christmas. We are on the seventh day of Christmas, on our way to day 12. The twelve days of Christmas. Then Epiphany. Today, however, we still get to sing Christmas Carols. We still have the trees, and the wreath with candles. The proper preface is still Christmas. And the readings are about the baby Jesus. No longer in the manger, today he goes to the Temple. We’ve actually skipped 40 days. That was when babies were brought to the temple, and a sacrifice was offered. Jesus is presented at the temple. Every first-born male was called “Holy to the Lord”. This was in the Law which God had given to Moses. Remember back to when the children of Israel were still slaves in Egypt. God sent the ten plagues. The last was the death of the firstborn across all the land of Egypt. The only ones to be spared would be those who had the blood of the lamb on their door posts. The angel of death would pass over those houses. God spared the first born of all the children of Israel. When he gave the law to Moses, he said that the firstborn belonged to him. Not as a sacrifice. God despises child sacrifices. Rather, the firstborn were to be redeemed by means of a lamb. Or, if they could not afford a lamb, two turtledoves or pigeons.
Of course, Jesus need not offer the sacrifice. He already belongs to the Lord. He is the Lord. The Son of God, very God of very God, begotten not made, of one substance with the father, by whom all things were made. And he will be sacrificed himself. He will become the first-born of all creation. Sacrificed into death so that the angel of death would pass over all those who are baptized into his death. Jesus is not just any baby. He is the son of the most high God. And he is not subject to the law. And yet, he willingly places himself under the law. So that he can fulfill the law.
This is really and extraordinary thing. God created us, and placed us in the world that he created for us to take care of it. To be stewards of his creation. And that creation was good. Adam and Eve, our first parents, could have obeyed God. But they did not. They disobeyed, they ate from the tree that they had been commanded not to eat – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And so they brought sin and death into the world. That was their choice. And because of this, now every inclination of mans heart was only for evil all of the time. No longer could we choose to follow him, to be obedient to his Law. Now we are set against God and his word. We do not want to follow the Law of God. Instead we became futile in our thinking, and our foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, we became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals.” And yet, God did not abandon us in our sinful and condemned state. Instead, he came into the world as one of us – a human – a created being. The creator joined the world as a creature. Not for his own amusement as we see in the myths of the ancients. Not to bring judgment – which he could easily have done. The flood, Sodom and Gomorrah. The death of the firstborn of Egypt. The fall of the northern kingdom. The exile into Babylon of the kingdom of Judah. Judgment is easy for God. All he needs to do is to withdraw his providing hand, or even to withdraw his protection and let Satan have his way. The Devil wants us to have no good thing. He wants strife, and destruction, decay and death. But those are not the things of God. God does not want to judge. He wants to save. To redeem and restore us to be his children once again. And so he comes into the creation, and places himself under the Law which he himself gave, in order to save you from that very law.
Many say we need to make a beginning. We need to take the first step, open the door, make a decision. But since the fall, we can not choose that which God demands. We can outwardly make a show of obedience. We can make it so others think we are righteous. But we are not. Since the fall of man, our hearts are dead to righteousness. Dead to the things of God.
That is why Jesus had to come into the world. To live the perfect life for you. He isn’t just an example for you – although he is the perfect man, and certainly does stand as example of what we were created to be – we are to fear love and trust in God above all things. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus does that. But not so that we could see how it is done. He does it to fulfill the law of God. So that he can bring salvation to you. Even though there was no reason he had to keep that law. He wrote the Law. But He does keep it. Today we hear of Jesus in the temple, and his parents offering the sacrifice required in the Law. Tomorrow is New Years Day – in the church it is “The Circumcision and Naming of our Lord.” That is where we see him for the first time place himself under the law. At 8 days old, he was circumcised. That was also for you. Today we hear about Jesus’ parents offering the sacrifice of two pigeons, as the law required. Jesus willingly submits himself to the Law, to save you from the Law. He kept the Law in all it’s details. From the outward ceremonial ones, to the moral law and the condition of his heart. His thought was always toward his heavenly Father. His zeal was always for the word of God.
And we hear today the wonderful prophecy of the old man, Simeon. God had promised he would not die until he had seen the Lord. And as he comes into the temple, he sees Jesus, and picks him up, knowing that the prophecy had been fulfilled. This was the Savior of the world. Simeon had seen him. And now, he was ready to depart in peace. To have the blessed death foretold him by God – not that God intended death to be. But that he would die in the blessed state of salvation that God gives to all those who believe on his name. He looked to Jesus for salvation – yes, even the little baby Jesus. He held him in his arms, touched him. Believed the word of promise. And so was content to depart in peace, according to the Word of the Lord.
The hymn of Simeon – called the Nunc Dimittis – used to be one of the hymns for evening time. It was sung in the Vespers service. At night, as we prepare to sleep, it was a more sophisticated version of “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. If I should live for other days, I pray the Lord to mend my ways.” Some people say now we shouldn’t pray that prayer with children. The talk of death may frighten them. But this world is a world of death. We do them no favors by just ignoring the reality of our sinful condition. That is to teach them a lie. Simeons prayer, the child’s prayer – both say “Lord whether I live or die I am in your hands. I am ready to live for Christ, or die in Christ.”
It is the church of the Reformation that moves the Nunc Dimittis into the Communion service. It is confession of faith against those who claim only a spiritual presence in the Lord’s Supper. We have Jesus really present as he has said. We taste, we touch, we take eat and take drink of the very body and blood of Jesus. During the Reformation, many said that could not be. This is my body can not really mean this is my body. But the word of Christ stands. And the Lutherans began singing Simeons hymn as a way of confessing that word. The old man touched Jesus took him in his arms and was filled with the Holy Spirit. So we take Jesus into ourselves. Not just spiritually. But the real body of Christ, given to you from this altar. The blood of Christ – the same blood shed for your on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins is offered here for you to drink. So that the life of Jesus would be given to you. And then we confess with Simeon – I have seen and touched the Lord. To live is Christ, to die is gain. Let me live for you, or die for you, as you will it dear Father in heaven. Let me do so in the peace of Jesus Christ, who lived and died for me.