Merry Christmas! It’s the fifth day of Christmas and I pray that the days have become more holy now that the stressful parts of the holidays are behind us. It always makes me kind of sad the day after Christmas. Driving out of my neighborhood on December 26th there are always a half dozen Christmas trees discarded by the street.
It kind of reminds me of a ballgame I once attended. The Cardinals were down three runs from the second inning forward. By the eighth inning the crowds had thinned a bit. I stayed until the bottom of the ninth to watch the Cardinals win by one run with a walk-off grand slam home run. It was one of the best games in which I’ve ever been in attendance and a lot of fans missed it to beat the traffic. Did I mention it was against the Cubs? (Sorry, Jerry).
There’s still some Christmas left. That’s why the tree is still up and the wreath candles are still lit. We don’t want to miss the nuances and blessings of this short, but significant season in the Church Year.
Sometimes I like to imagine what it would have been like to be there for the first Christmas. I imagine myself being a shepherd seeing angel choirs and kneeling down at the crèche and daring to touch the hand of the cooing little baby before me. Then I go out excitedly to tell the rest of the world what God has done. That the Lord has come down from heaven above to bring peace on earth and goodwill towards men. And everyone I talk to is convinced by the eloquence and genuine enthusiasm of my preaching. Or I imagine myself old, grey, and bearded. I’m in the temple praying with pious fervor when I see a nervous mother and awkward father enter the temple to present their child and have him circumcised. Then I run over and take up the child in my arms and say, “Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace according to your word…” That night I go home to my bed and close my eyes with a contented grin and the moment I fall asleep my last breath exhales and I’m met by the Father in heaven with all the glorious angels.
Of course I’d like to think of myself as one of these exemplary saints. I’d like to think of myself like Simeon and Anna who didn’t leave shortly after the seventh inning stretch, but stuck with it all to see the Lord’s salvation in the little Christ child. I think we’d all like to see ourselves in that light, but when we do this we do the saints a disservice and only bring harm upon ourselves. Saints like Simeon and Anna did not accomplish what they did so that we could wish we were them or think they more blessed than us. They did what the Holy Spirit had given them to do and did so with joy.
In fact Simeon and Anna wouldn’t have it any other way. This child is the salvation of Israel and the light to enlighten the gentiles. He has come to be named “Yeshua—the Lord Saves” because he will save his people from their sins. He did not come to bless or create super-saints or celebrity Christians known for their faithfulness, piety, and eloquence. No, he came for sinners and thank God for that. For though many of us desire to be constant in prayer and in the Word, even Christians can fall asleep when we pray. For though many of us desire to be faithful in all things Christians let the busyness of the day interrupt their daily devotions. And yes Christians have less then stellar moments in the workplace, home and neighborhood.
Too often sinners like us are like that fair-weather fan who gets up in the eighth inning only to come back to the next game to do the same thing. We should never admit this to excuse our sin, but rather to confess it and repent of it. And I don’t think we’re short of company when we admit that as hard as we may try we still can’t add up to the super-saint that our imagination comes up with. I pray to God that we always see how short we fall of this imaginary character, because if we should believe we’ve attained it we would become the most self righteous of people.
Simeon said this child would reveal the thoughts of many hearts. That’s exactly what he did when many pious and well respected people in his day showed their true colors because of him. With Christ always comes confrontation for heaven has come down and the fallen world is hostile to God. The first example of this is Herod. With all his riches and in a murderous rage he shows the thoughts of his heart when he commanded the slaughter of the innocents. Still later, the Pharisees and Scribes would defame, mock, and challenge this lowly carpenter who preached forgiveness, love, and peace. Respected, pious, saintly, and so called holy men were exposed as shams when the Christ came for they could only breathe out murder saying “Crucify him!” That is where imagined saintliness lands mankind. In self-righteous pride that will seek to destroy anything that threatens it.
There were many other hearts that were revealed by this promised child though. Hearts like that of Mary and Joseph who marveled at every word about this child. They heard the good news from angels, from shepherds, and now from two senior citizens of Israel and more and more they grew in love with this child, but not in the same way as other mothers and fathers. They were beginning to recognize this child was not their own, that he belonged to the world. He is the light to enlighten all the nations and to save even them from their sin. A sword will pierce Mary’s heart as she sees the Christ child smitten, stricken, and afflicted for us all.
Many other hearts were revealed. Boastful James and John, the sons of thunder, who were ready to combat anything for Jesus who would only prove to be weak-hearted at the sight of the cross. The faithful friend Peter would prove faithless when Christ’s glorious hour came. A woman caught in adultery saved by the Christ when the self-righteous became aware of their sin and dropped every stone. How about a prostitute washing Jesus’ feet with tears and add to that disdained tax collectors like Matthew and Zacheus to the list? Later, the murderous heart of Saul would be revealed only to be changed in a moment of receiving Christ’s grace and forgiveness.
You may see now there is little difference between the heart of Herod and the heart of Peter, Saul, James, and John. For every exemplary moment of Biblical saints there are at least double non-exemplary moments. All have sinned fallen short of the glory of God. We don’t have to daydream about being the pious “heroes” in the Bible to make ourselves be a part of the story. We are a part of the story. They are about folks just like you and me whose hearts have been brought to repentance and trust in the Savior Jesus. You are just as important to God as any other sinner who has beheld His salvation then and now.
The cross looms in every word of Simeon’s blessing to Mary and his Nunc Dimittis. Christ is the salvation of the world wrapped up in swaddling clothes, born to lie in a manger, and die on a tree. He came for the likes of Anna and Simeon, Mary and Joseph, Peter and Saul, and you and me. He came for your rising now in the forgiveness of sins and the abundant life lived in his blessedness, goodness, and righteousness. He came for your rising again at the resurrection to life.
We are not much different from Simeon and Anna in many ways without having to imagine we are them. We wait and watch until all the things we hope for become visible to our resurrected eyes and we won’t have to just hope anymore—Jesus will be there in fullness. He doesn’t leave us alone though. He has given us his promised presence in Baptism, Communion, Word and Absolution. We embrace him in those things as Simeon and Anna once embraced him as a fragile little baby. Like old Simeon and Anna, receive God’s Child, Jesus your Savior, and leave with a song on your lips. “Let your servant depart in peace.” He is your light and your life.
A blessed fifth day of Christmas to all of you.
In the name of Jesus, amen.
 Jerry is Redeemer’s lone Cubs fan.