First Sunday after Christmas
Sermon • Submitted • Presented • 12:59
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Today is the Sixth Day of Christmas. We are not even half-way through the season, yet as far as the world is concerned, Christmas is over. It’s almost as if the scriptural narrative of Christ ends with his lowly birth in a manger. But this is only the beginning. Jesus, who came to take the lowest place among us, must continue his downhill journey to the cross. He doesn’t stay in a manger. He doesn’t stay a little baby who can’t speak. No. He grows up. He speaks. He carries out his Father’s will. And this is why Jesus gets into all kinds of trouble: because the world, the flesh, and the devil are in opposition to the will of God. The world hates Christ and his words. If the world can’t keep Jesus in the manger, then it would rather not speak of him at all.
Our Gospel text takes place after the manger, after birth of Christ. Forty days later Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple in order to make the customary sacrifices for the birth of a first-born son. There in the temple, they were met by a devout old man named Simeon. God had promised Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the promised Messiah, and when Simeon saw Jesus, he took the child in his arms, blessed God, and said the words that have been part of our liturgy for nearly two-thousand years, “Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation!” Then Simeon blessed Joseph and Mary and said to her, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” (Lk 2:34).
Simeon represents all the prophets of the Old Testament. For this reason he is called Simeon, that is, “one who hears,” for the prophets had heard of Christ by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Even as the prophets of Old had proclaimed the coming of the Savior, they also foretold that his coming would be a source of division among the people of God. The Messiah would not be welcomed and accepted. Instead he would suffer insult and ridicule. The Chosen One of God would be despised and rejected by men. The Chief Cornerstone would be the Stone of stumbling and the Rock of offense. “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed.”
It is certain that wherever you find the true Christ, you will also find opposition. Of course, there are many false christs in the world today. Just as the idolaters of the ancient world fashioned gods after their own image, so the idolaters of the modern world seek to create a Jesus that is not offensive. Much of the time, this idolatry is found within the church, as Simeon foretells, “This child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel.” There are countless false teachers within the church today who peddle a Jesus who not only loves you, but loves your sin as well. There’s no need for forgiveness, because Jesus is actually happy when you sin. This Jesus never offends anyone. He never claims to be the only way of salvation, the only path to the Father. This Jesus never demands that you forsake your sinful desires and passions. He doesn’t require the Christian to “deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me” Mt 16:24. He never asks people to choose between the praise of men and the praise of God. To a couple who is living together outside of marriage, this false Jesus says, “If it feels good, it must be right.” To a young woman contemplating an abortion, he says, “Do whatever makes you happy.” To a man in a homosexual relationship this Jesus says, “All that matters is that you love really love him.”
Whenever the lying prophets of this false Jesus speak, the world applauds and heaps upon them all of its honors and blessings. But you may be absolutely certain of this: Wherever there is the praise of this world, there is not the true Christ. Friendship with the world is enmity against God! (James 4:4). Jesus is the Rock of Offense. He is the Stone that the builders rejected. He is a sign that is opposed. If any church preaches a message that the world loves, it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unless our preaching is condemned and opposed by the world as heresy, error, and foolishness, it is not the message of salvation and eternal life.
Many people like to say, “I’m not religious; I’m spiritual,” or “Doctrine doesn’t matter as long as you love Jesus,” or “I don’t believe in organized religion. I just believe in a God of love.” The love of God was made manifest in the person of Jesus, who says to his followers, “If you love me, keep my words!” (Jn 14:23). Jesus’ words are his doctrine. If you don’t love Jesus’ words, you don’t love his doctrine. If you don’t love his doctrine, you don’t love Jesus. “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words,” Jesus says, “of him will the Son of Man be ashamed on the Last Day.” The Christian Church is organized by Jesus around the words and doctrine of Jesus. Those who don’t like the religion that Jesus organized are rejecting the only true God of love and the only means of salvation.
However, we should not dare to think that only gross unbelievers and scoffers oppose Christ. Oh no, let us descend into our own heart. Even we who joyfully heard the message of the newborn Christ Child will also hear a voice within us that constantly and clearly opposes Christ. The carnal mind, which is present with all of us, resists the message of the Gospel. God must send us a Savior who offends our natural heart, in short, the kind of Savior he is and no other. Bear in mind: our natural pride in reason and virtue, our innate trust in our own imagined wisdom and righteousness is our fall from God. That is the ruin that shuts us out from God and His blessed Communion as long as we remain in it. The true Savior must therefore stand in opposition to all our false wisdom, all our false righteousness, and all our carnal desires.
Do not be surprised if ever you perceive that your reason, heart, and mind oppose the preaching of the Christmas Gospel. Instead remember that if your corrupt heart liked the Gospel, it could not save you. The very opposition of your sinful heart is proof that the Gospel is not human but divine, that it has not arisen in the heart of a sinner, but in the heart of God. It is actually a great comfort to recognize the struggle within you, when your sinful nature chafes and opposes the Gospel. For this is proof of two things: That you have heard the true Gospel of the true Christ, and that the Holy Spirit is at work within you, humbling and abasing your proud heart that would resist Jesus, and raising up the new man, who is content to humbly hear and receive the Gospel of Christ. This child shall be for the fall and rising of many in Israel.
Simeon says that Christ is opposed, but he is never overthrow. The world, the flesh, and the devil have already done their worst at the cross, and yet, God raised Jesus from the dead. The Son of God, in human weakness, conquered all the powers of sin, death, and hell that were arrayed against him. He is opposed, yet ever stands victorious. Yes, Jesus offends humanity at the very core of its being. Yes, he offends us – and we know it. But thank God that the Gospel offends us. Thank God it doesn’t flatter us, as all the false gospels do. Thank God that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to save sinners, such as you and me. Thank God that Christ, for all our opposition, breaks through by the power of his Word, and creates believers out of the unbelieving. He creates hearers out of the deaf. He creates life out of the dead. He organizes his true religion around his Holy Word, and he bestows his blessings upon all who are not offended by him. As we gather in His temple, the church, embracing him through his Word and Sacraments, we may truly say with Simeon, “Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation!” Amen.