In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The First Sunday after Christmas always has the feel of a sort of let-down. The First Sunday after Christmas. Christmas is over. Now all there is for us to look forward to is…well, I don’t know. Dark, cold winter, I suppose. But the First Sunday after Christmas could also be known as the First Sunday of Christmas. Because the Church doesn’t count the way the world does. The world is certainly done with Christmas—it’s had enough of Christmas; it’s full and fat on Christmas—by the time December 25 rolls around. But the Church counts the season of Christmas for 12 days, considering what it means that the Word by whom all things were spoken into existence has now entered into that creation. And today is the Sunday that falls within those 12 days.
We are still celebrating, still singing Christmas hymns, still worshiping the Word made flesh. And that event doesn’t end with a baby in a manger, with shepherds, with a sweet tableau of father, mother, and child frozen in glowing warmth. That child was born under the Law that bears down on all those who live in this flesh, because all others who live in the flesh live in flesh corrupted by sin. But He was born to buy back all who, like us are under the Law.
And part of that Law is presenting the first-born child, especially the first-born son, before the Lord. The first-born in all of Israel is holy to the Lord because, in a strange inversion of time, this Son is holy to the Lord. The first-born of Israel is spared at the Passover because the blood points to the blood of this first-born Son. As the angel said to Mary, the Holy Spirit is the cause of this conception and birth, “therefore the one to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Christmas, Passover, first-born sons, blood, and death are all tied together in the Son of God born as the first-born of Mary. And because this One is born to die for all, Simeon now knows that he can die in peace.
I don’t know if Simeon died that day, now that he had seen the promised one. But I do know that he could die in peace, that day or any other. And that’s why we sing Simeon’s song every time we eat and drink the body and blood of this first-born Son: because whether we die today, or tomorrow, or this year, or next year, or at any other time, we can die in peace. We have Jesus for our own, the child born to Mary born for us. She and Joseph bring the Lamb of God to present Him at the temple of sacrifice. God has prepared His salvation before the face of all people, but only those who, like Simeon, have eyes opened by the Holy Spirit, can see this salvation.
Sign in Greek, sāmeon, sounds like Simeon, who says that Jesus will be the sign indicating the division of God’s people, whether Jew or Gentile, from those who are not God’s people. His blood, not the blood of sheep or goats, marks us as safe from death. And Simeon knows that being safe from death means that we can die without fear. Our days and years are in the tiny hands of God, to be pierced and hanged from a cross.
Only in Him is God’s forgiveness for us, so only in Him is our forgiveness of others. So Paul gives us our pattern and our map for the coming year: as we have been forgiven, we must forgive others. Bearing with one another, because Christ bears all of us in His own flesh, crucified, resurrected, glorified, and given to us. And “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:16-17).
The world’s year begins for Christians with the Name of Jesus on January 1. The Name into which each of us was baptized, in which we move through each of our days. Whatever happens this coming year, it is all done in the Name of Jesus. Day after day, Luther instructs us in his teaching on daily prayer, to begin each day by making the sign of the holy cross, so that we never forget in whose name we have been baptized and the One to whom we belong. Week after week, we come into this place and each time the Name is spoken as a reminder to us that we are here as those baptized into that Name.
Though the Church Year began at the beginning of December, the world’s year begins on Jan. 1. But even that is counted from the year when Jesus was guessed to have been born, 2019 years ago. Either way, we have our exhortation for this and every year: let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly, as we read, hear, speak, and sing the Scriptures and the stories of Christ. What He has said and what He has done—those are the riches of the Scriptures to which the Church is bound. Mary and Joseph were bound to that Word; Simeon and Anna were bound to that Word. And we are bound to that Word, because that Word, made flesh, is our life and salvation. God grant it, this year and always.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/29/18