And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 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 he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, "Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart In peace, according to Thy word; For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Thy people Israel." And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him.
Sermon for the Sunday after Christmas 12/31/23
The Song of Simeon
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Simeon is one of the most familiar strangers in the Bible. We are familiar with him through his prayer, which we sing each week. We call it the "Nunc Dimittis", which is the Latin for the first two words in the Latin Version, "now let your servant depart". We all know it, and we sing it week by week, and yet I wonder how often we sit down and think about it and what it meant, and what it was like to be there the first time those words were ever spoken in the church of God. Our theme, this morning, is what we now call The Song of Simeon.
Everything we know about Simeon is contained in these few verses. We know that he was a believer, Luke calls him "righteous and devout". We know that he was awaiting the coming of the Messiah with particular eagerness for Luke says he was "looking for the consolation of Israel," which is a Messianic title from the Old Testament period. We know that he was filled with the Holy Spirit – and guided by the Holy Spirit. And finally, we know that he had been promised that he would not pass on until the Christ (the Messiah) was come into the world. He would live long enough to see the salvation of the Lord.
Of course, that did not mean he would live exceptionally long while he waited. It meant that the coming of the Messiah was so close in time that Simeon was promised that he would see Him before he died. Every picture we see of Simeon pictures him as an old man - which sort of makes sense, except that we are told in no Bible passage that Simeon was old, or full of years, or living a particularly long and happy life. Simeon could have been in his twenties or thirties!
We don't know much about Simeon's life, either. We know that he was a believer - that he was devout. We also know that He was faithful to his religion in a time when faith and faithfulness were less common commodities in Israel. When Jesus came, He called many of the religious leaders of Israel ‘sons of the great serpent,' Satan, and accused many of the people who approached Him of not having even a vague idea of who God is or what He wants of us - which, I think, qualifies them as unbelievers and enemies of the faith. Apparently, Simeon believed, and practiced his religion faithfully, and from a spirit of devotion to God rather than slavish obedience to rules.
This conduct would indicate that Simeon was filled by the Holy Spirit, just as it does for believers today. If you believe, you gotta have the Spirit, for "No man can say, "Jesus is Lord", but by the Holy Ghost." When Luke tells us that "the Holy Spirit was upon Him", he is saying that Simeon had an extraordinary gift of, or filling by, the Holy Ghost. But none of this is really important, except that it explains who Simeon is and why he showed up at the temple on this particular day, and did the things he did. What is important this morning is the prayer which he spoke, which we sing week to week.
First, Simeon calls on the Lord to fulfil the second part of the promise. Now that he has seen the salvation of the Lord in the flesh, he is ready to die in peace. That is probably what reinforces the idea that Simeon was an old man. But doesn't have to mean that. Even as a fairly young man, Simeon could say,"Okay Lord, I am ready to go any time because I have seen the salvation which you have prepared before all of mankind." It doesn't need to mean anything more than the certainty that God has fulfilled His promise to Simeon. Old or young, think of the faith that this first statement took! Simeon saw the baby Jesus, just eight days old. The Spirit informed him that this One was the Savior - but Jesus hadn't done anything, yet. He would not do anything striking for another thirty-odd years. But Simeon believed. He believed the Word of God, and the promise of God, and what the Spirit showed him, and he was willing to live and die by it. We, too, can be willing to live by the Word of God, and be willing to die trusting in every promise of God
Simeon said "My eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all the peoples." Mind you, Simeon had not seen the crucifixion, or the resurrection. He had never heard the Apostolic proclamation of the forgiveness of sins in His name. He had simply seen the baby Jesus. The Old Testament told Him the rest of the story, and Simeon believed what his eyes had not seen, but what the Word said, and the Spirit had revealed to Him.
He makes an interesting point, however. Our salvation is not just the events that took place. They were the how of the thing - how it works, how forgiveness functions, how God got around the paradox of human guilt and divine justice, so that God is both just and the One who forgives sins and rescues those who trust in Him. Our salvation is Jesus. He is the miracle. God in the flesh of a man - in this case, a man-child. He is our salvation. The love of God is wrapped up in what it took to imagine such a redemption, and to personally step down from the glory of being God and take up a humble human existence.
We might not be quite so surprised if God had been born in a castle or a palace somewhere. If He were rich and powerful in the ways of the world, that would have fit our expectations. If Jesus had demanded the honor due to Him and expected worship and praise and the sorts of perks that we ordinary people tend to demand when we get a little authority or celebrity under our belt, perhaps the whole Incarnation - the God in human flesh thing - might be a little more comprehensible. But here He is, God, making no big deal about it. He walks and talks like an ordinary man. He even dies - Imagine the wonder of it! God died! And He died just like you will - not the cessation of being, but the separation of body and soul. And He died for you, to redeem you from your own sin and rebellion, and rescue you from death and hell and torment. Because of what Simeon saw, your sins are forgiven!
When Simeon saw the baby Jesus, He was staring into the most incomprehensible wonder of history - and God was looking back. The Holy Spirit had given Simeon the understanding of what he was seeing, and with that seeing, he was ready to die. What else was there. The promises of God were already fulfilled. Once God did the impossible thing in the incarnation, how could He fail? What else could challenge Him more? Isaiah had already revealed to us that the sacrifice was a done deal in heaven. Once God determined to accomplish it in time it was as good as done. Now Simeon saw the first step - and he knew the rest could not help but happen.
Simeon also confessed, as the Old Testament had, that this salvation was not just for the Jews. Jesus is the Light of Revelation for the Gentiles. Up until Jesus came, God and salvation was primarily a Jewish thing – about the Chosen People of Israel. With the coming of Jesus, God reveals that it is His will to redeem and save all men, Gentiles no less than others.
Jesus is the Light of Revelation. He alone shows us the Father. He reveals to us the will of God and the love of God for us. And what is the will of God for us? (Our Salvation.)
Jesus reveals the will of God by first doing it, and then sending His preachers to proclaim it to us. Jesus revealed the will of God to save us by taking our condemnation and the wrath of God against our sins, and our just sentence due to sin, and suffering in our place, and then dying the death our sins have deserved. "He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes, we are healed."
We are ‘enlightened' today by Word and Sacrament, through which the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts, and by means of which food we are forgiven, strengthened, and refreshed both – in this life and for eternal life. Jesus continues to be the Light of the world by the preaching of faithful pastors, and by the daily witness of lives lived to His glory by people who have been transformed by His grace and love. It is about this transformation that Paul writes, in Romans 12, "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."
You "prove what the will of God is" by living in it - a holy life of one who is forgiven much, and so loves much; who is set free from sin and so chooses to live free from guilt and shame and sin. When you live out your confidence in God, rather than the fear of circumstances or the uncertainty of "luck", you bear witness to Jesus, who is the glory of God, and the glory of His people, Israel - both the people Israel, whose history is summed up in this one man who is also God and the living personification of the love and compassion of the God of Israel, and the Israel of God which also includes us, the people of the gracious choice of God "in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit."
You may be beginning to see how the whole Gospel is captured in that beautiful prayer, which we call the Song of Simeon. Each time we sing it, you want to mark your place in it - one of those, who, like Simeon, has seen the salvation of God, one of those Gentiles for whom Jesus came to be a Light of Revelation, and one of those people, Israel, chosen of God, for whom Jesus is our glory!
Luke reports that Jesus' "father and mother were amazed at the things that were being said about Him." It is no small wonder! That was probably because they lived life everyday, and forgot the marvelous things God was working in them and through them. More amazing than the things being said, however, is the Jesus Himself. Even amazing as an infant, for that infant was also God, who required feeding and changing and burping like any other child, according to the flesh - but as God was running the universe, and causing stars to burn in the heavens, trees to grow, winds to blow, and the chemical reactions which we call the processes of life of our bodies to proceed, as though nothing unusual were happening at all.
What a marvelous thing - in the ancient sense - that is, full of things to marvel at. And it is all briefly and eloquently summed up for us for all time in the Song of Simeon.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)