First Sunday after Christmas · Luke 2:22-40 · December 28, 2008
By Gerhard Bode
The Gospel reading for the First Sunday after Christmas observes the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple.
2:22-23 After Mary’s forty-day purification is completed, she goes to the temple with Joseph and the infant Jesus. The couple offers sacrifices in keeping with the law, but the centerpiece of the pericope is Jesus’ presentation and dedication to the Lord (cf. Ex 13:12-13) and the recognition of the child by Simeon and Anna as the Christ.
2:25-27 Simeon, waiting for the consolation of Israel, is moved by the Spirit to go to the temple where he finds the child Jesus and his parents. For the second time in the Gospel, Luke refers to the child Jesus as the ‘Christ’ (the first instance is in the angel’s proclamation of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds in 2:11).
2:29-32 The Song of Simeon, the ‘Nunc Dimittis,’ is a hymn of blessing and thanksgiving to God for fulfilling his promise to send a Savior.
2:34-35 Simeon prophesies to Mary about the Christ-child.
2:36—38 The prophetess Anna praises God for the child and tells of him to all those waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
I. Narrating the Narrative. Beginning with a simple paraphrase of the Gospel account may be a helpful way of approaching the text. The story is compelling and central to the overall theme of the day. A creative retelling of the events in the temple may engage the hearers, allowing them to be the receivers of the message, as they are virtual onlookers in the temple with the holy family, Simeon, and Anna. Key emphases of the narrative retelling may be: 1) God’s keeping of his promises by sending the Messiah; 2) that the Savior has come also for Gentiles; 3) that Christ has come to bring comfort and consolation to all people; and 4) that Jesus would raise up those who believe in him, but would also be a stumbling block to those who opposed him.
II. God’s Old Testament Promises For generations, God had promised that he would send a Messiah, one who would save his people from their sins. In spite of the frequent unfaithfulness of the Israelites, God would be faithful to them; in spite of their sinfulness, God would provide One to be sinless in their place; in spite of their repeated waywardness, God would lead his people on the way of salvation. God had long foretold that the Messiah would bring comfort to his people, proclaiming peace to their troubled lives. God would bring consolation and hope to those who had none. The problem of sin was common to Israelites and Gentiles alike, but God Himself promised a solution to that problem.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God proclaimed that he would send a Savior and the ‘day of salvation’ would dawn (Is 49:8). Yet this salvation would not merely be for the people of Israel. God had given his Word: those walking in darkness would see a great light (Is 9:2), and the Christ would be a light to the Gentiles so that his salvation would be brought to the ends of the earth (cf. Is 42:6; 49:6).
III. God’s Promises Fulfilled in the Jesus Christ God promised to send a Savior, and in the little Christ-child presented in the temple, he kept his promise. This is what Simeon and Anna saw—God’s Word fulfilled in the flesh—and their joyful proclamation is reason for all people to give thanks to God.
God’s salvation had been prepared; the Messiah—God’s own Son—had come. But more was to be done before God’s plan was completed. That work would be accomplished thirty-three years later, on a hill, just beyond the walls of the Jerusalem temple. There, the Jesus who had been held safely in Simeon’s arms would be cruelly held by the outstretched arms of a rough wooden cross. The baby boy presented at the temple, hailed and celebrated by Simeon and Anna as God’s salvation, a light to the Gentiles, the glory of the people Israel—this promised One would die the death of a criminal in darkness, amid jeers and insults, rejected by Israelites and Gentiles alike. Jesus’ body was buried in a tomb, yet, this was not the end of God’s plan of salvation. On Easter morning Jesus rose from death to life. His resurrection testified to the truth of God’s promises. Jesus Christ is indeed God’s Son, the promised Savior. But more than that, through this risen Jesus God was keeping his promise of consolation, comfort, and salvation for all people.
IV. As God’s People We Wait for Our Consolation Recalling the promises of a Savior which God made to his people through the prophet Isaiah (that those walking in darkness would see a great light, and that Christ would be a light to the Gentiles revealing his salvation to the ends of the earth), we remember that these promises are for us today, too. God kept his Word and sent the Messiah. God kept his promise to the Israelites, to Mary and Joseph, to Simeon and Anna, and God kept his promise to us. He sent us a Savior. God’s infinite, unconditional love is revealed to each of us through the Christ-child. We rejoice and give thanks during the Christmas season because God sent his own Son to save us from all our sins and sorrows, all our grief and pain. In the end, to those who believe in him, Jesus makes death itself of no consequence, because he gives us his own resurrected life as our certain hope.
Christians today are really not that different from Simeon and Anna. We are waiting for the Savior to come, but not as a little baby. We have seen Jesus with our eyes of faith, and we are waiting for his return, waiting for our eternal consolation, the everlasting comfort and peace that Jesus will bring at his second coming. God promises that the day will come when we will see Jesus. With our own eyes we will see his face and look into his eyes. We will see God’s salvation then, even as we see his salvation now, in faith and joy.