1st Sunday of Christmas (B)
December 27, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
During every Christmas season a debate breaks out among some Lutherans about the song Mary Did You Know? In it, Mary is asked a variety of questions: did she know her Son would walk on water, calm a storm, and that He was the Son of God. Some say of course she knew because the angel spoke to her. This meeting with Gabriel had given Mary some special insight. Other argue that she knew her child was the Son of God and that He would save people from their sins, but she had no idea what that meant or what Jesus would do during His life. I agree with the second argument. Sure, she knew a little, but she couldn’t have known in advance all that Jesus would do. There was even a time, early in Jesus’ ministry, that Mary and His brothers came to take Him home because they said He was out of His mind (Mark 3:21). That tells me that she didn’t know everything about her Son, and really, how could she?
Mary and Joseph were good Jews so when Jesus was forty days old, they brought Him to the Temple to offer a sacrifice and dedicate their firstborn son to God. It was a straightforward ritual, one that happened at the Temple every day. This day would be different. A man they don’t know comes up and asks if he can hold their newborn son. Strangely, Mary agrees, and we hear familiar words: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” With all the incredible things that had happened in the previous ten months, Simeon’s appearance probably didn’t seem all that strange. Simeon was joining the angels and the shepherds as heralds of this baby’s purpose and destiny. He said what Mary already knew, Jesus was the Savior of the world.
Mary had to have felt good hearing what Simeon had to say, until he said something strange. “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” What in the world does that mean? She never imagined that within a short amount of time Herod would show the his opposition so much that he’d try to murder the newborn Jesus. And when the holy family returned from Egypt, she probably thought the worst was behind them. Herod’s hatred though was just the beginning.
Did she know that it would be through hatred of her son there’d be peace on earth? But did Mary know that it would be the death of Jesus that would save and fulfill His name? Mary believed Gabriel’s statement that Jesus was the Son of God conceived by the Holy Spirit in her womb to save people from their sins, and she completely entrusted herself to God’s will. How could she anticipate that by watching her son die a torturous death and then be buried she would see what Simeon meant when he said he had seen the Lord’s salvation?
Mary had a lot of questions, but when she saw the risen Savior, she knew. Jesus would be opposed by those who hated Him, but He was never overcome. He was in complete control of His life and He sacrificed Himself when the time was right. The hatred of the world didn’t change His plan one iota. Those who oppose and hate Him are betrayed by their hearts because there’s nothing secret to God. Those who hate Him, who are ambivalent, or don’t believe will be lost forever. There will be no salvation once death comes. Until then, the love of Christ and His salvation is offered to all, and with that salvation comes peace.
The angels announced to the shepherds that peace had come: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth!” Simeon confidently stated that he could die in peace because he had seen the Savior. The song of both the angels and Simeon are in our church service because the peace of Jesus isn’t freedom from war and conflict, it’s peace with God.
Your sins are forgiven, every one of them, through Christ Jesus. The hatred of the world brought you peace. As Saint Paul says, “For in [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” (Col 1:19-20). You’re not at war with God, you’re not cut off from Him. You’ve been reconciled to God, your animosity towards Him is forgiven and forgotten. Simeon held the Savior in his arms, while at the same time the Savior held Simeon in His. The Savior holds you in His arms too, for you have peace with Him. It doesn’t matter what you did in the past, total peace is for those who love Him. It can be hard to forget our own past and to find peace within ourselves but thank God that finding peace in ourselves isn’t what it’s all about. It’s about the peace that God gives you.
It’s not a coincidence that Simeon’s words, what we call the Nunc Dimittis, has been part of church services since 300 AD. It’s also very fitting that we sing these words following Holy Communion. You come to this rail as sinners, you leave as those who have peace with God. The peace of God which surpasses all understanding fills you though the body and blood of Jesus. Then at the end of the service, what do you receive in the benediction? Peace again! I dismiss you from Holy Communion and the Divine Service with the same pronouncement: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord makes His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” Have no doubt, no matter how you enter the doors of this church, you leave a forgiven saint at peace with God.
Luke tells us that Simeon was a devout and faithful man who was waiting for the Savior. And when he held the baby Jesus, he knew that he could now die in peace. Anna too was waiting for the Savior and spent her days praying and worshiping. They’re great examples for you. You’ve seen the Savior through faith and now you can live devout and faithful lives until the Lord calls you home. That’s another part of peace that maybe you haven’t thought about. You are forgiven so when you approach and enter death, you don’t have anything to fear, you have peace and reconciliation with God. You can enter your heavenly home and your eternal life knowing that you will soon see your salvation with your very own eyes.
We have no way of knowing what Mary knew about Jesus’ life. Did she know He would raise the dead? I doubt it. Did she know he was the Savior? There’s no doubt she did. What Mary knew or didn’t know doesn’t really matter to us. What matters is what you know. You know that Holy Child is your Savior and He has brought you peace.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen