Friday, January 4, 2013

January 3 Gospel - Luke 2

(A revision of a sermon by Rev. Rick Stuckwisch)

            Simeon was at the Temple of the Lord that day looking to see Christ.  And after Anna sees the little Lord Jesus, she talks to all who are looking for redemption.  What are you looking for?
            Behind all your plans and pursuits, resolutions and wish lists; in all the movies you watch, games you play, books you read, music you listen to, and dreams you dream, what are you looking for?
            When you come here, to our smaller version of the Temple of the Lord, what are you looking for?
            Behind all of our short and long term goals, our choices, and voting, and the way we spend our cash and our time – behind it all is our desire for peace.  Not just an un-easy cease fire, or the absence of arguments – because then you worry about when the next outburst of conflict will come.  But real, honest to God peace, contentment, satisfaction in who you are and why you are here, true friendship with God and your neighbors.  The peace your restless heart looks for – because God created you to live that way with Him and each other. 
            In Colossians 3, today St. Paul tells us to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”  The almighty Judge who could destroy you for your disobedience, instead chooses in Christ to redeem you with such a great forgiveness of our sin.  The only right way to respond is to praise Him and to drop our grudges, replacing our hatreds with trying to live at peace with others – as far as it depends on us.
            If you do not have Christ’s peace ruling your hearts, nothing will satisfy you for very long.  You cannot control your inner turmoil – or even truly understand it.  And you soon find that it is controlling you like a puppet on strings.  Not a real boy or girl.  Not a real man or woman.
            Look for inner peace… and you will find it the same place that Simeon and Anna did – in the Temple of the Lord; in the Christ child, the Babe, the Son of Mary, who found no peace as He carried His cross for you.  You find it by the Spirit of God in the Word of God.  This is where you find what you are ultimately looking for, as your eyes see God’s salvation – the Peace of God that goes beyond anything you can understand, which guards your heart and mind from the Devil. 
            So how do you live this peace?  Well, for starters Romans 6 says that I have died with Christ in Baptism that I may now live with Him as an instrument of God’s righteousness.  And even though I will die, yet shall I live beyond the grave. 
            While we know the peace will be far better in Heaven with Christ, God still has His reasons for your life to go on here on earth.  He does not tell you all the details, but the Lord still gives a purpose to your life in this time and place, even as He gives you Christ’s peace.  For, as Philippians 1 says, whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.
            That is the first key to our Gospel text today, and to the peace that we share with Simeon, Anna, Mary, and Joseph – You are the Lord’s, because He has created you and yet more wonderfully redeemed you by Christ’s sacrifice of His body and by shedding His own blood at the Cross.
            It is why Mary and Joseph were there at the Temple in the first place, why all Jewish parents of those days went there with the firstborn son – to confess that their whole family belongs to the Lord us as they present their children in the Temple for life in the world to the glory of God.
            You and your children also belong to our Creator and Redeemer, as all the good things you have ever received are yours only by His grace.  And God sanctifies you for a life of service to your church and your world.  In whatever place God puts you, He calls you to live life not for your own sake, but for the sake of our Christ who died and rose again for us.
            Simeon tells Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).  The conflict and lack of peace in man’s heart that we try to keep hidden – it will violently show itself against Mary’s son for all to see.  Good Friday reveals the evil secret thoughts of how much man hates God.  And the Cross reveals the secret thoughts of the sin in your heart too.  It shines the light of Christ’s selfless sacrifice upon your selfishness and mine.  The Cross says that we need a better righteousness than our own because our goodness is not good enough – and our pride does not like that one bit.  As His cross puts our sin to death, you may be surprised by the monstrous ways you behave.
            However, it is Christ’s Cross.  And He has given Himself over to death ahead of you, to pay for our monstrous behavior, and to rescue you – or, actually better to rescue us from it forever.  For St. Paul tells us to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” so that you can live in the one body of Christ that is the universal Christian Church. 
            The peace that you look for is not only for your own comfort and calmness.  Anna speaks to all about the redemption of Jerusalem, and Simeon says Jesus is for all people – the consolation of Israel and salvation’s Light for the Gentiles.  You find the peace you look for in your neighbors, in your brothers and sisters in Christ, babies and old people.  As you love Jesus, you love them.  When you love them, you are loving Him – for whatever you do for the least of them, Jesus says He counts it as though you did it for Him (Matthew 25:31ff).
But what does it look like to love this way?  God’s Word is what guides us as Christians, so – for starters – we can see some examples in today’s Gospel reading.  God’s Word is what brought Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph with their baby to the Temple – and likewise the Word has brought parents with their children to this House of the Lord.  Parents, you are to raise your children to know the Scriptures, for they teach us Christ and His salvation.  Bring them to this House and present your children to the Lord in Baptism.  Let the Word of Christ dwell in them richly – not just here, but in your homes with family devotions, starting out with children’s Bible story books, morning and mealtime and bedtime prayers.  Teach them psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, prayers and thanksgivings to Our Father, and to Jesus who was once a little child like they are.  Prepare them to receive Christ in His Body and Blood.
If you are a husband or wife like Joseph and Mary, then live with your spouse in peace, until death parts you.  If you are widowed like Anna, then worship the Lord with prayer night and day, and you will strengthen God’s people as He answers your requests.  If you are a young man, or old like Simeon, see in today’s text how masculine it is to be in church, to pray and praise and wait for the Lord to answer in His time.  It is a manly thing to care for your family if you have one – and to care about what happens to the children of others, and even bless them as gifts of life from God like Simeon does here, happily taking the little Lord Jesus into his arms.
These are only a few ways that love acts as seen in today’s Gospel text.  There are so many other ways our Christian love should go toward God’s people – being patient with them, helping them through their troubled times, sharing their burdens, compassionately forgiving whatever good she failed to do or whatever evil he did do. 
There is peace and life and love in this forgiveness because it is the forgiveness that lives in Christ’s heart and flows out from Him to all members of His Body.  It flows to us even though you and I have not been righteous and devoted in our worship nor prayers.  Even though we have not faithfully sung His praises, spread His Word, nor shared His peace.  Even though you and I have failed in every relationship – from honoring our parents to cherishing spouses to caring for children to loving our neighbor as ourselves.  We have made a mess of it all. 
Yet nonetheless here is this little One, the Babe, the Son of Mary is your Peace.  He has performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, fulfilling the command to love perfectly, as we ought to love.  And in order to save you, Christ gives you the credit as if you lived in total obedience to God.  You will be received into Heaven – for, according to His Word, Christ has redeemed you from death as He bears all your guilt.  So now bless God, depart in peace, and live.  Amen.

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