Falling and Rising–1st Sunday after Christmas 2014
1st Sunday after Christmas
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 2:33-40
December 28, 2014
Falling and Rising
Christmas ends far too quickly. We have just a day and a night to celebrate together the coming of God in human flesh. That is too short. We must stay with the incarnation of our Lord a little longer. It is the wellspring of all joy. For God has not left us in the dust of our corruption, sin, and death. He has joined us in our human nature and united our nature to God’s nature forever.
In the Gospel reading Joseph and Mary are still marveling at Jesus, even though at least a month has gone by since His birth. It is impossible to take in all the glory of this child or to comprehend all the good things He brings to us. Even though Mary has been told that her child will be called “The Son of God,” they are still marveling at the things people tell her about Jesus. First it was the shepherds proclaiming that they had seen angels who told them that they would find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, and that this baby was “a Savior, Christ the Lord.” Now, as Mary and Joseph go to the temple for Mary’s purification and the presentation of the baby Jesus according to the law of the Lord, the aged prophet Simeon snatches the child out of His startled mother’s arms and begins to prophesy that in this child he has seen the Lord’s salvation. He sings the song that we sing after communion each Sunday, the Nunc Dimittis: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.”
Why is Simeon ready to die in peace? He has seen God’ s salvation in the babe of Bethlehem. The baby is the one the prophets have proclaimed for centuries and for whom God’s people had watched since they first left the garden of Eden. He is Immanuel, God with us. He is the Lord of hosts tenting among us, tabernacling among us, letting us see Him now not under the covering of the temple but in human flesh. He is God and man, coming to fulfill the requirements of the law for us. He is coming to end Satan’s rule and domination over us. He is coming to bear sin on Himself and remove it from us. He is going to break the power of death over us and give us resurrection from the dead and eternal life.
The Christmas Gospel tells us that God has become one with us and shouldered the whole burden of our salvation. Greater joy could not be proclaimed than the joy that comes with this baby.
Yet in our Gospel reading sorrowful prophecies also come from Simeon’s lips concerning the baby Jesus. They are hard to understand in light of the great joy of His birth. Simeon says that this child is set for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and as a sign that will be spoken against. He says that a sword will go through Mary’s soul because of her child. How can such hard things be said about Jesus? How could He who came into the world to save it be the cause of many falling? Who would speak against Jesus, who comes to us meek and gentle as an infant?
Yet we see to our sadness that just this happens in our own experience. Many do not receive the good news of Jesus’ birth. The powerful and great people of the world, the educated and wise of the world, by and large reject Christ, and many speak against His teaching and His church. And not only these, but also the great majority of people despise this baby and His kingdom.
The reason for this is not to be found in Jesus. He does not will that people reject Him. He does not will that any should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth. He did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world mighty be saved through Him.
The reason is found in sinful men. Jesus is given to us to be the cornerstone of our salvation, that we might be built on Him and be saved. But most of the world stumbles over Jesus.
The powerful, rich, and mighty people in the world often stumble over Christ because His kingdom does not bring earthly wealth and earthly peace, but instead persecution, conflict, division, and often poverty in this world. Jesus does not bring peace in this world. He is the world’s only Savior. As a result He excites the hostility of people who follow other religions and other gods who claim to save. And having a religion that excites the anger and hostility of many people is not good for business or politics. So most of the wealthy and powerful people of this world are offended at Christ. They stumble over Him, reject Him, and are lost forever.
The wise and educated of this world are often offended at Christ. Great learning and intelligence do not bring a person to Christ. The well-educated and intelligent people of this world are often put off by the fact that their wisdom does not count for anything before Christ. They say to Christ’s people, “How can you presume to condemn everyone who doesn’t believe in your Christ when so many people who are your intellectual superiors don’t believe in Him?” They take offense at the Scripture, which does not seem to agree with the findings of modern science. But they do not realize that the Christian faith can’t be believed in even a single article unless it is revealed to a person by the Holy Spirit from heaven. The doctrine that God is three persons, one God—the doctrine of the trinity—confounds human reason. The teaching of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ—that Jesus is both fully God and fully man, yet one person—confounds human reason. The teaching that we are justified by faith in Christ alone apart from the works of the law contradicts human sense and reason. Thus many of the wise and learned stumble over Christ and are lost forever. They put their trust in their own intellect instead of the baby in Mary’s arms.
And it’s not just the wise and powerful who stumble over Christ, but the majority of ordinary people. They stumble over Christ because their hearts are set on having peace, ease, good days, earthly prosperity. But Christ’s kingdom is such that it is always followed not by wealth and ease but by the hostility of the devil and the world. Persecution and the cross come with Christianity. And so when the devil makes people’s lives difficult for the sake of faith in Christ, whether through persecution or suffering from outside or temptation within, the majority of the world says, “Why should I suffer all this just for the sake of religion?” So the mass of people stumble over Christ and are lost forever.
Even though Jesus is sent into the world for its salvation, many stumble and fall over Him, just as Simeon prophesied.
But Simeon also prophesied that Jesus is set for the rising of many in Israel. He raises up those who are cast down because of the knowledge of their sins. He raises up those who are terrified because they know that they are sinners before God. For them Jesus is a precious cornerstone of salvation. This infant Jesus is an immoveable rock of salvation, just as Simeon said: “My eyes have seen your salvation.” He is the salvation provided by the Lord. No one who believes in Him will be put to shame. He cancels the shame and disgrace of all who believe in Him. This little infant comes to bear the sin and shame and disgrace of the whole world. God Himself comes in our human flesh to bear our disgrace, to bear and suffer for our fall from the grace of God. And He comes instead to give God’s pure grace and favor, so that everyone who believes in Him can say, “God is pleased with me.” For as Jesus grew up, the grace of God was upon Him. God’s favor was on Him, because He always did what pleased God. He was given by God to win this favor not for Himself but for us. We who were born in sin and grew up in sin have God’s favor rest upon us because of the obedience of Jesus.
Thus He raises up the fallen. And He does not reject anyone who comes to Him, no matter what their sins have been. Often times in the church we feel more burdened by our sins than we would be if we were outside of it. We are supposed to know better and be better because we have been taught about Christ and believed in Him. That makes our falls into sin so much the worse and more grievous, because we sin against the Lord’s salvation that we know and our eyes have seen.
But the infant Jesus is set for the rising even of such sinners as we are. He raised up Peter, who denied Him, and Paul, who persecuted and murdered Christians. He raised up Mary Magdalene, and Zacchaeus the tax collector. Jesus raises up the fallen. In Him is pure salvation to the chief and worst of sinners. He is their righteousness. He is our righteousness.
We cast down sinners fall upon Jesus because we have nowhere else to go for relief from our sins. And He raises us up. He clothes us with His own righteousness. He washes us clean from sin in Baptism. He absolves us, even though our offenses are red as blood, and makes us as white as snow. He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink to purify us. And He raises us up. He raises us up to reign with Him. He raises us up to share God’s favor with Him. He raises us up to share His image. And one day He will raise us up from the dead to perfectly wear His glorious image.
Soli Deo Gloria