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The Second Sunday After Christmas
Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 84; Ephesians 1:3-14; Luke 2:22-40
The story of Luke’s gospel given for today is one of transitions. It expands uniquely on the birth story of Jesus, giving us a deeper look at the significant change that the Incarnation of God in Christ brings to the world. Through the words of Simeon and Anna, and the writing of Luke, we are invited to reflect upon what Jesus Christ’s coming means for history, for all cultures, and for ourselves.
As a story of transitions, it is oddly appropriate that it arrives here at the cusp of the New Year, when we have a feeling of hope, of anticipation, and perhaps of dread. Let’s face it, it does not feel like we have had many good transitions in the last two years. The advent of another Covid variant isn’t something to celebrate. It seems we are just starting to feel on the consumer end the supply shortages felt worldwide. Politics feel like they have calmed, a bit, but we all know that the pressure is still there and it will flare up again in due time. Yet, our hope cannot be rooted in the state of the world. If it is, we will become cynical, despairing, hopeless. Our hope, Christian hope, lies beyond and above the world as it is, but is also deeply connected to the world as it is, for it is a hope ensured by the human person, Jesus the Messiah, who suffered with and for us.
The first transition is that of the drama of the incarnation into something we might call “normal life.” Jesus, the infant, is taken by his parents to be offered to the Lord as Mary’s firstborn. This was done according to their ancient laws given by God, at the end of 40 days when Mary’s time of ritual purification was complete. From here, we hear little of Jesus’ life until he erupts onto the scene at the start of his ministry some 30 years later. But it is also a transition from old to new, as Jesus takes on the law of the Old Covenant so that he can fulfill the New. In a seemingly normal act, a divine transition is occurring.
The second is that of Simeon, a passage from life to death. This man had waited for years, having been told by God he would not die without seeing God’s salvation come in the Messiah. Simeon is given this gift, to die in peace, to die in comfort, to die with confidence that God will do what God has said he will do. “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
And that is the third and most important transition we see here. Simeon gives in his song, prayed by Anglicans in Evening prayer or compline every night, a prophetic word that rings down the ages, and the source of our hope. Our salvation came in Jesus Christ. He was prepared in the presence of all peoples, he is a light to the Gentiles, he is the glory of his people Israel. The world, all peoples in it, the people of Israel and the Gentiles (which is everyone else) have been given light, and hope, and the chance like Simeon to have peace even in death.
Think of that: The approach of death, yet dying in peace. How could Simeon say he could die in peace? Because God’s promise of redemption, of salvation, of resurrection was all assured; God had fulfilled the promises. No plague or pandemic, no supply shortage, no economic downturn, no societal strife, could take away the peace granted to the one who recognizes God’s salvation and work of renewal and believes that promise. God is at work, God is the one who saves, and if you believe that there is nothing in this world that can take your peace from you.
This transition, though, is not one that will be without pain or trial. Simeon goes on to tell them, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” An encounter with Jesus the Christ lays bare our true selves, because he and his work on the Cross of self-sacrifice unto death is scandalous to human understandings of success, and to follow him requires that we too give up our passions, our ambitions, our desires, our very selves to God. And it does this as truly to nations, peoples, and communities of all kinds as well, cutting through exteriors to reveal what is true. To encounter Jesus is to have your true self revealed.
But peace that Simeon had, the peace of knowing the Lord’s salvation, we have seen even more fully. We know of Christ’s full earthly ministry, his death, his resurrection, and we have been told of his ministry interceding for us. We know he will come again. We receive his own life in the Eucharist, and his guidance in the Scriptures. We have all that we need to be at peace. This is not a superficial peace; it is not a peace without hardship, discouragement, sorrow. Peace, true peace comes on the other side of struggle, and is known as peace because one has suffered to get there. This peace of the Lord is a peace that knows struggle, but knows that the struggle ends; it is a peace that knows that the Lord’s salvation of resurrected new life awaits us, and that whatever we face now, we face as people with hope. What is it that you face now? What is keeping you from peace? What do you fear at the transition into this new year, or what other transitions bring you anxiety? Turn to Christ, recognize the Lord of your salvation, know that he is good, know that whatever comes his promise of eternal life awaits you, and find in him peace.
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