Thursday, December 24, 2015

Departing Life in God's Peace

Luke 2:22-40 During these last few days of the year, it is good for us to remember that, unless the Lord comes for us, there will be for each of us a year into which we do not enter.  The Bible says that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”  All of us will die unless the Lord comes first because “the wages of sin is death.”
How do we cope with our own mortality?  How can we depart this life in peace?  The way that we answer that question-- and the way that we find to deal with the specter of death-- determines not only what happens on that day when we draw our last breath-- but it determines where we will spend eternity—and how we will live our life until that last day. 
God’s answers about our eternal life-- and finding meaning for this earthly life-- and what the day of our death will be like for us-- are found in our text today as we see two faithful people of God—Simeon and Anna—who are at peace with their own mortality because they had seen the salvation of God in Christ.  The Bible says that:
When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord  (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord")  and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord…" 

            Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph were in the temple doing what the law demanded:  offering a sacrifice for Mary’s purification and offering a sacrifice for Jesus as the firstborn Son.  That is what the Law demanded and that is what they did.
The obedience and faithfulness of Mary and Joseph and especially of Jesus would be a recurring theme throughout our Lord’s life as we see him faithfully keeping the demands of the Law—for he was born under its demands just as we were.  The Bible says that:
“When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” 
It is Good News for us that, from the very beginning of his life—in moments like the one before us today-- and throughout his life--Jesus kept the law perfectly—fulfilling what we are unable to do because of our sinfulness. 
When we look back upon our life there are plenty of regrets—a lot of wasted time--plenty of things that we wished we had done differently.  But what sustains us day by day is the knowledge that Christ’s righteousness is ours through faith in him.  What consoles us in the hour of our death is that our heavenly Father regards Christ’s righteousness as our own-- and counts it in his sight as our salvation. 
Peace with God in this life and peace with God when we depart this life comes from knowing the Good News that the righteousness of Christ is for us.  Simeon knew that salvation had come for him and all people in the birth of the Christ Child.  Taking baby Jesus into his arms he was at peace.  He said:
"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." 
            We don’t know much else about Simeon other than what we have before us today in Luke’s Gospel.  He was righteous and devout.  He eagerly awaited the coming of the Messiah.  God had blessed him with a special gift of the Holy Spirit and had promised him that before his death he would see the Savior. 
His song of praise—known as the Nunc Dimmittis from the Latin translation of the first two words “Now dismiss”—has been sung in the church for two thousand years. 
            When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the temple to fulfill the demands of the Law, Simeon recognized by the Holy Spirit that the little baby in their arms was the Savior of the world--the promised Messiah who would set us free from our sin-- and he blessed God for that moment and expressed his readiness to depart this life, for his soul was at peace in the presence of God’s salvation. 
That is exactly where we find the peace to deal with our own mortality as well—in the Messiah of God, Jesus Christ.  No less than Simeon have our eyes of faith beheld the salvation of God in Christ. 
In fact, much of what was still to come in the salvation story, Simeon would not see-- while we have it before our eyes in the pages of the Gospels:  Jesus’ miracles, his death, his resurrection and ascension.  And seeing the salvation of God—we have peace with God and peace in our hearts. 
We have peace because our sins are forgiven—peace because Jesus is with us as our Immanuel—peace because Jesus has guaranteed another life for us by his resurrection.  Peace in life and peace in death for all people who will receive it in faith from the Christ Child like Simeon did that day.  He told Mary:
"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." 

Simeon knew the peace of God because he saw the salvation of God in Jesus and believed in him.  He had been waiting and hoping and yearning for the Messiah of God to be revealed because he believed the promises of God. 
This is an important lesson for us in the life of Simeon—the most important lesson of all if we are to know the peace of God in this life and at our death as Simeon did—and that lesson is that the salvation of God in Christ must be believed if we are to receive God’s peace.  But not all do. 
Simeon prophesied that Jesus would cause the rise and fall of many—that he would be opposed—and that he would reveal the hearts of many.  His prophecy was true from that moment on. 
The wise men believed in Jesus and worshipped him.  Herod tried to put him to death.  Many of the common folk believed in Jesus while many of the religious leaders rejected him.  Some of Jesus’ own people jeered at him as he was dying on the cross --while a Roman soldier and a repentant thief came to saving faith that same day.  That division between faith and rejection is the way it has always been. 
            Then and now Jesus is the dividing line between those who are rising to heaven and those who are falling to hell—between those who are being saved and those who are being condemned—between those who have forgiveness for their sins and life everlasting and those who stand under God’s judgment in time and eternity.  It all hinges on Jesus. 
Those of us like Simeon, who by the Holy Spirit recognize and believe in Jesus for who he is, are saved.  Those who reject the work of the Holy Spirit on their heart as he calls them to faith in Jesus will be condemned. 
It has always been that way and will always be that way until our Lord’s return in glory.  It was that way for another elderly person in the temple who rejoiced in Christ’s birth along with the Holy Family and Simeon.  The Bible says that:
There was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 
            Anna is another person who we don’t know a lot about except for what we have here in Luke’s Gospel.  She was a faithful child of God who was devoted to worshiping God.  She had the spiritual gift of understanding and interpreting and applying God’s Word and her life spent with God in worship was perfect preparation for eternal life.
Like Anna, we can depart this life in peace only when we have come to enjoy the very things that eternity will consist of:  worshiping in the presence of God and receiving the gifts of forgiveness and salvation that God gives in his Son and responding with praise and thanksgiving and holy living. 
Anna not only worshiped but she also witnessed to other faithful Israelites who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem—the deliverance of the people of God from sin and death by the blood of the Messiah.  The Bible says that:
At that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. 
Worshiping and witnessing—that’s a pretty good summary of the Christian life.  To live like this doesn’t mean that we have to spend every waking moment in church or walking the streets aggravating people with our literature like the cults. 
What it does mean is that “day by day” our hearts are full of thanksgiving and praise for everything that God has done for us in Christ—that our lives are a shining witness of what it means to be the redeemed people of God—and that there is a deep and abiding peace that fills our living and—one day--our dying-- because we have seen and believed the salvation of God that he gives in the Christ Child.  Amen. 

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