Fulfillment for You!
Grace, peace and mercy from God our Father and Our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
Today is the third day of Christmas, and I pray you’re all still going strong with the Holy Days now behind us. It makes me sad to see the Christmas trees already thrown to the curb. It’s like people leaving the theater early to beat the traffic and miss the best part of the movie. There’s plenty more left to Christmas, so don’t give up yet. We’ve even kept the candles burning to keep you in the mood.
The Gospel according to St. Luke records only two events of Jesus’ infancy - His circumcision and naming on the eighth day of His life, and His presentation in the temple when He was forty days old. The eighth day is when every Jewish boy of Jesus’ day received the sacrament of the covenant in his own flesh. He would receive his name and his identity in the community. This is the same way baptism use to be treated. Luke is very careful about all this. He never mentions Jesus’ name through the entire story of His birth in Bethlehem. Did you realize that? He’s simply refers to Him as “the child,” because up until the 8th day, you didn’t officially have a name.
Luke delivers all of this in one short sentence: “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.” That Child who was laid in the manger came to save all people from sin. The Word became Flesh to dwell among us, now He feels the sting of the Law for the first time. He is born of woman, born under the Law to redeem those under the Law with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. this is the beginning of all of that.
And then on the 40th day the infant Jesus makes His first appearance at the temple in Jerusalem. Again, this is all according to the Law of Moses. The first-born male was considered holy, he belonged to the Lord and his parents had to redeem him, literally buy him back with a blood sacrifice - a lamb and a dove normally, but 2 doves would do if you couldn’t afford a lamb. Every first born male was a sign to Israel of God’s only-begotten Son whose blood would redeem the world from sin and death.
The 40th day was also purification day for the mother. Now you might wonder why Mary should need to be purified of anything since her Son is sinless. But that’s precisely the point. No exceptions are made for Jesus, or for His mother. He is treated just like a sinner, and she is treated as though she had just given birth to one. He is “born of woman, born under the Law to redeem those who are under the Law.” The whole weight of the Law falls on Jesus, and He fulfills it, literally places Himself under the Law and fills it up with Himself.
You may look at it this way. Whatever Jesus does, or whatever happens to Him fulfills the Law. When Jesus was circumcised, the Law of circumcision was fulfilled. When Jesus was presented in the temple and bought back with blood, the law of the first-born was fulfilled. Circumcision came to its purpose on the eighth day of Jesus’ human life. It was fulfilled, filled up with Jesus. The law of a mother’s impurity and the redemption of the first-born came to its completion when Jesus’ was forty days old. It was fulfilled, filled up with Jesus. And if you understand this, then go a step further, Jesus’ baptism, His suffering and His death on the cross, the entire Law came to its completion when the Son of God died on the cross. It was all fulfilled, accomplished, finished. No wonder Jesus says on the cross, “If is finished!”
Everything in this morning’s Gospel speaks fulfillment. Even the numbers demand our attention. The 40th day of Jesus’ life is exactly 490 days, or 70 weeks, since the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in that same temple next the incense altar. And so there are exactly 70 times 7, or “seventy sevens”. Coincidence? No I don’t think so – it’s fulfillment.
If you’re into numbers, think about Anna, the prophetess who was also there that day. She had been married for a perfect 7 years, and she was now 84 years old (that’s 12 times 7). The numbers of her life shout out “fulfillment.” God is true to His word. She spent all her days and nights in the temple waiting for the Messiah, certain He was coming in her lifetime. And when she sees Jesus, 40 days old in His mother’s arms, she can’t help but praise God and give thanks, she was telling everyone about Him.
We have no idea how old Simeon was. We know that God told him he wouldn’t die until he’d seen the fulfillment of God’s promise. Every day he went to the temple, serving, watching, waiting, wondering if this were the day. One day he sees a man and a woman walking in the temple courtyard, and the young woman is carrying a little boy in her arms. The man is carrying the poor man’s redemption price - two small pigeons. And the Holy Spirit whispers to old Simeon, “That’s the One. He’s the One you’re waiting for.” Tears must have streamed from the old man's eyes as he received the 40 day old baby Messiah in those old arms. It was as though the whole OT, the Law and prophets were cradling that little Child and singing His praises. And when Simeon breaks into song and says, “Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace,” he speaks on behalf of all of Israel. Israel’s purpose is fulfilled. Israel can depart in peace, because the Glory of Israel had come to the temple and the need for Israel is now fulfilled in the Child, Jesus.
This Child that Simeon is holding in his arms, He is God’s salvation in human flesh. He is the Light that reveals God’s goodness and mercy to the Gentiles, to the outsiders. He’s the Glory of God’s people Israel, the insiders. He is the Savior not just of some - but of all. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph “marveled at these things” just as they marveled at what the shepherds told them the night Jesus was born. This is a marvelous thing - that a little Child should be the salvation of God, the promised Light of the nations, the Glory of Israel.
The world looks and sees nothing more than an 8 day old Jewish boy screaming at the top of his little lungs, or a 40 day old with his parents at the temple. Only two people notice the Christ that day - Anna and Simeon. No priests showed up to pay homage. No teachers of the Law gathered around to see the fulfillment of their teaching. No Pharisees came to gaze upon the face of perfect humanity. No, only Simeon and Anna were there to welcome and embrace Him. The only reason they recognized Him is the Holy Spirit told them. Otherwise they would have never known. That’s also true today. You can tell someone about Christ but unless the Holy Spirit is at work the words mean nothing.
This is the world’s Baby, but don’t expect the world to embrace Him. “He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him.” Simeon warned Mary that the cross will mark this Child’s life. He would be destined for the rising and falling of many in Israel. Many would rejoice in His coming, especially those who were on the fringes. Many would also greet His coming with hostility, especially those who ran the religious institutions of Israel - the priests, the Scribes, the Pharisees. You can never be neutral about Jesus. You either embrace Him for who He is, or you reject Him. There’s no undecided, third way. There’s no saying, “I’m not sure.” You have His claim and the testimony of the Scriptures. He’s the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
Simeon said this sweet little Child “would be a sign spoken against.” Wherever Jesus is, there’s also controversy. He came to announce God’s pardon and peace, but instead was treated with hostility and anger. People get mad when they lose their religion. The Gospel isn’t “good news” for those who want to save themselves. But for the broken, for the desperate, for those who don’t have a leg to stand on before God, it’s the best news that can be heard. Here’s God’s little Lamb, the perfect unblemished sacrifice for the sin of the world, making His appearance in the temple, the place of sacrifice.
Many come to church to get a religious high. They seek approval for what they’ve been doing. They seek to boost their self-esteem with some type of ego drug. Karl Marx called religion the “opiate of the masses,” he was right. That’s what the masses want - a drug. They don’t want to hear about their sin. They don’t want to deal with their death. It doesn’t feel good.
That attitude is true for us also. Each of us have it, me too. I get caught in the same thing. It’s Christmas and you’re supposed to be joyful and happy and peaceful and loving to everyone. And that would be fine except for the fact that people make it so difficult to be joyful and loving. Christmas has this way of bringing out the best and the worst in us all at the same time. Tempers run short especially during this season of peace. People get depressed in this season of joy. We expect that God is going to fix it all.
We love to say that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but we sometimes forget the reason Jesus came in the first place. It wasn’t so He could have an incredible happy birthday party once a year. He came to die because of our sin. He came to reconcile humanity with God. He came to be humanity’s new Head, the second Adam who gets it right. He came to embody all of us in His own body - born of Mary, circumcised on the 8th day, presented and redeemed in the temple at 40 days, baptized in the Jordan river, crucified on Calvary, raised from the dead.
The cross hangs large over the whole scene. You can’t escape it. That’s why one of our ornaments on the Christmas tree is a golden crown of thorns. Have you ever noticed it? Christmas has a cross shadowing over the Christ Child. It’s there in His circumcision, the shedding of His blood as a “son of the covenant.” It’s there in the sacrifice to redeem the world. Simeon spoke soberly to Mary. “A sword was going to pierce her soul as well”. Mary being the Mother of the Messiah was going to be tough. You mothers with sons, you know. You have hopes and dreams. But imagine the sorrow of watching your first born son mocked, rejected, ridiculed, tortured and crucified. Not even Jesus’ own mother is exempted from the way of the cross. None of us are.
If you are less than joyful on this 3rd day of Christmas, that’s OK. If your Christmas was less than merry, that’s OK. With all the talk of “peace, and if there is no peace, that’s OK. You’re sensing the cross that lies under Christmas. But remember it and cling to it. The cross is the way to resurrection and life and the everlasting joy and the peace that surpasses all understanding. Your weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Or maybe your Christmas actually was joyful, happy, filled with family and friends, pleasant memories and wonderful gifts. Perhaps you felt a little closer to God this year, held the Christ Child a little closer. And that’s good too. And you must remember and cling to this, as Mary did: Christmas comes with a cross, and all who follow the Christmas Child will know the sword that pierced Mary’s soul.
You and I are like a lot like old Simeon and Anna in the temple, watching and waiting for that Day when it all becomes visible with our resurrected eyes. God still gives us the signs in the meantime, those little signs for faith to cling to - Baptism, the Word, the Body and Blood. We embrace Him even as did old Simeon and Anna once embraced Him. And we take up Simeon’s song and make it our own: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel”.
When I was younger, I used to think this song meant, “Church is almost over and now we can get out of here in 1 peace.” But that’s not what Simeon was singing. He was saying, “Now I can die and rest in peace. I’ve seen my salvation and I know it’s mine in the little Child Jesus.”
It was once said, “We go to the Sacrament as though we are going to our death, so that we might go to our death as though going to the Sacrament.” Remember that today. When you leave the altar be like old Simeon and Anna, receive God’s Child, Jesus your Savior, and leave the altar and your life with a song on your lips. “Let your servant depart in peace.” You can rest in peace. For your life is in Jesus’ hands. His birth is your birth; His circumcision is your inclusion, His presentation is your presentation – for Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the Scriptures and all of it is yours in God’s Child your Savior Jesus Christ. In Jesus name, amen and amen!
Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, AMEN.