Saint Matthew Lutheran Church

Properly speaking, the Twelve Days of Christmas begin on December 25th and go through and include January 5th.

Properly speaking, the Magi at our manger scenes don’t arrive to worship the Christ child until He’s a toddler—on Epiphany, January 6th.

Properly speaking, one of the most important days in the entire Church Year is completely overlooked because it coincides with the secular New Year.

New Year’s Day is the eighth day of Christmas, the eighth day of Jesus’ newborn life, so to speak, the day on which he was circumcised.

I don’t think that’s a topic Hallmark has considered, but it is the first time Jesus’ blood is shed in and towards fulfilling the Law for us and in our place.

Today, I’d like to redeem three of the Days of Christmas from our tired, tuckered-out mopery.

On December 26th, the Church remembers St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr after the Christ’s ascension.

His confession recalled the stiff-necked, uncircumcised hearts and ears of Judah that would not receive the Righteous One. As he was being stoned to death, “he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (Acts 7:59-60).

In this, Stephen bears witness to the Christ, who also said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

On the second Day of Christmas, our thoughts are already directed to Christ’s atoning death for our salvation—and to Stephen’s vision: Heaven open to us—Christ reigning at God’s right hand—with sin, death, and devil defeated.

That is the day for St. Stephen, first martyr of the Christian Church.

Today, December 27th, is the day for St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist.

St. John put into one verse all our Christmas joy: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Traditionally, we believe that John was exiled to Patmos and died an old man—not a martyr but still a witness.

He believed and confessed “the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ and to all he saw” (Revelation 1:2).

He was an eyewitness of Christ who who proclaimed to us what he saw and heard concerning “word of life” that was “made manifest” (cf. 1 John 1:1-3).

“And we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24).

Today, on the third Day of Christmas, we should find joy and gladness with John and all the apostles that “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” who is “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (cf. 1 John 2:1-2).

Tomorrow, December 28th, is the day set aside to remember the Holy Innocents.

“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children;she refused to be comforted, because they are not” (Matthew 2:18; cf. Jeremiah 31:15).

Herod rages and works to kill all the male children two years old and younger, desperate to destroy who he sees as a usurper, the newborn King of Kings.

The Church remembers these victims as martyrs, because they died for the One who came to die for them.

A dark commemoration, perhaps, but a necessary one.

This is a day for the Church to remember and confess concerning the life of children, in utero and out.

A day for mothers who, like Rachel, refuse to be comforted, a day for them to remember the widow, her son, and our God who gave the child back to her, anticipating the resurrection of our dead and the life of the world to come.

This world is full of sin and hatred, but Christ our Lord has sanctified our fragile life even from His conception and birth.

The boy who escaped the slaughter of the Holy Innocents sets His face toward Jerusalem to endure thorns and nails and cross and spear for us.

He is the Lamb whose cruciform name is written with the Father’s on the forehead of His baptized saints (cf. Revelation 14:1).

By His death He has redeemed an inheritance for Himself and brought peace at last by His blood.

On the fourth Day of Christmas, we sing the new song of Jesus Christ the Lamb, the true and perfect Martyr, whose death testifies to our redemption. We “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Revelation 14:4), knowing that He will bring our tears to an end.

This is the meaning of Christmas joy.

Not joy over presents, joy over money, joy over jolly jargon or seasonal slang.

Christmas joy is recognizing God’s love for us in Christ.

How infinitesimal we are.

How infinite God is.

And how an infant, God and man, was born to save us all.

“His mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel’” (Luke 2:33-34).

This child, the Christ-child, is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel.

“The proud will be scattered.

“The mighty will be brought down from their thrones.

“And the rich he will send empty away.

“He will exalt those of humble estate.

“He will fill the hungry with good things.

“And He will help His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to His offspring forever” (cf. Luke 2:51-55).

That’s how Mary sings it in the Magnificat, when her soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her Savior.

This child, the Christ-child, is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel.

And, dare I say it, for the fall and rising of all.

“For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52).

We looked forward to His coming.

And, joy to the world, the Lord is come!

But He will come again.

And our joy in Christ, that has no end now, will be perfected and live and reign with Him forever (cf. Revelation 22:5).

With Stephen and John—the Holy Innocents and your children.

Properly speaking, this is our joy during all the days of Christmas: the redemption of Jerusalem, the redemption of the world, is come.

Merry Christmas!

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

The First Sunday after Christmas, 2020
Luke 2:33-40
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

The first album I owned, Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms, came out four months before I was born. There were several hits: “So Far Away From Me” “Money for Nothing,” “Walk of Life.” Everybody knows those songs, but they were the first songs that I knew.

The last song on the album, however, “Brothers in Arms,” isn’t as well known. It didn’t enjoy the same commercial success. But if you’ve never listened to it, it’s marvelous. It’s completely different in musicality, theme, and maturity. It’s a war song—not pro war or anti war, just the reality of war. It’s amazing.

But it’s lack of popularity and familiarity means, obviously, that hardly anyone knows it.

Give it a listen. It’s worth it.

In today’s Gospel lesson, the words of a familiar song were read, Simeon’s Song.

We sing it every week in the Nunc Dimittis: “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.”

We know those words. We know that song.

But we don’t know—nowhere near as well—Simeon’s other  song.

Simeon is a “righteous and devout” man, “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” and “the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2:25).

”It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26).

Then, Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple “to do for Him according to the custom of the Law” (Luke 2:28), and Simeon takes Jesus into his arms and sings: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace…”

“Now, Lord,” he says, “I can die in peace, because I’ve seen God in the flesh—God’s plan for my salvation—my salvation in the flesh—I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

Holding Jesus, that’s his song.

But then, by the Holy Spirit, Simeon blesses them—Mary and Joseph—and sings to Mary, the mother of Jesus, the mother of God, a second song:

“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” (Luke 2:34-35).

That’s not a familiar song.

It seems completely different in theme and maturity.

What was it again? Jesus is appointed (1) For the fall and rising of many in Israel. (2) For a sign that is opposed. (3) That a sword would pierce Mary’s soul, also. And… (4) That thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.

We love to hear and sing the Simeon’s song we know.

“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace…”

We’ve had communion. Church is over. Let’s go home.

That’s kind of a joke. Communion. Nunc Dimittis. Go home. But there’s truth there, too.

We “experience” the Body and Blood of Jesus. We receive the benefits of the life-giving sacrifice God made for us.

Church can’t get better than that.

So yes—we sing Simeon’s song—and go home.

But we don’t love to hear and sing the blessing Simeon speaks to Mary and to us.

That CD single wouldn’t sell.

It’s ominous: Jesus is appointed for the fall of many. And for the rising of many, too, of course, but it’s an ominous start. Because of Jesus—many will fall. Because of Jesus—many will rise.

Every knee will bow when all flesh is raised.

Mother Mary, hearing Simeon’s second song, hears that her infant son has been appointed for something that sounds terrible.

Some blessing!

The ominousness continues in that Jesus is appointed for a sign that is opposed.

That is, other people oppose Jesus. And Jesus opposes other people.

And then Simeon adds, directly to Mary, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35).

The Roman Catholic Church uses this verse as a proof text for calling Mary coredemptrix.

Using this verse, they honor Mary—too much—in saying that she participates and collaborates with Jesus in redeeming the world.

That’s their—wrong—explanation of the sword that pierces Mary’s soul.

The better—and faithful—explanation of that sword comes in the fourth part of Simeon’s second song.

Jesus was appointed in order that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.

For those who fall, and for those who rise—their hearts will be revealed.

Because Jesus is a sign that is opposed.

For a time, the whole world opposed Jesus.

He doesn’t meet the world’s expectations.

Jesus is the stumbling block—a sign that creates opposition—and in response to all He says and does—the people are divided.

That’s the sword that will pierce Mary’s soul—Jesus’ preaching.

The Word of God pierces all Israel, represented here by Mary alone.

Jesus says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). He says this to a crowd, with His mother and disciples nearby.

We know how it feels for our children to push our buttons.

We know how it feels when they don’t choose us.

The thoughts of our hearts are revealed.

“From this moment on, [in Luke,] the preaching of Jesus…will go through Israel, producing total misunderstanding and ignorance by everyone concerning his person and his destiny” (Just, 124).

Until the resurrection.

Only in the death—and resurrection—of Jesus do we understand Simeon’s entire song.

Only after Jesus’ death and resurrection—on the road to Emmaus—does Jesus open up the Scriptures to His disciples.

The glory of the people is the salvation God prepared before the foundation of the world—the Son of God, given and shed—sacrificed—dead and buried—and raised.

Those who hear His Word and do it—His brothers—though they fall and die—yet shall they rise on the Last Day.

No longer in opposition to God but in perfect love of God, to life everlasting.

Simeon’s second song is one to remember.

When the Word of Truth pierces your own soul—when your sin is ever before you—rejoice in this song and blessing of Simeon.

The child, the babe in his arms, is the Savior of the world.

He’s appointed that we would die and rise with Him.

That we would be opposed—by the world—with Him.

Pierced—by His Word.

That we would believe and be saved.

This doesn’t sound like a song and blessing we’d choose for ourselves.

But God has given this cross to all His children to bear.

So bear it faithfully, and pray these familiar words, this familiar song:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12).

Like Simeon’s song—those are familiar words to us.

And like Simeon’s song—we should remember also the unfamiliar words that come later: 

“Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:13-17).

These words are a song and a blessing—if we have  ears to hear and eyes to see God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, like Simeon.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Christmas 1 Sermon, 2019
Luke 2:(22-32) 33-40
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt