Christmas 1 – January 1st 2012
The Firstborn Redeemer
For the world, Christmas is over. For the Church, it's only just begun. We are one week in to our Christmas season, which will follow with Epiphany, and several Sundays after. While the world is on to Valentine's Day, we continue to dwell on Christ, our newborn King.
Today a reading from Luke which tells an episode from Jesus' infancy. 40 days after birth, observant Jews performed the redemption of the firstborn, according to Exodus 13, our Old Testament reading. For every firstborn male a sacrifice was made – to redeem him, to buy him back. This itself was a sign pointing to Christ, the firstborn of Mary and the only-begotten Son of God. The New Adam who came to redeem the Old Adam in all of us.
So Jesus is brought to his, yes, his temple. Like his circumcision and his baptism, Jesus participates in all these rituals – though he has no need to be redeemed from sin himself. Yet he is our priest, our representative to God, and does all this and more in our place. Jesus is redeemed, in this ritual sense, even as he is your redeemer. Mary and Joseph make the ritual sacrifice of two turtledoves, for they couldn't afford the lamb. But the true lamb of sacrifice was the babe in their arms.
There they meet old Simeon, who sings a song, called the “Nunc Dimmitis”, Latin for “Now Dismiss”. Having seen and even held Jesus, the promised savior, his redeemer, he can go – he can die in peace. The glory of the Lord, that is also the glory of Israel – which had departed from the temple long ago – had now returned. The light to the gentiles, the one who brings light to all nations – had dawned upon the earth. “My eyes have seen thy salvation” - Simeon is talking about Jesus Christ!
We sing that song, too. We sing it when we, too, have seen and held the Christ – even more, after we eat his body and drink his blood. We see the salvation of God, the glory of Israel, the light to the nations. And with our sins forgiven, and our souls nourished, we too are at peace. We can now be dismissed. We are ready, even for death, having received Jesus and his gifts.
I can't tell you how many dying Christians I've spoken or sung these words to. For in the word, in our baptism, in the Supper – we see God's salvation and our promised rest. Simeon's song is the song of every Christian, every believer in Christ. We can go in peace.
Simeon and Anna remind me of Adam and Eve. People acquainted with death. Simeon was well up in years, waiting to die. Anna knew the death of her husband at an early age; death had shaped the course of her life. Like Adam and Eve who died the day they ate of the fruit, but whose bodies lived in sin and death for years to come. Simeon and Anna both awaited the fulfillment of the promises to Adam and Eve and all the other men and women of old. That the seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head. Only Simeon and Anna lived to see it unfolding in this infant Christ.
Eve thought her firstborn son, Cain, would be the one. But he, too, became known for bringing only death. It would take another firstborn to do the job. A firstborn of a virgin. Redeemed under the law of Moses at the temple, but redeeming all of Adam and Eve's children from death by his blood.
You and I are people acquainted with death. Our culture tries to make us numb to it, but death is always breathing down our necks. We are fragile. We could all go at any time. You don't have to be old like Simeon and Anna to realize this. You don't have to suffer from aches and pains or debilitating diseases to see death's shadow over life. Change and decay happen in so many ways. Things and people we love go away, deteriorate, yes, even die. Relationships fracture. All good things, they say, must come to an end. So it is in our world of death. Not only life, but everything in it is subject to the wages of sin. Well, almost everything.
Death meets its death in the Babe of Bethlehem. Death meets its death in Christ on the cross. When he says, “it is finished”, he declared the victory. He, the Son of God and Son of Man did exactly what he came to do.
And yes, Jesus died, a sword pierced his soul when he suffered for our sins and gave his life as a ransom for many. He died. But Jesus is also the firstborn... of the dead. He burst from the tomb in a glorious resurrection to never die again. And the firstborn of the dead is no only child. His brothers and sisters will follow, when he calls us forth from death. He does it, already, in our baptism. He'll do it for our bodies as well on the last day.
Simeon can go in peace from the temple, though Adam had to go in bitterness from the garden. An angel barred the way back to the tree, to paradise. But angels announce the restoration of life to us all, “he is risen, he is not here”. And angel trumpets will announce his return in glory on that triumphant day.
We see that in Christ, everything old is made new again. He even says so, in Revelation “Behold, I make all things new”. He renews old Simeon and Anna. He restores paradise. He renews and cleanses his temple, and the temples of our bodies. He brings glory where it has departed. He brings life where there was only death. And he brings sinners to God who had been exiled long ago. He brings righteousness and holiness and life to us who were so lost.
We can, and we do, depart in peace, according to his word. We know the Firstborn Redeemer. Our eyes have seen his salvation. Our ears have heard. Our hearts believe. Our lips confess, even sing, with Simeon, with Anna, with all the believers of old, with all the saints already departed, and with those who wait for him on earth.
Lord, now let your servants depart in peace, according to your word, for our eyes have seen your salvation in Jesus Christ, our Lord, amen.