Simeon holds in his heart of hearts all of the anxious anticipations of the Old Testament Israelites. He is the waiting people at their best. After over four hundred years of silence, following centuries of sin filled angst, the fullness of time had finally come and it came forth in a child to be held by a wrinkly, righteous, devout, old man.
God keeps His promises. In the child of Christ we see so much anticipated, answered. In Jesus the God child, we see God acting to save His people. The fullness of time had finally come and we see him delivering his people from their sins.
In the Christmas story we see the promises to Joseph and Mary fulfilled when they are indeed able to hold the child in their arms. Joseph was able to hold the Christ child, the one that God promised through angel who would be called Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
In the Christmas story we see many promises fulfilled, Isaiah foretold of a virgin bearing a child who would be called Immanuel, which means God with us. Mary was able to hold God. Able to hold her child, the son of the most high, the one who would receive the throne of his Father David; the one who reigns over the house of David forever. The one with a never ending kingdom was held in the arms of the young Mary. God fulfilling his promises while filling the arms of a mother and a surrogate father.
In the Christmas story we see many promises fulfilled. The Angel’s again were promise bearers when they brought glad tidings of great joy, which were for all people, and this news was that the savior was born. Christ the Lord! We don’t know if the shepherd took turns holding the newborn baby boy who would be their salvation. I am going to guess Mary declined to let that happen.
The Christmas story does not end in the manger though. The gift that keeps on giving went forth and did great things. Today our Gospel lesson has fast forwarded us forty days into the future, past the circumcision of Jesus where his blood was first shed as he bore the burden of the law on the eighth day of his life. Yet again, the burden of the law drives the parents of the pure one to the temple to sacrifice on behalf of the greatest sacrifice. Mary and Joseph came to bring a sacrifice on behalf of the one who makes all sacrifices perfect.
From our Old Testament lesson’s day on, Israelites were required to make a sacrifice on behalf of the first born child on its fortieth day of life. They were to bring two birds. Two turtle doves. Not six geese a laying, Not five golden rings, four calling birds, or three French hens but two doves, or pigeons were brought according to the Law of the Lord. Christ was born under the same law that had guarded the paths of the Israelites for ages and Christ did not come to abolish the law to fulfill it. The sacrifice on behalf of the perfect sacrifice is a beautiful irony of God.
The small sacrifice of the two small birds leads us to yet another promise fulfilled by God in the Christmas story. The promise we see fulfilled is such a small personal promise but it echoes for us in such huge resounding ways. This devout man Simeon, had received a special promise from God. Through the Holy Spirit it was revealed to Simenon that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Anointed one, or as our translations say, the Lord’s Christ.
Simeon was a great man of faith. The Bible gives Simeon a discription that is simple and to the point. Simeon was righteous and devout. Great adjectives to describe what must’ve been a great man. And as righteous and devout as Simeon was, he was still not perfect, there was still something missing for him It says that he was awaiting the consolation of Israel. He was waiting for something to come and make things better. He was waiting for the savior. Another way we know that the righteous and devout Simeon was not perfect is that he was to die. He was nearing his end and God had decided that Simeon’s death would follow his holding of Jesus. The day portrayed in our Gospel lessons, forty days after the birth of Christ was the day for Simeon; the day that meant the end; the end of waiting and the end of life. For Simeon, Holding Jesus meant his death. But for Simeon holding Jesus also meant his life.
Simeon has a pretty good one line description in Luke 2:25. If Dr. Luke, was writing a one line for you, what would it say? Righteous and devout are pretty high bars to rise to. On our good days we definitely can seem righteous and devout. Today is definitely one of those days, Sundays usually are. We get on our best clothes and put on our best face and slap on our smiles to face the crowds and bend the knees as we gather to sing. Righteous and devout is easy to pull off for a bit.
But once that façade falters what we are really holding onto begins to be seen again. Underneath our righteous and devout fronts we are holding onto so many things that we need to let go of. Simeon too had things that he needed to let go of. We are all holding onto things we need to let go of. We hold onto our sins, our faults and our failures. No matter how hard we try we cannot drop them. There is an ancient proverb that says “your past can rob your present if you let it.” This is a real danger that Satan would love you to be ensnared by. He loves it when you dwell depressedly on what was, what could’ve been what should’ve been, what you have done. We have a hard time letting go.
And just as dangerous, there are more things that we hold onto, sometimes even more desperately, grip our pride, self sufficiency’s, and desired futures holding them so hard and so tight that we are consumed by them, by ourselves. There is a not so ancient proverb that I coined which says “the future can rob your present if you let it.” Again, this is another danger that Satan loves to see people trapped in, the idea that you are able to do it on your own, that you are good enough to merit righteousness, the idea that you are devout enough to make it, the idea that your vision of your future is the best. These are all things we are all guilty of holding onto too tightly.
There is something that is difficult to hold when we are too busy holding onto these things. When we are holding onto our sins, faults, failures and our pride, self sufficiency’s, and desired futures, we cannot hold Jesus. We cannot hold Jesus when we are holding onto ourselves.
There is good news though. Just as for Simeon, holding Jesus meant his death was coming, holding Jesus means a death to sin. And Just as for Simeon, holding Jesus meant eternal life, holding Jesus means life, salvation, freedom from your past, freedom from your sins, freedom from your pains, freedom from your failed yesterdays, your flawed plans and your failed tomorrows. Holding Jesus means your death, holding Jesus also means your life.
Throughout the earthly ministry of Jesus there were many opportunities for people to hold Jesus. Those opportunities have not left us completely. But nothing held him tighter than the nails that fastened him to the cross; to your cross. It wasn’t Simeon, that held the cross as it was moved to Calvary’s mountain, but another footnoted figure from the Bible, Simon, carried the cross that would hold the sins of the entire world.
Just like the cross held our salvation. God gives us the gift of holding Jesus still. We can still hold Jesus in his word as we hold God at His word when He promises that he will never leave us or forsake us. We hold Jesus when we hold our breath remembering the drowning of our and evil desires, as we daily remember our baptisms. When we pick up the words of God we are holding the word made flesh. Even when we embrace a brother or sister in Christ, we are holding Jesus as Christ lives in his redeemed. In the words we behold, in the water that washes us, in the bread and wine that we hold when we take in eat, we hold Jesus. And just like when Simeon knew his death had come after holding the Christ Child, when we hold Jesus we die to sin.
But our death to sin means life. Because eventhough the cross held Jesus fast, the grave could not hold him. There was no holds barred on the road to the cross, but there was no death grip that could keep Jesus from rising again. The death we die in Christ, we die to sin and the life that is born in us each time we behold God’s forgiveness is life as certain as Christ’s resurrection.
Holding Jesus is what we do when we gather in this place. Holding Jesus does something to us. It kills us and makes us alive. And in this new life we become Christ bearers. We become Christ sharers. Simeon is a great example of this for us. In his words after holding Jesus we hear him say, “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.”
Immediately upon holding Jesus, Simeon speaks words that we recount week after week in the words of the nunc dimmitis. Following our holding of Christ later in this service as we receive his body and blodd, we will sing the words of simeon. Immediately upon holding Jesus, Simeon does something marvelous. Speaking prophetic words of joy and then to Mary, prophetic words of pain.
Simeon goes on to say to Mary, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
It was to Mary that Simeon’s prophecy was spoken. Her child was also a sign of her falling and rising. Mary had to learn that she had a son, yet she did not have Him. He really had her. As much as we try to hold onto, to grasp, to handle, to hang onto Jesus, we really in all actuality are never holding him on our own at all. Even when we take and eat, it is as he holds us in his hands. As he never lets us go.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, holding Jesus today as you come forth for His body and blood, and going forth this day, holding Jesus, know that you are being held.
In the name of the one who continually holds us yet humbles himself to be held by us,