Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas

First Sunday after Christmas (December 31, 2006)
“The Lord Comes to His Temple: The Lord Whom You Seek” (Luke 2:25-39)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Here we are once again in this holy place in time and space. The Lord has come to his temple. The Word became flesh and became a temple among us. And this place is a temple, because the Word made flesh is present among us in Word and Sacrament. But before we consider Christ's presence in this temple, let's travel back in time and view those individuals in the Jerusalem temple when our recently-born Savior came to the temple in Jerusalem. And as we do so, I want you to consider a question, so "that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

Imagine yourself for a moment, a first-century Jewish person, inside the temple courts. Consider your own personal, individual reasons for being here. Why are you here? What do you seek? This is important because a pilgrim could come here for the wrong reason. A seeker could journey to this place, but his particular wants and desires are contrary to God's will. Why might some people be here? To try to impress God with how holy you are. To try to impress your neighbor with how pious you are. To proceed impenitently through the liturgy with the highest desire being that you will have got that done on your checklist for the day. To forgive God for something that happened in your life. To build up heavenly rapid reward points for the number of trips you've made to be here. To seek to appease God's wrath upon sin with what you perceive to be a host of good works on your part. To gain a leverage against God that you will pull out as a trump card on Judgment Day. Heard enough? Let me give you one more – to hear these examples in a sermon and think that you are exempt from such natural inclinations of your old sinful heart and from such unchristian thoughts in your head.

Why are you here? And what do you seek? Take a look at the others who have come to this holy place throughout the years. Do you see them? Husbands and wives... families... singles... old men... widows... a baby... newlyweds... new parents. Why have they come here and what do they seek?
Consider that widow here. Her name is Anna. A faithful, 84-year-old woman who hangs around the
temple day and night. She's quite remarkable in that she's one among only a few. She's one of the
few of the ten lost tribes of Israel...the tribe of Asher. Why is she here in the temple? What is she
seeking here? St. Luke reports that she is one of the remnant in Israel looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Anna's hope is in the LORD God and she awaits him in the place where he has promised to be found in his grace and mercy, for he has said through the mouth of his prophet Malachi, "Behold, the LORD whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple." (Malachi 3:1) Anna worships "with fasting and prayer night and day." Anna abides in the temple awaiting the Advent of the world's Redeemer, just as one of the faithful today might enter a place like this awaiting the real presence of the LORD in Word and Sacrament.

Do you see them? Husbands and wives... families... singles... old men... widows... a baby... newlyweds... new parents. Why have they come here and what do they seek?

Consider that man over there. His name is Simeon. Whether he is clergy or laity, we don't know. We assume he is old, but actually Luke doesn't tell us his age. He only tells us that it had been revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah with his own eyes. What we do know about him is that he is devout and righteous. God the Holy Spirit has worked faith in his heart. Why is Simeon here in the temple? And what does he seek? Simeon is looking for the consolation of Israel ... for the hope and comfort of the Church. So this day, inspired by the Spirit, Simeon "came into the temple.” Perhaps Simeon had those very words from Malachi on his mind, "Behold, the LORD Whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple."

Look at the others here. Husbands and wives... families... singles... old men... widows... a baby... newlyweds... new parents. Why have they come here and what do they seek?

Mary is here. She is a wife, married a year or so. She is a mom, having given birth to her firstborn, a son born forty days ago in the little town of Bethlehem. Why is she here and what does she seek? Mary is here for her purification according to the Law. Mary needs a sin offering to be made for her so that she might be clean. Leviticus 12:8 says, "This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering, and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.” Mary gladly and willingly receives this Word of the LORD and her spirit rejoices in God her Savior.

Joseph is here. He is a husband. He is a dad, having been entrusted with a son...not his own biologically...but the Son of God incarnate of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Joseph is the baby's legal father. On the eighth day when the Infant was circumcised according to the Law, Joseph named him Jesus. Now Joseph has brought his family from Bethlehem to the temple in
Jerusalem. Why is he here and what does he seek? As the pious head of the holy family, he sought to
do what was good and right and according to the Law for his wife and her firstborn Son. Joseph and
Mary "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, ‘a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.'”

This is actually quite remarkable when you realize what this means! Because of the Passover
when the firstborn sons were spared by the blood of the lamb, all such sons belong to the Lord. A
firstborn son could be bought back by bringing an offering of a lamb, or a pair of turtledoves, or two
young pigeons. Joseph and Mary bring an offering to redeem the Redeemer! How ironic, since Jesus is already redeeming them by beginning his total and perfect faithfulness to the Law of God in their place...and in ours. Joseph and Mary bring, not a lamb, but rather, the offering of the poor... two turtledoves... on behalf of him who would become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And the Word of the Lord has come to pass that is written, "The Lord Whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant in Whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 3:1)

This has all come to pass because the Baby Jesus is here. He is the firstborn Son of Mary and the Son of the Most High. The Savior is here and he is holy to the LORD. At eight days Jesus shed his first blood for the world when he was circumcised according to God's command. At forty days Jesus is still an infant. Why has he come? He has not come for Himself, but rather, he has come for us. For himself he needs no purification ... no redemption. The Incarnation of the Son of God is for the sin of the world. His way of the cross which will lead to his sin-atoning death is for the life of the world. For, as St. Paul wrote, "when the time had fully 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." (Galatians 4:4) Jesus has come to His temple on our behalf and to be Emmanuel, which means "God with us."

What does He seek? The little Lord Jesus seeks to be present with his Church in the temple, and he was and is and ever shall be. The Christ seeks to be in the midst of his people who "come into His Presence with singing" ... who "enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise" (Psalm 100), and he was and is and ever shall be. Here the LORD God Almighty has his little congregation... his family, a widow, a man, young and old, husband and wife, mother and father, carpenter and housewife. Here, forty days after the Birth of the Christ what began as an assembly of the Old Testament Christian Church became the first congregating of the New Testament Church. "Behold, the LORD Whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple," and He was and is and ever shall be.

What happens as a result? A widow can remain in the holy place and tell the Good News of Jesus to all who were looking for the Redeemer. A man can commend himself into the hands of God, saying, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your Word." A father and mother can marvel at this Word that tells them of the Savior of the world and of their Savior. Husband and wife may now go home, living their lives and carrying out their responsibilities to each other, submitting to one another, living in the Presence of Jesus.

Indeed, the LORD God is present with his people in THIS holy place and sanctifies them with his Word of forgiveness of sins, of peace among us, of hope that doesn't disappoint and of life in His
Name. His cleansing Word is "by the washing of regeneration and a renewal of the Holy Spirit.” This Manna from above feeds His Church with his very own body and blood. Through faith in Jesus ... the Incarnate Son of God ... the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world ... you may depart in peace according to God's Word...for you are forgiven of all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


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