Sermon on Luke 2:22-40 for the First Sunday after Christmas (B), December 26, 2020
Peace is probably the most important Christmas word. It’s on our Christmas decorations. I got three or four Christmas cards with the word peace displayed on the covers. And biblically it’s in the song of the angels: “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” It’s in prophecies about Christ and his birth: “He will be their peace” (Micah 5:5). “His name will be called… Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Today it is in the Song of Simeon, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.” Of all these, Simeon especially teaches us about the peace of Christ—Christmas peace.
1. Inner peace, not outer peace.
First, this Christmas peace is inward, not outward. That was something Simeon knew well. Now, we’re guessing that Simeon was an old man—everything in the account seems to hint that Simeon was advanced in his age. The promise that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ, his song, praying to depart in peace, and the older woman who was there with him all imply that Simeon was an older man. So let’s say he was about seventy at this time—born in 70 B. C. He would have seen the occupation of Judea by the Romans since he was a child—and the Romans ruled with force and fear. And then when Simeon would have been in his mid-thirties, he would have seen the rise of Herod—who killed off the last of the Judean royal family all out of jealousy and fear to preserve and advance his own power. By this time, Herod had been ruling for about forty years. We are told that Simeon was waiting for the comfort or the consolation of Israel. Biblically comfort does not mean something comfortable like a select-comfort mattress. It means relief and restoration after a long hardship (See Isaiah 40). In his lifetime, Simeon had not seen much outward peace. But here he says, “Let me depart in peace.” His peace was within.
The Hebrew idea of peace is a little different from our idea of peace—but I’d say it includes our idea of peace. The Hebrew word for peace was used as a common greeting, “Shalom,” and it’s basic meaning is peace, but with the sense of everything as it should be. Completeness. We think of peace as a lack of hostility, the absence of conflict. But more broadly, defining peace by what it is rather than what it isn’t, it’s everything as it should be. Completeness. And that kind of peace Simeon knew. God had given him a promise, and now he says, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” This is fulfillment of that most important promise—a promise to God’s people from the very beginning, and a special promise to Simeon that he would see the fulfillment.
It had been revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. How? It could have been a special revelation to Simeon, the way God revealed things to Joseph or to the Wise Men in dreams. It could have been the Holy Spirit working through the Word and giving Simeon understanding. At the end of Genesis when old father Jacob is about to die, he calls his twelve sons to himself to give them special blessings. When he blesses his Son Judah, he gives him the promise of the Savior. “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until the one to whom it belongs comes” (Genesis 49:10). With the rise of Herod and the end of the Judean royal family, did Simeon put two and two together and figure out, “The scepter has departed from Judah.the true King of Israel must be near!”? How God revealed it to him, we don’t know. We do know that Simeon was witnessing fulfillment. He knew it. He felt it—the deepest peace within. “Peace according to your Word.” “Peace, as you have promised.” Everything as it should be, according to God’s plan.
Simeon knew that outward strife would continue. He spoke to Jesus’ parents, especially to Mary, and said, “Listen carefully, this child is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” The “falling and rising of many in Israel…” For that we think of the person our church is named after. St. Stephen. Yesterday was the “feast of Stephen,” you know, “when the snow lay round about, clean and crisp and even.” Not a day to sing a strange song about Bohemian king Wenceslas, but to remember the first follower of Jesus who died for his faith. Stephen was a deacon—like a church council member—who was called before the Jewish ruling council, and after he gave bold testimony about Christ, they dragged him out of town and threw rocks at him until he died. Being “spoken against…” we see that in Jesus’ dealings with the chief priests and Pharisees. We see that in Jesus’ trails when false witnesses and the Roman desire for order prevailed over any sense of justice. And to Mary, “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” Mary stood at the foot of the cross and watched Jesus, nailed, bleeding, gasping for breath, thirsting, and finally saying “It is finished.” Outward peace? Little or none for Simeon or Mary. Inward peace? Yes! Complete peace.
2. Peace found in Christ alone.
Simeon was holding the forty-day old baby Jesus when he sang about peace. And what does he say right after he sings of peace? “My eyes have seen your salvation.” “Salvation” is a very biblical, “churchy” word. A more direct word would be “deliverance” or “rescue,” the same as that “consolation of Israel,” relief and restoration after a long hardship. “My eyes have seen your salvation,” right here, right now, here in my arms!
Looking around him, Simeon saw very little peace—Roman soldiers pushing Judean people around, Roman governors and Roman sanctioned kings ruling with peace enforced by fear rather than true peace. At that time things would have been quite hopeless for the people of Judea. Outwardly, things only got worse until total destruction in the year 70. In his arms Simeon saw peace. “Salvation!” Deliverance! Rescue.
Looking around us, we see little peace. I’m not going to say anything about the COVID pandemic or the political climate or the race riots this summer. I’ll just say that when you see the news, you don’t see that biblical sense of peace, everything good, everything right, everything the way it should be. Maybe you don’t even need to look at the paper or your favorite news website to see that lack of peace. Maybe its lack of peace in the home, in the workplace, in relationships.
2. Peace found in Christ Alone.
But we see peace when we look at Jesus. In the gospel of John, Jesus says, ““Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not let it be afraid” (John 14.27). The peace of Jesus is exactly the same as the kingdom of Jesus—what we pray about in the Lord’s Prayer when we say, “Your kingdom come.” It is God bringing peace to us with his Word—telling who he is as a gracious God and Savior, forgiving, healing and restoring us. And God brings peace to us by telling us who we are. John wrote, “To all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Later, in one of his letters John wrote, “See the kind of love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are! The world does not know us, because it did not know him” (John 3:1). Even John tells us that our peace is in Christ alone, and that it is inward peace, not outward. Sometimes our lack of peace is because we are looking for peace somewhere else.
3. Peace we must share.
And Simeon teaches us that this peace is ours to share. He has the inner peace himself—the peace of Christ within him, so he sings about it. He recites this short poem about it. We also see another member of the OWLS group that stayed at the temple, Anna, the older lady with him, “gave thanks to the Lord. She kept speaking about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
In order to share the peace, we must understand the peace and be at peace. Like Simeon and Anna, we must find our peace and redemption in Christ alone—inner peace when the world around us has no peace. That’s why we must bring it to them. Speaking, writing, singing, and sharing the same peace that St. Paul wrote about:
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.