The Light in the Darkness

Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas based on Luke 2:22-40

Dear believers with hope: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Simeon lived in dark days. The land of Israel was occupied by Roman armies. The ruler at the time, Herod the Great, was a tyrant. He is the same Herod that ordered the Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem. The church had become corrupted by greed and power-hungry leaders. Teaching had wandered from Scripture as the Pharisees threw away the Ten Commandments and made up their own laws for people to follow. God had not sent a prophet for four hundred years, and from all appearances, God had abandoned His people because they had turned away from Him.

Appearances can be deceiving, because God had not abandoned His people. There was a period of silence, but then an angel had appeared to Zechariah in the temple, and Zechariah had prophesied in the temple about his son John, and about the visitation of God to redeem His people. Angels appeared to shepherds, announcing the birth of the Saviour, and Simeon had been told that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

In the midst of darkness, there was light. There was hope. God is faithful to His people even when they are faithless. Christ is born! Let heaven and earth rejoice!

Simeon rejoiced. The world and the church were in a terrible state, but Simeon rejoiced because the Saviour was born. Simeon prophesied of the fall of many, the opposition to the Christ, and a sword piercing the soul of Mary, yet he rejoiced because Jesus was born to save us from falling, save us from opposition, and save us from sorrow and sin.

Appearances can be deceiving, because all Simeon saw was an infant in His poor mother’s arms. But he believed God’s promise that this infant is the Saviour of the world. He believed and says that he is now ready to die in peace.

Anna also lived in those dark days. In addition to the sadness of the state of the world and the church, she had sadness in her own life, too. She was only married to her husband for seven years when he died. At eighty-four, she had lived many years as a widow. She too gives thanks to God upon seeing the infant Jesus at the temple. In her excitement, she tells others at the temple who this baby is, this long-awaited Saviour. She does not say it, but she too was ready to die in peace, as Simeon’s song says.

There is a reason we sing Simeon’s words right after receiving the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. We too can depart in peace since God has fulfilled His Word. Our eyes see the salvation of God that He has prepared before the face of all people.

Appearances here too can be deceiving, as all we see is bread and wine. But believing God’s Word and His promise that with the bread and wine we receive the true body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, we too can be ready to die in peace.

We live in dark days. The world and the church are in a terrible state.

In the midst of darkness, however, there is light. There is hope. God is faithful to His people even when they are faithless. Christ was born to die and save us from our sin. He gives us forgiveness with His body and blood so we are ready to die; we are ready to leave this vale of tears to the eternal joys of Paradise because Christ has opened the kingdom of heaven for us.

Simeon’s prophecy is part joyful, part sorrowful. There is joy because God has fulfilled His promise to send a Saviour as foretold by the prophets for thousands of years. Christ did not come just for the people of Israel, but He is a light for revelation to the Gentiles. He came for the whole world, to save us all. Christ came to reconcile man with God, and also to reconcile man with man. All war and division will cease.

There is also sorrow. Simeon says to Mary, “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.” Here is revealed that what is good for us is terrible for this infant. He will be opposed and spoken against. He will cause division. He will suffer and die, which will also bring suffering to His mother and His followers.

But the sorrow and horror of Christ’s suffering and death is also His glorification. In His self-sacrifice He shows us the love of God for us, fallen mankind. Jesus’ death is how we know God’s love for us. We don’t have to wonder if God has abandoned us because of our sin. We don’t have to fear even in dark times. The world and the church may be in dark times, but God is faithful to His people even when they are faithless. He does not abandon us because of our sin. Instead, He forgives our sin.

He forgives our sin, so we are ready to depart in peace. Then, we are bold and eager for the end, as Simeon was. Christ’s sorrow has brought us joy, both now and in eternity, so we pray with Simeon, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Hope for the Hopeless

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter based on Luke 24:13-35

Dear people with hope: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“We had hoped that He was the One.” Those are the words of a broken heart. We had hoped that He was the One, but hope no longer. The hope of these two disciples on the road to Emmaus had been built up that Jesus would be their Saviour, but that hope had been crushed when Jesus died. They dared not get their hopes up again for fear of them being crushed again.

These two disciples had been taught by Jesus. They had heard His preaching and seen His miracles. They had followed Him in the hope that He would redeem Israel and they might join Him in His glory. Their hearts sank, however, as they saw how He was treated so deplorably and nailed to the cross. Their hope was crushed as they saw His dead body laid into a grave.

Even the report from the women that they had seen angels who said that Jesus was alive did not make them get their hopes up. They had quite likely also heard the rumours started by the bribed soldiers that the disciples had come and stolen the body of Jesus out of the grave, so they dared not get their hopes up again. They allowed their hope to fall.

Jesus, whom they did not recognize, rebuked them saying, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?”

How did Jesus raise up their hopes again? He didn’t give them a motivational speech or tell them to think positive thoughts. He didn’t tell them to turn inward to their own thoughts and ideas. That’s what they were already doing and that’s why they were in hopeless despair. Jesus went to the Scriptures. Jesus pointed these disciples to the Scriptures that prophesied of His death and resurrection. He showed them how the Scriptures teach that it was in fact necessary that He die. He walked through the Scriptures, teaching them how they all point to Him.

It was not a new idea or plan that Jesus would die. It was the plan from the beginning to save mankind. God had already told Adam and Eve about this plan when they fell into sin so that they would have hope. God continually sent prophets to His people to tell them concerning this plan of salvation so that His people would have hope. Here Jesus explains it to His disciples so that the disciples would have hope; that they would realize that this was God’s plan all along to save us; there is no victory or glory apart from the Saviour’s death.

It would be very interesting to know which passages Jesus interpreted to the two disciples. The Old Testament Scriptures all point to Jesus, but we, like these disciples, often need some help in recognizing this.

Take the prophecy to Adam and Eve. God said to the serpent or devil in the hearing of Adam and Eve, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15) This may not sound like the most significant prophecy at first hearing, but when it is interpreted, the Holy Spirit opens it up to us.

The woman’s offspring is a child that would be born. Note that God does not say anything about the offspring of the man, but the woman. This was fulfilled in Jesus being born of the virgin Mary without a man. The serpent is the devil, and his head pertains to his power and might, specifically sin, death, and hell. Thus, the prophecy is saying that a child, the offspring of the woman, will take the devil’s might from him, so that he is no longer a mighty lord over sin and death, nor able to hold man under his dominion of sin, death, and hell. However, the serpent who is the devil would bruise the child’s heel, that is, torment and cause pain and death. This child would be true man, born of woman, but He would also have to be true God to have the power to defeat the devil. It then also follows, that being born of woman, He could also die, and indeed would die. Because He was promised to Adam and his descendants, to become man for our sakes and was sent by God for that reason, to rescue us from the effects of the Fall, it follows that He had to stand in our place and allow Himself to be tormented and killed for our sakes. But because He was to crush the devil, He could not remain in death but had to rise from death to eternal life, and by His resurrection begin to reign mightily in order also to bring His own who believe in Him from sin, death, and the devil to everlasting righteousness and life (this is summarized from Martin Luther’s sermon for Easter Monday).

Or take the patriarch Joseph. His life was a prophetic type of Christ. As Jesus was betrayed by His close companion, so Joseph had been betrayed and sold by his own brothers into Egypt. As Jesus rose on the third day to rule mightily, so Joseph had risen to rule mightily in the third year. As Jesus was exalted out of the prison of death and did not make Himself immediately recognizable to His disciples, so Joseph, when exalted out of prison did not immediately make himself recognizable to his brothers, but instead presented himself as a stranger to them and spoke harshly to them (this is summarized from Johann Gerhard’s sermon for Easter Monday).

The Bible is full of prophecy concerning the Christ and His work of salvation. That is why Jesus went to the Scriptures to comfort these disciples and lift up their hearts after they had let their hope fall.

The Scriptures are also the only place for us to go when our hope falls. Forget motivational speeches and positive thoughts. Forget turning inward to your own thoughts and ideas. Turn to God’s Word, the holy Scriptures, for they tell of Christ and point to Christ.

The Scriptures tell us not to despair or lose hope even in the face of death and hell. Our accuser, the devil, has had his head crushed by the promised offspring of Eve. Yes, the devil bruised Jesus’ heel, causing Him torment, pain, and death, but the promised offspring of the woman has taken the devil’s might from him, and he is no longer able to hold us under his dominion of sin, death, and hell. Hell is for the devil and his own, not for us. His accusations against the people of God will not be heard.

When we are weak and have let our hope fall, Jesus does not forsake us or cast us aside. He comes to us in His Word and lifts up our hearts. He reminds us of His promises to us. Our sins are forgiven. He will never leave us or forsake us. Like a faithful shepherd, He goes after His lost sheep, and He does not give up until He has brought them back into the fold again.

Through His Word, He will make our hearts burn within us with a faith that no hardships or seemingly hopeless situations can quench. He strengthens us as we recognize Him in the breaking of the bread in holy communion.

Jesus will stay with us when it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. He will abide with us at the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world. He will abide with us with His grace and goodness, with His holy Word and Sacrament, with His strength and blessing. He will abide with us when the night of affliction and temptation comes upon us, the night of fear and despair, the night when death draws near. He will abide with us and with all the faithful, now and forever. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.