We pray that in the year 2022 we will see the overturning of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that has made the completely unrestricted practice of abortion legal in the United States. There is a very real possibility – even likelihood – that the Dobbs case will be the instrument that does this.
The right to abortion was never something that was provided by the Constitution of the United States. And off course, Roe v. Wade was never really about interpreting the Constitution. It was about providing something that people wanted – the unlimited ability to avoid any consequences of having sex. Society wanted it, and so it was read into the Constitution.
What has changed is not the Constitution, but instead society’s understanding about children in the womb. And the single most important factor in this has been the development of imagery technology that allows us to see an unborn child – to see it in the womb. People have seen that there is without a doubt a living human being there. Of course, this has not changed the hardness of heart in everyone. But it has made a huge difference.
Not only can we see a baby before it is born, but our technology is now so good that we can determine the sex of the child. We can know whether it is a boy or a girl. During the late 2000’s this led to the practice of “gender reveal parties” and to revealing online in an exciting announcement whether the baby is a boy or a girl. This can be very helpful as parents plan, and as people buy gifts.
Recently Amy told me about a couple that had done a gender reveal video online as they announced that they would be having a girl. I am sure that in the usual fashion, all of the décor for the nursery was prepared for a little girl, and that the gifts purchased were darling baby girl outfits. However, when the baby was born … it turned out to be a little boy. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes mistakes occur. I am sure that there were some very surprised parents in that delivery room!
In our Gospel lesson for the First Sunday after Christmas, Mary receives a great surprise about her child. She has received wonderful information about her baby before he is even born. Blessed events had occurred at the time of his birth that reinforced this positive impression. Now, she meets Simeon who begins by saying more delightful things about Jesus. Yet then in our text, he suddenly shifts and speaks ominous words about the future of Jesus and what this will mean for Mary. As we celebrate Christmas, our text helps to reveal the whole truth about this child and what he means for us.
Our text tells about the visit that Joseph and Mary made to Jerusalem with Jesus. We see this was a very faithful couple – people who lived their lives according to God’s word. They had come to Jerusalem to offer the sacrifices necessary to make ritual purification for Mary after she had given birth. They were also there to redeem Jesus, their first born son. This was a reminder about how God had rescued Israel in the Passover when he killed the first born sons of Egypt in order to force Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to leave.
While there they were met by a man named Simeon. Luke tells us that he was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel – for God’s saving action on behalf of his people in the Messiah. We also learn that the Holy Spirit was upon him, and that the Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ – the Messiah.
While Mary and Joseph were at the temple with Jesus, Simeon came in the Spirit into the temple. As promised, the Holy Spirit brought Simeon to Jesus and led him to recognize that this was the Christ. He came up, took Jesus in his arms and blessed God saying, “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.”
Simeon said that now he was ready to die, because God had kept his word and revealed to him the Christ. As he looked at the infant Jesus, he was seeing God’s salvation. And he announced that this salvation was not only for Israel. Instead, the Christ in his arms was also a light for revelation to the Gentiles.
For Mary this was simply more wonderful news about Jesus. Gabriel had revealed that her son was the Son of God, and that he was the fulfillment of God’s promises to king David as the Christ. Shepherds had come to the manger where Jesus lay after his birth and reported how an angel had announced to them that Jesus was the Savior. He was the Christ, and he was the Lord. The latter was language that was used of God in the Old Testament, but of course Mary knew that the Holy Spirit had caused Jesus to be conceived and that the baby was holy – that he was indeed the Son of God.
What Simeon had said simply confirmed and continued all the great news that Mary had heard about her child. So Mary must have been surprised and shocked by what Simeon says next in our text. He shifted dramatically as he went on to say, “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.”
Instead of salvation, Simeon announced that Jesus was appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel – and note that he mentions “fall” first. He says that because of Jesus the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed. And in the midst of this he also delivered these chilling words to Mary: “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”
Yesterday, the world and the Church both celebrated “Christmas.” Today the world begins to move on from Christmas. The tree and decorations may stay up for a few days – maybe they even make it to New Years as the world milks the “holiday season” for all it is worth. But Christmas is done.
In the Church, our Christmas celebration is just getting going. The season of preparation during Advent is followed by Christmastide as we celebrate our Lord’s birth until the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord on January 6.
But the difference goes far deeper than just a matter of timing. The Church knows that Christmas is about Christ. And as soon as you focus on Christ, Simeon is absolutely correct, you have a sign that is opposed. You have the One that stands at the center of the fall and rising of everyone.
Jesus Christ is salvation. He is the light of revelation for the Gentiles. But for Christ to be that, you must recognize that you have a problem that only he can answer. The problem is, of course, sin. It’s a problem that we must confess as well. And that goes beyond some kind of general acknowledgement.
It is the confession that gossiping about my neighbor is sin against God. It is the confession that looking at pornography is a sin against God. It is the confession that speaking angry and hurtful words to my family or friends is a sin against God. It is the confession of those specific ways I do not fear, love, and trust in God above everything else. It is the confession of those ways that I love myself more than my neighbor.
And then, it means believing in Jesus Christ as the only answer to this problem. Mary had heard wonderful things about Jesus, but she did not realize that a sword would pierce her own soul as Jesus suffered and died on the cross. Yet it was in this way that Christ won forgiveness for us, and then defeated death by rising from the dead. It means confessing that Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen One is my Lord – that I belong to him and that my life is lived for him because of what he has done for me.
Jesus was a sign opposed. He was appointed for the fall of many as they rejected him. Luke narrates the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with the visit to his hometown of Nazareth. There, before it was all done, the people were trying to kill Jesus by throwing him off a cliff. In spite of the miracles, Jesus will meet with constant opposition from the religious leaders until they finally engineer his death.
The world still rejects Jesus because it wants to live life in its own way. It doesn’t want a God who reveals himself – a God upon whom it must rely. The world wants to be its own god. Agnosticism may sound really cool, but it is really a person saying I am in charge – I decide.
Like Mary up until the moment she heard these words from Simeon, our Christmas celebration has been one warm fuzzy after another. We have heard that Christ is our Savior who brings us peace. We have heard that he is Immanuel – God with us. We have heard that he is the revelation of God’s love for us.
But Simeon is right. Jesus is a sign opposed. Our Lord himself went on to say, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
In Simeon’s words to Mary we have a wake up call about what the Christ of Christmas really means for us. Until the Last Day Jesus will be a sign opposed. He will be the fall of all who reject him. And if you are going to believe in Jesus and confess him as Lord, then you will be opposed. You will encounter division – division that occurs at the most basic level of family. Expect it. Don’t be surprised when it happens.
And at the same time, Simeon’s words assure us that in Jesus Christ we have everything. As the crucified and risen Lord he is salvation for us – for us, even those who are Gentiles and were not part God’s covenant with Israel. He does mean peace – peace with God that will last for eternity. He means the comfort of knowing that death has been defeated – that to die is to be with the Lord - and that Christ will raise us up on the Last Day.