Sunday, December 27, 2015

Homily for The First Sunday after Christmas (Christmas 1)

Luke 2:22-40; Galatians 4:1-7; Isaiah 11:1-5

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The events following the birth of Jesus serve to demonstrate that He was born to fulfill the Law in our place. On New Years Eve we will celebrate the Circumcision and Name of Jesus when He was eight days old in fulfillment of the Law. Today, we celebrate the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord in the temple in fulfillment of the Law. Accordingly, St. Luke makes reference to the Law of God three times in the first three verses of today’s Gospel, and two more times in the ensuing accounts of St. Simeon and St. Anna. Joseph and Mary were doing to and for Jesus what the Law required, but when they heard the words of Simeon and Anna, they marveled at the words that were spoken about their son.
Simeon is all but an antitype of Abraham. He is described as being “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Simeon’s faith is declared to him as righteousness, like Abraham’s, and, just like Abraham’s, it was Simeon’s faith that caused him to wait and to watch for God to fulfill His covenant promise. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had beheld the Lord’s Christ with his own eyes. Thus, when Joseph and Mary brought their newborn son into the temple to do for Him what was required by the Law, the Spirit guided St. Simeon to the temple that day as well. Then, receiving the Word of God made flesh into his own arms, Simeon proclaimed and confessed, “Yes, Lord, Your Word is fulfilled! Here I behold Your salvation with my own eyes. Now You may let me depart this life in peace, for You have kept Your covenant promise! For, here lies in my arms the deliverance and the consolation of Israel, and light for the Gentiles!” Simeon’s confession is akin to that of Abraham’s when he answered his son’s inquiry, “Father, where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham answered, “God will provide for Himself the Lamb for a sacrifice, my son.” Yes, Simeon prophesied of the purpose and the fate of the boy-child Jesus whom he held in his arms, saying to His mother that, because of Him, “a sword will pierce through your own soul.” For, though He would bring peace with God for all men, He would be for “a sign that is opposed.”
Now, I love the fact that Joseph and Mary are said to have “marveled at what was said” about Jesus. Our Lord’s parents were faithful and pious believers in God’s most holy Word. They, like Simeon and Anna, were watching and waiting for the Lord’s promise to be fulfilled as well. While angels had visited them both, and they believed with all their heart, soul, and mind, it is, however, absurd to conclude that they understood everything that was happening. No more do any of us understand the fullness of the counsel of God’s Word, His Will, and His Ways. Both Joseph and Mary pondered and treasured God’s Word and the mysteries that were being revealed to them in their hearts. Truly, this is what God desires of His children, that they keep His Word and Commandments, more precious and dear to them than their own lives or livelihoods. Jesus’ mother, Mary, gazed upon the child of her own flesh, who was also God’s own Son by the Holy Spirit, in profound love and awe. Jesus’ father, Joseph, protected Him fiercely so that no one and no thing would harm this gift of God before His time had come. And, still today, the Holy Family, both in image and in imagination, beckon the faithful to ponder and to receive the Christ-child, the Word of God made flesh, dwelling amongst us.
And, then there was Anna, the prophetess. St. Luke tells us that Anna was “advanced in years” and that she was a widow for seventy-seven years after the death of her husband to whom she was married seven years since she was a young virgin. She did not leave the temple day or night, which may indicate that she lived there, that a room was provided for her. At the presentation of Jesus, Anna gave thanks to God and spoke to all the faithful about Jesus. Now, what are we to make of her being designated as a prophetess? Not much, I have to think. For, Anna is the only woman called a prophetess in all the New Testament, and the Holy Spirit did not see fit to provide us the words she spoke, but only that she gave thanks to God and spoke to others about Jesus. There is no indication that she held a particular office of one kind or another, though we are told that she “worshiped with fasting and prayer night and day.” There is no doubt that she was a woman of great faith, piety, and devotion. Further, it is possible that the Holy Spirit granted her a revelation of who the Christ-child was and what He would do.
As it is, both Simeon and Anna stand straddling the Old and the New Testaments. For, though they lived during the birth and infancy of our Lord, they were not alive to witness His death and resurrection or the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. And so, Simeon and Anna fit best with the Old Testament saints and prophets culminating in John the Baptist. Whatever their role may have been, they served to point us to Christ, who He would be, and what He would do. Even after Jesus’ birth, it had been revealed to Simeon and Anna who Jesus was and what He would do in terms of the big picture, but not necessarily in all the fine details. By divine revelation, in their faith, Simeon and Anna could see that this child, Jesus, was the fulfillment of God’s promises to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to Moses, and to David. He came as their brother, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law. The joy of Simeon and Anna was the joy of the Law being fulfilled for us all! Indeed, rightly did Joseph and Mary marvel.
St. Luke concludes today’s Gospel saying, “And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” They had done everything that the Law required, but, though it was necessary and had to be done, it was still not enough; man was still in sin and destined for death. The rest would have to be performed by Jesus alone. Jesus must now grow and learn as all boys do. Jesus must come of age and study under the rabbis. Jesus must be baptized with John’s baptism and face the devil in the wilderness. Jesus must obey the Law and keep the LORD’s Commandments perfectly, even under temptation, duress, and suffering, unto death. Jesus must lay down His life in humiliation, suffering, and death in your place, going to the cross, drinking the cup of God’s wrath against your sin to the bitter dregs, until it was finished. And He did.
There is a good reason that we sing Simeon’s song after receiving the Lord’s body and blood in the Holy Eucharist: For, we, too, have seen the salvation of our LORD. We, too, can now depart in peace. Therefore, let us, like Simeon and Anna, watch and wait for the Lord, hearing His Word and receiving His gifts. God has wonderfully created us, and in the incarnation of His Son has yet more wondrously restored our human nature. May we ever be alive in Him who made Himself to be like us.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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