Gone so soon? (Dec 27, 2020)
Gone so soon?
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When is a good time to take down your Christmas decorations? Have you given it any thought? I know for many it’s within days after Christmas – mainly because of the convenience of having some extra time off. In years past I’ve found it shocking to see how quickly Christmas disappears from my neighborhood. But what would be some other good times or other reasons for putting away Christmas decorations when you do? At my house, we try to leave them up for 12 days after Christmas. That’s the actual 12 days of Christmas afterall. But our reasoning for doing that is much more than because of a simple song. We leave our decorations up for 12 days because on January 6th is when we celebrate the Magi coming to see Jesus – the Gentile believers!
Whenever you put away your decorations, and whatever your reasoning, it somehow always seems like Christmas is gone so soon after the 25th. I mean, we build up to Christmas for weeks, even months ahead of time, but then once it has come, it seems like it’s gone in a flash. And I think part of that is because for those who do not know the real miracle of Christmas, it is done. Perhaps even with a sense of relief, “Well, I’m glad that’s over for another year.” But for you and me, those who know the real miracle – the Greatest Gift God has ever given – Christmas never really ends. In fact, it has just begun.
You can sense that anticipation and relief from a man named Simeon in the Scripture reading today. But it wasn’t a relief that the burden of Christmas was over. It’s a relief the Christmas has finally arrived, and the burden he previously bore was now at an end. You hear that relief in the words that Simeon spoke after holding the infant Jesus in his arms. “Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace” (Lk 2:29). It’s the same words we typically sing after receiving the body and blood of our Savior in the Lord’s Supper. But what is this relief from? Why is it that Simeon burst out this proclamation in praise to God? Why couldn’t Anna help but give thanks to God and speak about this child to all who would listen? Why is it that the Child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him? Certainly it was more than just Simeon seeing the Messiah so that he could now die. Certainly it was more than just the Christ child arriving – Christmas is here – now that that’s over I can depart in peace.
Taking a second look at this text, you can see that there is a strong emphasis on keeping the law. The very reason Mary and Joseph were at the temple that day was to keep the law which required Mary to be purified after childbirth and Jesus to be presented to God and “bought back” / “redeemed” from him because he was the firstborn son of this family. Mary and Joseph came to keep the law. Simeon too, spoke not only of being dismissed in peace, but gave the reason for that peace. “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations” (Lk 2:30-31). This Child was God’s plan for the salvation from the burden of the law. Anna, spoke about the child “to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). Redemption from the Law. Finally, this section concludes by saying, “When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth” (Lk 2:39). This whole event revolves around people striving to keep the God’s Law, as required. And yet, this whole account also emphasizes the impossibility of such a task, with its words of “salvation for the nations” and “the redemption of Jerusalem.”
I can’t help but tie in our Sunday morning Bible Study here, because we are talking about this very thing – the purpose of the Old Testament Ceremonial Law. Yes, God commanded it. Yes, he expected it to be kept. But the sacrifices themselves could never purify, atone from sin, or redeem anyone. It was the heart that God wanted. King David wrote in the Psalms, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise… Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offering offered whole” (Ps 51:16-19). In fact, those repeated sacrifices did not soothe the sinner’s conscience, but rather stabbed it awake. The very nature of the repeated sacrifices clearly indicated that such sacrifices could never take away sin. But they pointed ahead to the one who could! The Lamb of God would come to take away the sins of the world. The firstborn Son of God – the only begotten Son of God – who was just redeemed at the temple with an offering of two doves would be the sacrifice to redeem all people of every nation! That is why, for a man like Simeon who waited for Christmas with great anticipation, and a woman like Anna who spent her days and nights at the temple – for them, Christmas was not over. Far from it. Christmas has just begun! And the peace that Christmas brings, has now come to stay.
This isn’t how all the world views Christmas, however. For some, Christmas is just another holiday. For some they put out all the decorations and spread Christmas cheer, but completely miss the first 6 letters of Christmas. They miss Christ and the cheer he brings! And although they still reach out in love and exchange gifts, they miss the Greatest Gift that God so lovingly gives. For them, Christmas is already over. It’s a relief that they will no longer be bombarded by the holiday ads, and they can put their house back to how it is for the majority of the year. And although they’ve celebrated, they’ve completely missed the reason.
So how do we make sure people do not miss it? How do we put Christ back in Christmas? Well, I think we have to start with the need for Christmas. And this applies to you and me as well. This is something we could use a refresher on every year. Something we need to be emphasizing with our children. Not just who came on Christmas, but why he came.
The fact is, we are still under the Law of God. You can perhaps recall the 10 Commandments. And even if you have them memorized, read through them again. “You shall have no other gods.” “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.” “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” “Honor your father and your mother” – this includes all those in authority God has placed over you. “You shall not murder” and remember that God equates hating to murder in Scripture. “You shall not commit adultery” which Scripture also includes lusting in that prohibition. “You shall not steal… give false testimony… or covet” (Ex 20:3-17). As we talk about Joseph and Mary doing everything required by the ceremonial Law of the Lord, can we – or anyone for that matter – really say that we have done everything required by the moral Law of the Lord – the Ten Commandments? The answer is no. Each one of us is a lawbreaker. And you know that no lawbreaker has eternal life in him. “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (Rm 3:20).
Are you starting to feel the weight? Are you starting to feel the burden and guilt of your sins? Taking some time and going through the commandments, really contemplating “How have I broken this command in my thoughts? In my words? And in my actions?” “If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” (Ps 130:3). Now, like Simeon, we too feel the weight, feel the burden or our sinfulness and are waiting with anticipation too for Christmas – for the Salvation of all nations! And having seen him, having heard the eyewitness accounts, having sung of our Savior – God’s gift of salvation – now we too can depart in peace knowing that Christmas isn’t over. No, far from it. Christmas has just begun! And one day you and I will realize the full implications of who that child is and what he has done when you are standing face to face with him in your eternal, heavenly home!
Thankfully, God does not leave us in the dark. He’s given us a light for revelation to the Gentiles! Thankfully, God does not leave us in the shame of our sinfulness. He gives us the glory of his people Israel! Yes, this child will be spoken against. Yes, through this Child God will raise up the humble and crush the proud. Yes, a sword will pierce Mary’s own soul as she watches her Son, her Savior crucified. Yet all of this would be for the redemption of all people! This child, is your redemption!
Therefore, you are a new person! While the noise of the world’s Christmas is gone so soon, the joy of our Christmas is just beginning! Because God has chosen you to be the bearers of his Son in the world! So as the world puts away its Christmas “niceties” which are merely external, let us put on Christ! Let us be seen as the heirs of salvation that we are, eager to imitate this Child who now dwells with us and in us. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts… Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly… And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” – the true spirit of Christmas.