Monday, January 2, 2012

My eyes have seen Thy salvation....

Sermon for Christmas I, preached on Sunday, January 1, 2012.

    Preaching is a humbling task for those who take it seriously.  Every preacher should be humbled by the opportunity and the responsibility that accompanies it.  More than this, every preacher is humbled by the fact that despite your hours of preparation, your best efforts at delivery, and the most creative writing skills, many will not hear what you have to say and few will actually recall your words beyond the present moment.
    Pastors look into seas of faces week after week and especially at Christmas but behind it all is the question "who is listening?"  Simeon sings today "mine eyes have seen Thy salvation..."  He reminds us that good sermons are not just words – they create images within our minds and hearts as well as fill our ears with words.  Faith recognizes and responds to what the Word speaks into our ears and paints onto the canvas of our minds and hearts.  Simeon saw the same infant Jesus everyone else saw that day when Mary, Joseph, and Jesus entered the Temple.  Simeon saw exactly what they saw and more!  Faith transformed what he saw.  In the face of the Infant everyone else saw, Simeon saw the face of God, His Redeemer.  So what do you hear and what do you see in the temple of the Lord this morning?
    Perhaps a hundred or so folks saw Jesus being carried into the arms of the Temple by Mary and Joseph.  But what did they see?  Without faith, they were blind to what God was doing. They saw nothing at all – nothing to remember, nothing worth paying attention to, nothing unusual.  But an aged priest named Simeon and an elderly woman named Anna saw something completely different.  They saw in the arms of Mary the promise of the eternal Father, the Savior, God's Son in flesh and blood, Him who was set for the rising and falling of many.  They did not see a baby – they saw Jesus, the Son of God, in flesh and blood, fulfilling the promise of God!
    Faith shapes the vision of God's people and leads us beyond what we might see on the surface.  If a sermon does its job, it helps you to see by faith what your eyes alone cannot see.  In fact, we assist your vision here in God's house with the images of the faith present in the stained glass windows, the paintings on the wall, the statue of Jesus, the symbols and colors of the paraments...  All of these are here to guide your eyes of faith to see in Jesus – in whom the ancient promise of God is fulfilled and kept for you and your salvation.  Through word and image, God prompts us to see beyond the surface.  Prompted by word and image, our faith beholds God's Son where He reveals Himself – in the means of grace.
    We are blind to God and His mercy because of sin.  But the Lord has seen to it that the blind may see.  He has come in Christ to shatter the darkness of sin.  No one can see in the dark. How often haven’t we felt our way through a room trying to figure out the darkness and find our way.  Apart from God’s action to shine the Light of Christ into our darkness, we would be left blind.  But Jesus is the light of God that enlightens the darkness – both for today and forever in heaven.  He is the light that enables us to see.  Christ is the Light that enlightens all people, the promised Light of the Father who is come into the world. 
    The candles we burn in church are an anachronism.  We do not need their light.  We have manufactured better lights and we generate electricity to run them.  But we continue to burn candles to remind us that just as their light is God’s creation and not the fruit of our efforts or ingenuity, so does the light we need to enlighten the darkness of sin and death come from God alone.  These candles point to Christ the Light of the world.
    The blessed Virgin Mary gave birth not to simple flesh and blood but to the flesh and blood of God Himself.  Because of who Christ is as God incarnate, Mary is called "Theotokos" – the Mother of God.  Earthly eyes see only a mom and a baby like so many others but faith sees the unique mother who retained her virginity even at the birth of her first born Son and the unique Son who is God Himself, God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God as we confess it in the Creed.  If a sermon does its job, it helps you to see by faith that the child of Mary is the Son of God and she the Mother of God.  Jesus did not become something but was from His conception God in flesh.  Born of Mary, He is manifest for the world to see and yet only faith enables us to see what is always there.
    In the means of grace we find the same situation as Simeon and Anna.  We see what is there because we have eyes of faith like they did.  The Word of God says this water is the living water that kills and gives life, that cleanses and makes righteous, that seals in us grace of everlasting life.  The Word of God says this bread is heaven's bread, and in this bread is the body of Christ; that this cup is His blood; that when we eat this bread and drink this cup we participate in the body and blood of Christ, we receive His gifts, and we are nourished and sustained for now and for eternity.
    The Word of God that we hear each week and read in our Bibles is not some version of truth or a record of the past or moralism to guide us to better lives. It is the living voice of God, who still speaks, who still acts to forgive, restore, and guide His people.  Faith hears this voice of God speaking in the Word, speaking right here in the words of this sermon, sung in the words of the hymn, and chanted in the words of the liturgy.  If a sermon does its job, it helps you to see by faith what is there in the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments.
    Children can see Jesus.... the blind can see Jesus... even the Pharisees saw Jesus when His own disciples missed it... what do YOU see?  Every week we come here to see Jesus.  With our eyes we behold the water of His promise, the sacred meal of His gift, and the fellowship created by common birth in baptism.  Our eyes are aided by faith so that we see in this water Jesus Himself, in this bread and cup His flesh and blood, and in this fellowship the body of Christ, His Church.  Long ago the disciples received a request: "Sir, we would see Jesus."  We come here with the same request and if the sermon does its job, it points us to Jesus – not some imagined Jesus out there somewhere, but the Jesus of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Word of God, and the His body, the Church.  Where is Jesus?  Like Simeon of old, faith leads us to see Him where He has made Himself accessible to us – in the means of grace.
    Do you want to see Jesus?  You already have...  He is here, the glory of the Father, who comes to us in the flesh of Jesus, our Savior hidden still in water, bread, wine, and the Word.  It is kind of funny, really, that the one Lutheran innovation in the historic liturgy is the use of Simeon’s song as our Post-Communion canticle.  At the end of the service we sing with Simeon, "Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation..."  It is no exaggeration.  We have seen Jesus, the one and only true God and Him only. He is where He has promised to be.  We see Him just as concretely and real as Simeon of old.  We see Him just as full of grace and truth as Simeon saw of old.  If the sermon does its job, it guides us to see Jesus that we might be like Simeon of old.  So we sing Simeon’s song – not as a reminiscence but because here we have seen what Simeon saw – our salvation in the face of Christ in the water of baptism, the bread and cup of the Eucharist, and the voice of the Word.  Amen.


Anonymous said...

There seems to be a contradiction
between the first two sentences.
Only those who take preaching
seriously are humbled. Then in the
next breath everyone who preaches
is humbled. Perhaps there is a
little false humility evolving in
that first paragraph.

Anonymous said...

As an addendum, regarding the Circumcision of Jesus, the feast celebrated at Rome in the seventh century was not the Circumcision as such but the octave of Christmas in the context of a Marian feast. The Feast of the Circumcision displaced this older celebration.

Even so, there's a strong continuity between the two feasts that have been celebrated on January 1. The Gospel reading for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is Luke 2:16-21, an expanded version of the Gospel for the Feast of the Circumcision (Luke 2:21).

Pastor J. Sollberger said...

Thank you, Pastor, for the good sermon.

Unknown said...

This is an excellent sermon and those who see with the eyes of faith will feel the sacred fires burn in their hearts as I felt and almost exclaimed like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus did not our hearts burn within us as we talked with him?
Rev. Dr. Sam Mohie. Abundant Touch Ministries, Lagos, Nigeria.