Well, Christmas happened. Have we recovered? I know I’m still getting through a sugar hang-over. I know I had some great time with my family opening presents, spending the whole day in my pajamas, and just relaxing. Did we all have a good Christmas this year?
Well I think today, we’re all kind of tired. Are you feeling that? Even if Christmas was really good, there’s such a build-up to Christmas that I think it takes us a little bit to recover from it. So if you’re here and haven’t recovered yet, know that you’re not alone.
And it’s a good Sunday for that, actually. Because as we come together to worship, just three days after Christmas, when the wrapping paper might not be cleaned up yet, all we can do is rejoice. All we can do is praise God for what God has given us in Jesus. In our Scripture, that’s what Simeon and Anna were doing, right? They saw Jesus, realized who Jesus was and what God was going to do through Jesus, and praised God for it. That’s all we can do today.
So what are we praising God for? What did God really do at Christmas? God sent himself down into the world. That belief alone is enough. God sent Godself down into the world. God put Godself into Mary’s womb, stayed there for 9 months, and was born a baby. An actual, human baby. Is that crazy to you? Because even though I’ve heard that at least once a year for the past 22 years, I still can’t really wrap my mind around it.
I mean, this is God we’re talking about. The God who created everything we have ever seen and will ever see. The God who created every plant and animal on earth. The God who formed us and created us and knows us to our innermost being. The same God who created the cosmos, every star that we see that are unfathomably far away. That God. That God was born a human baby. The great creator God, in whom we live and move and have our being, the same God who gives us both the oxygen to breathe and the very ability to breathe it, that God put on human flesh and lived a human life. That God was born to couple of poor teenagers in a feeding trough in a barn. That God had had dirty diapers and had to be changed. That God kept his parents up all night with his crying. That God became a completely defenseless baby who had to learn to talk and walk and be a human. That God did not just stay on his throne, separate from us, but came down from his throne and crashed into human history in the form of a baby. That is absolutely amazing, I still can’t really wrap my head around it.
This is what is meant when we call Jesus “Emmanuel.” We just sang the song called Emmanuel. What does that word mean? It means “God With Us.” God is with us. God is here among us. God is not separate from us, sitting in his heavenly throne, looking down upon us.
For the Israelites, this was kind of a new concept, God being with us. They had the story of Mount Sinai, where God is the terrible, awesome presence on top of the mountain, with clouds and smoke and thunder and trumpet blasts. Only Moses could go up the mountain to talk with God. And this continued through Jesus’ time. In the temple, there was the room called the Holy of Holies, where the presence of God was supposed to be the strongest. Only the High Priest could ever enter that room, and they could only enter it once a year to sacrifice an animal for the sins of Israel. And the priests even saw that as risky. I read somewhere that sometimes the priests would tie a rope around the High Priest’s ankle so that if the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies and did something for the wrath of God to strike him down and kill him, the other priests could pull him out without going into the room.
So this was really a new thing for the Israelites. The barriers had been broken down. The people did not need to approach God because God approached them. God saw the broken state of the world, God saw that His chosen people were not following him. God saw that commandments were being broken left and right, the law was not working. The people were like sheep without a shepherd, they had scattered left and right. They were lost, they were injured, they were in danger. So God saw that and said “I’m coming down there. I am coming down there, inserting myself into human history, and I am going to save my people myself.” That is what happened in Jesus. I still can’t really wrap my mind around it, it’s amazing.
So if something like this happened, there would be some pretty big ramifications, right? Something this big of a deal would cause some pretty big ripples, right? And at first, in the Christmas story, we see some of the effects. This whole chorus of angels appears to the shepherds to tell them about Jesus, and the shepherds rush in to see baby Jesus, and then go and tell the world about it. Next week is Epiphany Sunday, and that’s when we remember the day the Magi from the East visited Mary and Joseph and Jesus. So there are already some effects, there are people who have heard of Jesus’ birth and see that it’s a pretty big deal.
We heard something like that happening in our Scriptures for today. Mary and Joseph are bringing Jesus to the Temple to be dedicated to the Lord as the Law required. It was kind of like when you bring a baby to be baptized in church. When Mary and Joseph did that, someone noticed something out of the ordinary there.
There was this old dude, Simeon. Simeon was a very righteous and devout man who worshiped God day and night. God had even told him that he wouldn’t die before he laid eyes on the Messiah, the savior of Israel. Now the Bible says that Simeon took Jesus in his arms and started praising God. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d be a little bit weirded out and get pretty protective if I had a baby and some old dude just picked them up out of my arms. Wouldn’t you?
But Simeon took Jesus in his arms and said “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Simeon sees Jesus and recognizes him for who he is-the salvation of Israel and for the whole world. God in the flesh. Simeon recognizes that and sees that this is huge, this is awesome, and he just has to praise God.
But Simeon also had something else to say to Mary and Joseph. Simeon says “This child marks both the failure and recovery of many in Israel, a figure misunderstood and contradicted-the pain of a sword-thrust through you-but the rejection will force honesty, as God reveals who they really are.”
Well that just got real. Right? Here we are rejoicing and praising and thanking God when Simeon has to come along and talk about how Jesus will be misunderstood and contradicted and how he will cause Mary pain like sword thrust right through her soul. This kind of sucks, right?
But what Simeon is really saying here is that reality has changed. In the birth of Christ, reality has been permanently, irrevocably, absolutely changed. Even more than change, a completely new reality has been born. And with this new reality in Jesus comes the death of the old reality. In Jesus, the old reality of salvation by the law has died. In Jesus, we are not saved through keeping the law anymore, we are not saved by creating our own righteousness, we are not saved through any of our own actions. That was our old reality, salvation through our own works. But in the birth of Jesus, a new reality has come into the world. And Simeon sees that. He calls this new reality “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
When God entered the scene in that barn in Bethlehem, a whole new reality was born. And this new reality is completely different from the old reality. In this new reality, our salvation, redemption, justification and everything else are on God. They aren’t our responsibility. In this new reality, we don’t make our own righteousness, we cannot become right before God through rolling up our sleeves, gritting our teeth, and forcing ourselves to be good. No amount of elbow grease can do this. That is the new reality that has been born in Christ. And this new reality cannot exist alongside the old reality, which means the old reality must die. And that causes pain. That causes heartache. And Simeon sees this. Simeon sees that the death of this old reality will cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and will cause a sword to pierce Mary’s soul as well.
But perhaps the greatest part of this new reality that has been born with Christ is that we can be a part of it. When the Almighty, all-powerful, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God came down into the world as a poor, defenseless, weak little snot-nosed kid, he came to bring this new reality to us. That’s the Emmanuel Concept-we do not need to go to God because God has already come to us, to everyone in the world. So with this, God brings this reality to us for us to be a part of. All we have to do is step into it and begin living into this reality. All we have to do is begin living into this reality of Emmanuel, God with us. We don’t have to find God because God has already found us. We don’t have to search for God because God has already searched for us. We don’t have to work to earn or deserve God because that is impossible. In Jesus, God says “I see all of your efforts, all of your work as you try to force your way closer to me. All you’re doing is pulling yourself away. So here, let me help you. Let me come to you, because you’ll never be able to get to me. Let me lift you up, let me wipe away the dirt, let me put all of your broken pieces back together.”
This is what happened on Christmas. God came down to us. The almighty God entered our realm in the form of a baby. And in the birth of this baby God, our old reality died and a new reality was born. So I want to challenge you with this.
Are you living into this new reality? Do you truly believe that God is with us and do you live like you believe that? Or are you still trying to earn your way to God, to push and shove your way into God’s temple? If you’re still trying to climb up the mountain to find God, I’m telling you that God is standing on the ground looking up at you and saying “What are you doing? I’m right here!”
If you are currently living into that new reality, that’s great. May this sermon be a reminder to you and an encouragement to keep going. But for you who are already living into this reality, I also want to challenge you: Who around you can you invite into this new reality? The God of the Angel Armies did send his Son down from the heavenly thrones just so that we could remember that every year and sit here comfortable in our own salvation and not wanting anyone else to join us in it. Jesus came down to bring this new reality to the whole world. So who are you inviting to be a part of it?