“Salvation Has Come Near” – Let us Join in with Simeon and Anna

I was invited to preach by my wife, the Rev. Allison Siburg, on the First Sunday of Christmas at Salem Lutheran in Fontanelle. What follows is the majority of the manuscript that I preached from, based especially on the readings appointed for Christmas 1B, and particularly Luke 2:22-40. If you would rather listen to or watch the sermon, you can find it in the video from worship on Sunday December 27, 2020 at Salem Lutheran Church below.

Grace and peace from God in Christ, our God the Incarnate Emmanuel who is God with you, for you, and who loves you. Amen.

Merry Third Day of Christmas! Given how this year has gone, I’m all for really living into the great twelve days, so I hope you are too. Enjoy your lights. The beautiful decorations. And yes, another shout out to Mark Miller for his vision of this space this year, and to all who helped decorate. What a beautiful sanctuary space for this season. Now, wherever you find yourself- in person or online, and later today and throughout the rest of the 12 days until Epiphany- Enjoy the smells. Enjoy the stories, and the memories. The hopes and promises. Take some time to soak it in. And if you need that time, it sure looks like the weather might be coming to help you with taking time later this week. Please stay safe and warm with whatever this coming winter storm might bring, and let’s all start off 2021 later this week in a good way.

But as I think about this week’s story, I am struck by Simeon’s words. Words we sometimes hear in one way or another at the end of communion. It’s called the Nunc Dimittis, a sacred blessing and dismissal, as we too say these words after receiving the sacrament because through the meal we too have seen, held, and received the salvation of our Lord.[1]

Simeon proclaims, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people, Israel.”[2]

These words of proclamation from Simeon are the great fulfillment of a promise he had received from God. They are words of hope. They are words of Gospel truth. They are words that are heard before Simeon tells Mary and Joseph more about what is to come. Words that come upon purification. Our story today picks up just two verses after our Christmas Eve story ends in the Gospel of Luke. So, what happens in that one verse between Christmas Eve and today? I challenge you to go look it up. But basically, what happens to little boys of faith often shortly after birth?[3] Yeah. If you don’t catch my drift, we can talk after worship about that.

So, it’s interesting that this story happens here. It echoes the words of the Magnificat that Mary proclaims after her visitation from the Angel Gabriel. It echoes the words of joy proclaimed by her and Elizabeth.

Anna’s joy shared at the end of today story echoes too that of Hannah in the Old Testament who longed for a child who ultimately came in Samuel, born to her and Elkanah, way after normal child bearing years. [4]  And perhaps too that echoes the laughter and joy of Sarah and Abraham at the birth of Isaac.

This story we hear today is a great Christmas story, in Luke’s version of the story. A bit more hopeful then what we hear in Matthew traditionally in the twelve days of Christmas- where we read about the rage of Herod with his evil directed towards the children, and the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fleeing Herod to Egypt. Stories we sometimes hear on this First Sunday of Christmas or during the first few days of this season.[5] Thankfully Allison didn’t stick me with preaching on those. Thanks Allison! J

But on this third day of Christmas, we hear this hopeful story… the story of salvation coming near. The story of proclamation that that salvation will be something greater than anyone might imagine. The story that has this truth to it too, there will be division. There will be those who oppose this message and truth. There will be hard days ahead. Though I don’t think they knew what Simeon might have envisioned about the truth of the sword, the rising and falling, and the events of three decades or so later culminating in a crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.

Today in this story, salvation has appeared, and not just come near, but Simeon knows his eyes have now seen that salvation, and his own arms have cradled it in the temple. Anna has proclaimed this truth too. I wonder. Where have you seen signs of this salvation? Where has it come near for you in your life? Where has it come near for you in this season? In this strange year? And who have been the Simeon’s and Anna’s for you?

I have been thinking a lot about these questions the past couple of days. And every time I start to imagine and wonder about what this might look like now, my mind and heart always seem to land on my grandma, who today is exactly 96 and a half years old. I don’t think anyone in this family of ours would have thought grandma would make it to this age. In fact, a mere couple day before Christmas Day this past week we had received word that her hospice team thought she might only have a couple days left.

Whether you know it or not, you all have been praying for her in worship for the past couple of months, my Grandma Melba, who Cora’s middle name is named after. Thank you for holding her in prayer. I’m still hopeful we’ll find a way for Grandma to meet her new great granddaughter in person someday soon, but given the realities of Cora’s NICU stay and the pandemic still and Grandma being in a care facility, there are so many things beyond our control right now, as there are for everyone in the world.

But in thinking about this story of Simeon and Anna and their declaration of salvation, I keep thinking about Grandma because no one I have known as long as her is so devoted to sharing the Good News of God. No one I know has continued to study her bible and lead prayers, even like she does through the daily and hourly challenges of dementia. No one I know continues to ask when on the phone, how are you, and then share about what she has learned and sensed about God that day.

This has always been who Grandma is. She was a pastor’s wife for more than fifty years. The first college educated person in her family, who would have a career as a dietician, and be a fantastic chef and baker. And hilariously enough, for the past 13 years at least, it doesn’t seem like she has cared for the food pyramid of health, and her preferred daily intake has been chocolate, sugar, and butter. Yet, she is still with us. Maybe she knows something the rest of us are missing? And in that 13 years or so, she has walked through life without grandpa, and been openly talking about what might come next with new life.

Yet, she is still here. She is still sharing her Bible with her neighbors in her care facility, just as she always did with the many Bible Circles she arranged. Just as she did through her hospitality- that was never clearer and more obvious than this time of year. Undoubtedly my mom inherited all of that- the hospitality, the baking, the cooking, the decorating, and to some extent, that’s been a gift that I have been happy to receive and embody too.

But why all of this? Because in a lot of ways this is yet another means through which we all share the story of who God is. It’s another way we all point to the truth of God’s promises, and salvation that has come near. It’s another way through which we are Anna’s and Simeon’s in our world. Ways like I have witnessed in all of you a lot these past few days and months. I watched on the afternoon on Christmas Eve while taking care of Cora and Caroline, as families of Salem and perfect strangers too drove in to receive God’s promises through drive-thru communion across the street from your pastor. What a gift of God coming near.

I have seen it in the way we all as a congregation have adapted to worship as safe as possible online and in-person, and continuing to adapt as needs and new information dictate, like even in the way I felt moved by the congregation’s use glow sticks this year as a safe alternative for this weird time in place of Silent Night candlelight. And I know it has been true through the way the Faith Food Pantry has adapted too to meet our neighbors’ needs right now.

I have seen God’s life giving work through all of you, and I have seen this too through all of you and in your vocations. Whether your professional occupations, or through the way you share your gifts in so many ways. Through decorating and multiplying the decorations as signs of God’s promises. Through sharing your gifts of music through the wonders of technology and video for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Through checking in on each other and caring for one another. For your generosity for your pastor’s family.

It’s been a weird year. It’s been a hard year. It’s been one no one would have wished for or hoped for. Yet God has been in it every step of the way, as God is always with us- through the ups, and downs of life and through all the good, bad, and ugly that may come with it.

That’s a truth that Simeon and Anna are proclaiming today. It’s a truth that is behind the deeper why we all do what we do this time of year.

We decorate and sing, at least in spirit, because for some of us that’s our spiritual gift of telling the Good News of God with us.

For others, they bake and cook because that’s their spiritual gift of sharing the joy for Christ being born with us, and they share that bounty with their loved ones and neighbors as signs of God’s love here and now.

And for others, it’s why gifts are exchanged this time of year. Not because it’s expected, or because commercials tell us we can’t live without this or that newest thing… but because it’s a sign of love. A reflection of the gift of love that God provides through Christ. A reflection that points to God’s gift of life borne out, offered, and given for all of God’s beloved. A reflection and sign that I see in each one of you in some way, and in some way through your story that I am so grateful to know and be in part of, in at least some small way as part of Salem with you- fellow disciples and stewards of God’s love here and now; and fellow workers with God called to do some of God’s work today.

When we hear this story today, I really believe it’s most definitely a story of Christmas. It’s a story we’re given about two older prophets and witnesses to God’s promises in the Temple. It’s a story about a newborn being brought for purification. And it’s a story of two young parents who are no doubt exhausted from the travel to Bethlehem, the events of labor and the noisy and wonderful reception of shepherds, angels, and stable animals, the journey to the Temple now and soon back to Nazareth, yet through it all who are two young parents who are still amazed and even probably overwhelmed at all the events that have been happening. Yes, all of this together is most certainly a story of Christmas.

I think it’s a story we can all relate to. A story of wonder. A story of hope. A story of some emotional and spiritual joy and exhaustion. And a story very much of our God who has come near. A story we very much needed to hear today, as we gather for this last Sunday in 2020, give thanks for what has come into our lives this year, lament what has not gone as we might have hoped for, and look for with hope and anticipation at 2021 ahead.

Through it all, Simeon and Anna today remind us what’s at the heart of the story. In this growing baby Jesus, they witness and see Salvation itself. For that, and for the one who himself is salvation- the salvation of our Lord, we say the only thing we can say with deep and abundant praise and gratitude. Thanks be to God. Merry Christmas! Amen.

[1] The Nunc Dimittis appears as a potential part of the communion liturgy order as a sung or spoken response like as found, for example, in Setting 1 of Evangelical Lutheran Worship, on page 113. In: Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: 2006), 113.
[2] Luke 2:29-32, NRSV.
[3] Luke 2:21, NRSV- “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”
[4] Melinda Quivik, Working Preacher Commentary for First Sunday of Christmas Year B, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-of-christmas-2/commentary-on-luke-222-40-6.
[5] Stories like the “Slaughter of the Innocents” as heard in Year A from Matthew 2:13-23.

Photo Credit: Simeon and Anna by Rembrandt

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s