First Sunday after Christmas

by Crossings

The Redemption of Jerusalem and All Peoples
Luke 2:22-40
(First Sunday after Christmas)
analysis by Carolyn Schneider

22When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” 25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29″Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all your peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother, Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher: She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

DIAGNOSIS: Living Under the Law

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Longing
The Hebrew people had been held as slaves in Egypt until God directed Moses to lead them out of slavery into their own land. The Pharaoh was unwilling to let the Hebrews go, until that night of the final plague — the night when all firstborn males of Egypt died, though the Hebrews were spared from the angel of death because of the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. Nonetheless, with their departure from Egypt, rules were established by which the Hebrews would live as God’s people. Every firstborn male would be holy to the Lord, set apart as God’s own, together with the necessary sacrifice: calves, lambs, or (if you were poor) two pigeons. The Passover was to be reenacted in the life of every generation (Exodus 13:11-15; Leviticus 12; Number 18:15-18). Those who were redeemed by the sacrifice could live under the Law. Everyone in this story is living lawfully, most especially Simeon and Anna, but also Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Yet there is still the longing for liberation.

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Enslaved
Perhaps what that means in part is that, for all the liberation that was achieved from Egypt, there is still no liberation from the Law. Now it is no longer Pharaoh who is their master, but God. Yet there are some who would have rather shucked off God in favor of the spoils of Egypt (Exodus 16:2-3). Ultimately, however, the opposition within the inner heart is against the plans and purposes of God. Simeon knew that those who were in power under the law, those who had advanced the law, and those who simply believed that the lawful behavior would set things right between us and God and the world would fear and hate and oppose the Messiah — and that through the Messiah “the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.” Liberation under the Law enslaves the soul to greater bondage.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Destined to Fall
And it’s not only the heart where the problem finally rests. There is a time of reckoning — what Simeon calls “the falling of many” through God’s Messiah. The world must fall, old and still enslaved, trapped through its legality as well as its hatred of God, its maker and master.

PROGNOSIS: Saved Under the Spirit

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: Redeemed
Yet Simeon knows that something better is coming, that the Lord’s Messiah will create a new people in a relationship with God, not only in Israel but among all nations. Anna knew all these things, too, when she saw the baby Jesus. But she also knew that this Messiah had come to be the redemption of Jerusalem, the central point from which salvation would spread to the world (v. 38). The way that Jesus would bring about this liberation, however, is by submitting himself to life under the Law. Jesus would willingly suffer unto death through the Law, destined to fall with the falling. But he would rise alive again, and in rising would raise many with him, all those — like Simeon and Anna — who looked for the day of liberation. Just as Jesus’ human parents had redeemed his life at the temple with two pigeons, Jesus’ divine Parent would redeem the life of the world for Godself with Jesus’ clean life.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: Liberated
Those who clothe themselves with Jesus, God’s Son, like a garment of salvation (Isaiah 61:10) are no longer slaves, but sons and daughters of God. God has released them from their slavery to live in peace with God, and no longer in opposition and hatred. The legal relationship of master-slave gives way to a family relationship grounded in the heart, the home of the Spirit.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Welcoming
What Simeon sees as he takes the child Jesus into his arms is a glory that he may call his own, which will shine out to all people, “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples” (v. 30). This is not a liberation from suffering, pain, old age, or even death. Mary herself will feel these things in her heart, just as those freed from slavery in Egypt knew them. But a people no longer bound to vindicate themselves are free to live for the world. Those no longer compelled to evade their own pain and longing, because they have had it “fulfilled” in the coming of Jesus’ Messiah, may provide solidarity with others yearning or in pain. For a world longing for redemption, God sends new (regardless of age) promise-trusters to bear hope and liberation.


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