November 19, 2018- Beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Psalm 23, Job 19:25-27

valley of shadow

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23 (ESV)

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another. Job 19:25-27 (ESV)

The valley of the shadow of death is not a popular destination, but mortality is a reality.  No one gets out of this life alive…except…those who believe by the grace of God in Christ will share in His resurrection.  In spite of the really bad pop theology that is rampant in American Christianity, Jesus never was about “your best life now.”   Even though televangelists and “Christian” authors may try to sell us a Cross-less Christianity, Jesus teaches us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

True Christianity holds to a theology of the Cross, one in which we die to our own selfishness and sins- not to earn points, but in response to the extravagant grace and the undeserved favor God has already given us.

Psalm 23 has been beloved among believers for millennia, precisely because God’s inspired words from David’s pen underscore God’s promise that death and the curse is not the end. We who are baptized into Christ are not alone.  This world and its valleys of shadow are not the end.

God with us, Emmanuel, does not shield us from suffering, but He is in it with us, ever present with his comfort, walking with us through the valley of the shadow of death, (Psalm 23:4) and leading us away from evil.

God so loved the world that He sent Jesus, His only Son to be a man- fully God and fully man- and live in this world with us. (John 3:16) When the time came for Jesus to give His life for us, He struggled with the cup He was given to drink, but the only way for Him to accomplish our salvation was through His suffering and death. Jesus was not spared the bitter path of the Cross.  The sin of the Garden of Eden could only be overcome on by Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, and ultimately His sacrifice on Calvary.

God does give us challenges that are way over our heads and way over and above our capacity to overcome.  We do not have life in our own strength. On our own we have no strength.  Apart from Jesus we have nothing to look forward to but despair, hopelessness and death in our trespasses and sins.  Yet in losing ourselves and relying on Jesus we can endure anything.  He has already overcome death and the grave.

As the church year is drawing to a close, we become aware of the groaning of all creation, awaiting the restoration of all things that the apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 8:18-25.

Those who are familiar with the musical work The Messiah, by George Fredric Handel, will recognize the verses from Job 19 above.  I know that my Redeemer liveth / and that he shall stand /at the latter day upon the earth./ And though worms destroy this body/ yet in my flesh shall I see God.

As we are very quickly coming upon the season of Advent and celebrating the arrival of the promised One, we put our focus on Jesus, the living Redeemer, the conquering King.

We can trust that we will endure the suffering that is simply a part of this life here in the now, but not yet. We will stand with Jesus, in our own bodies, on that great and glorious day when all tears are wiped away and there is no more suffering or mourning.

January 16, 2019- We Aren’t Good. We Don’t Want to Be Bad. We Need Jesus! – Romans 7:7-25

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What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.  I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.  For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.  So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.  For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.  For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. Romans 7:7-25 (ESV)

In popular culture a person’s struggle between good and evil is often represented by a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. If only the line between our sinful nature and the saints we are in Christ were as sharply defined as Good Homer vs Bad Homer!

It is a common misconception that the grace of God gives us license to do whatever we want. While in Christ we are forgiven, and nothing we can do will earn us brownie points with God, we are still frustrated by our inability to live according to God’s laws.  The good laws of God that are meant to protect us and those around us also convict and condemn us- and show us how helpless we are and that at best we are beggars, solely reliant on God’s grace.

If we were able to just straighten up and fly right and obey the law on our own we would not need Jesus. The Pharisees tried that- they added their own rules to God’s Law in an attempt to keep people from even coming close to breaking the law.  Instead of keeping people from sinning, trying to follow all the extra laws turned people into self-righteous hypocrites who cared more for the outward appearance of keeping the law than caring for others.

The reality is that we cannot have life without Jesus. Without Him we are dead in our trespasses and sins. The Law (and our utter inability to keep it) should serve to show us our desperate need for Jesus, cause us to cling to Jesus, and to stay in His word and in prayer.

Knowing that everyone has a sinful nature should also help us be more forgiving. Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer to ask Him for forgiveness, as well as for the grace to forgive others as He forgives us.  It’s not easy, but others are just as weak and in need of Jesus as we are.

The apostle Paul (the writer of Romans and many other letters in the New Testament) had to deal with the battle between his inner sinner and inner saint. We face the same conundrum as Paul- we don’t do the things we should. We do things we shouldn’t.  We feel terrible about it, but no matter what we do, we can’t just stop sinning and behave. That dissonance and unease Paul laments here, and that we feel in that struggle should compel us to run to Jesus, to take solace in the water of baptism, in prayer and in the promise of God’s Word.  Our faith in Jesus sends us in our life of paradox to the foot of the Cross.

January 15, 2019 – Slaves? Romans 6:15-23

slave ship 1788slave auction

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:15-23 (ESV)

21st century Americans have a difficult time with the concept of slavery. We may remember seeing drawings of slave ships or slave auctions from the 18th and 19th century from history class like the ones pictured above, but we don’t really see slavery out in the open. We think of slavery as something that ended with the Civil War in 1865. Slavery does still exist in the modern world. It may not be as visible today, but it is still just as repulsive as the buying and selling of humans on the auction block. Human trafficking, child abuse, forced labor, addiction, and domestic violence are examples of some modern forms of slavery.

An easier question for us today is, to whom or what do we sell ourselves? Are we slaves to addictions such as drugs, cigarettes or alcohol- or even to an excess of good things such as food or exercise? Are we slaves to excessive work or excessive leisure? Are we slaves to the thoughts and opinions of others?

The apostle Paul teaches us: “you are slaves of the one you obey.” As long as we are living in this body, in this life, we will still be tempted and we will still sin. (Simul Justus et peccator still applies.) However, because in baptism we die to sin and live with Christ, we have become His slaves- not in the sense of being in a sorry forced servitude, but as joyful servants responding to the love He first showed us.  We may not be able to obey perfectly, but our faith in Jesus is what saves us and justifies us. Our faith- which is a gift of the Holy Spirit- is what sets us free to live as God created us to live, and to do the good works that He created for us to do.

Sanctification is another concept that we can have difficulty with. Christian sanctification does not mean becoming rigid, legalistic, “holier than thou” hypocrites. We aren’t always people who are clean and tidy and well behaved.  Sometimes we road rage. Sometimes we use nasty words.  We are rough around the edges and a lot worse than that if we are honest with ourselves. Jesus’ first followers were once the likes of fishermen and tax collectors and even women of ill repute.  Our caricature of snooty false piety- imagine Dana Carvey as “the Church Lady”- is right out.  We are real people who live in this real world.

We are all hypocrites because we are all sinners, however, we confess our sins just as the apostle Paul did when he referred to himself as the chief (or foremost) of all sinners. We let Jesus forgive us. We trust Jesus to help us do better and to change our minds and hearts to be more like His.  Sanctification is actually “holification” (if I may borrow a term from Rev. Jonathan Fisk) meaning a process in which God makes us holy, by faith, in Christ, because of His grace. God makes us more like Him. We are meant to grow and develop into the people God has intended us to become.  That becoming is not something we do, but something God does in and through us.  It’s not easy.  Sometimes it’s painful, but faith is trust that in all of it God knows what he’s doing.

Sin and death appear to be the masters of this world. When we look around us, those things are everywhere.  Yet so is the transforming power of God- the same God who put death to death.  We know the end to this story.  God wins.

All of us sell ourselves to something. Our first parents sold us all into sin and death at the moment of the Fall. Yet we have been bought for a price. Jesus sold Himself- a perfect sacrifice- to purchase us so that He could transform us and make us holy.  He bought us, and set us free so that we can love and serve God as willing and joyful slaves to Him.

 

January 14, 2019- The Law of Faith, Jesus Does the Work of Salvation FOR Us- Romans 3:19-31

obey the law 

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.  Romans 3:19-31 (ESV)

The apostle Paul clears up a lot of misunderstandings regarding Christian faith in the book of Romans.

Today we still get caught up in earning brownie points, even though the “buy your way to Heaven system” was the major impetus behind the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther and other reformers protested the buying and selling of indulgences- things you could buy or do to earn special favors for yourself of your family. Just like buying saints’ bones or making pilgrimages to Jerusalem or doing various acts of penance couldn’t make Renaissance age Christians any better in God’s sight, there is still nothing we can decide to do, suffer through, or pay for that can make us “right with God.”  One of the primary pillars of the Reformation is faith alone. Faith alone, in Christ alone, by His grace alone- it all comes back to Jesus.

We are often asked, “Are you saved?” or “Have you given your heart to Jesus?” by well meaning friends in various, ironically, Protestant, Christian traditions. Decision theology is the premise that we make a decision to choose Jesus and we choose to believe in God.  It is a popular theological misconception in American Christianity.  The premise is well intentioned, and fits in well with American individualism, but no decision made by a person can create saving faith in anyone. The decision to redeem us is God’s, for Jesus’ sake. (John 1:9-13)

The honest answer to decision theology is that we are being acted upon- saved, if you will- by God. We can no more save ourselves by our own actions or volition than an infant can change its own diaper or prepare its own bottle.

The Mosaic Law, which the apostle Paul as a former Pharisee would be well acquainted, is a law of works. No one can save themselves by works of the law, and no one ever was.  Abraham was counted righteous by faith. All of the flawed and mortal saints of the Old Testament were counted righteous by faith.  The Old Testament saints’ faith pointed ahead to Jesus’ appearing, while the saints of the New Testament era until now look to the Incarnation of Jesus.  We have the good news of the life He lived and the death He endured to forgive our sins and purchase our eternal life.  We are counted righteous- made good with God- for Jesus’ sake, by His grace because the Holy Spirit gives us faith.  We can’t brag about how good we are because if we appear to be good, that goodness is the work of God in Christ through us.

The Law of Faith points us to Jesus. Jesus is the one doing the acting on us.  If we brag, we brag about Him.

This is good news for those of us who struggle with doubt. Our salvation and strength is outside of us- no matter what we think or feel, Jesus has done the work of our salvation for us.  In our baptism, through the hearing and teaching of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit gives us saving faith in the completed work of Jesus.  Because we trust Jesus, we are free to do the good works God created us to do, but our works don’t save us.

The Law of Faith is so much better than the law of works!

 

 

January 9, 2019- Silence, Hope, and the Gospel in a Psalm- Psalm 62

fortress

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse. *Selah

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. *Selah

Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.

Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.

Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man according to his work. Psalm 62 (ESV)

The holidays are over. School is back in session and people are back into the normal non-holiday routines.  The constant barrage of activity and marketing pitches and hustle has slowed down and life has settled down into an awkward silence for many of us.

Silence can be a comfort, especially for those of us who could use more of it, but it can also carry anxiety with it, a feeling of dread or trepidation over not knowing what’s next.

The psalmist reminds us that silence is a place in which we can take great comfort and rest because we are waiting on God. It’s not the nervous kind of hope we have when we are waiting on a ride or for an important appointment, but a joyful hope because we are assured what we believe is true. God alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is our fortress, the One we can rely upon, the One who created us and brings us to eternal life. This is a wonderful message of comfort and joy!

There is prophecy throughout the Psalms. Today’s Psalm that we are studying, Psalm 62, is no exception.  We learn of both the sovereignty and the suffering of Jesus. As we pray this Psalm, it points us directly to place all of our hope in Him.

How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, (Jesus) like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him
(Jesus) down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse. *Selah

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.

He (Jesus) only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

These verses speak of Jesus and how He will be attacked and rejected and sacrificed, yet our hope is in Him alone.

We are easily intimidated by the situations and the people in this world. We see people “getting ahead” by trampling on others, ignoring justice and not caring about how God would have us behave.  We are guilty of those things as well and we do not live perfectly either.  The psalmist reminds us we need to keep our eyes on Jesus as our hope, no matter what others do or even when we fail.

Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.

Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.

Jesus is the One who covers us. We do not earn or deserve anything good from God, but Jesus comes to us with salvation as a free gift.

Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man according to his
(Jesus’) work.

On the surface these two verses appear to be contradictory, however, in Christ HIS work upon the Cross became our work. The power belongs to God to save, to defeat death and restore.  When God looks at us, His named and claimed baptized children, He sees Jesus’ perfect work on the Cross.

Our hope is in Christ alone. As we pray the Psalms, we see Jesus and we put ourselves in agreement with Him. In the silence we can take comfort that God is very much with us and that our hope is in the Way, the Truth and the Light.

January 8, 2019- Jesus is Baptized – Mark 1:1-11

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The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  Mark 1:1-11 (NIV)

Of all the Gospel writers, Mark is the one who gets right down to business. Rather than going through the genealogies and the details of Jesus’ birth, Mark starts right off with Isaiah’s prophesy that tells of Jesus’ coming. Mark goes right on to tell us how Isaiah’s prophesy is fulfilled with John the Baptist paving the way.

Even though Mark does not go into the details of Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth in the way that Matthew and Luke take pains to do, he makes it clear: Jesus is God who became human like us. He took away the sin of the world and put death to death. In His baptism He took upon the weight of the sins of every person ever, so that they would be put to death and buried with Him.

In the Lutheran tradition we take the sacrament of Holy Baptism for what Scripture claims that it is- a means of grace through which God the Holy Spirit works saving faith in us. The old Adam is put to death.  Our sins are washed away.  We die to sin, death and evil, and rise again with Christ.  Even so, as long as we live in this world of not-yet, we can take comfort in “putting on our baptism as daily wear” as Martin Luther taught.

When God looks upon us in our baptism He sees Jesus. We are baptized with the Holy Spirit and faith is made alive in us. We become God’s beloved, and for the sake of Jesus we become children with which God is well pleased.

January 7, 2019- Celebrate! Jesus, the Light of the World- Genesis 1:1-5, 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, Matthew 5:14-16

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In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Genesis 1:1-5 (ESV)

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Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.  But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 (ESV)

Epiphany is a celebration of revelation. We celebrate the enlightening of the world. We see God revealed to His people in Jesus, the Light of the world. (John 8:12)

Light is an interesting thing. When the lights are on we see things clearly that might not have been evident in the dark.  Anyone who has stepped on dog bones or Legos in the middle of the night in a dark hallway appreciates how easily one can get hurt stumbling in the dark.

Light has a way of repelling and scattering things that rely on the cover of darkness to flourish. Vermin invade and pilfer and destroy in dark places, but not in the light of day. Cockroaches scatter when a flashlight is shined on them and their dank hiding places are exposed.

While all of us live the paradox of saint-and-sinner at the same time, we who are baptized and marked with the Cross of Christ reflect the light and the image of God. The God who said, “Let there be light” is the same God who saves us with His impossible good news.  He is the same God whose Holy Spirit shines His light in and through us.

Not everyone is happy about this great good news. Herod was none too thrilled to hear that there was a true King of the Jews.  Herod tried to kill Jesus before He could ever grow up into a man.  (Matthew 2:13-25) Herod wanted to do away with the light so that the status quo of darkness and corruption could continue on.

God’s people face opposition wherever we go. Our own sinful nature opposes us (the age old battle of our wills vs. God’s will) as well as the forces of evil that live in the world. As we reflect Jesus’ light the elements of darkness will oppose us.  Even so, we press on, because of who Jesus has made us.

Jesus says to His disciples, His people who reflect His light: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)

It may not seem like it at times, but the Light of the world has come. Celebrate and be glad.

January 4, 2019 The Light of the World, He Brings a Sword, Depart in Peace

jesus sword

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.

And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Isaiah 60:1-4 (ESV)

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And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law,  he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said:

 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.  And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.  Luke 2:22-35 (ESV)

Isaiah. Luke. Simeon and Anna.  The Bible is filled with the accounts of those who point us to Jesus.  Isaiah is given the revelation- the glorious vision of Jesus – seven hundred years before His incarnation. Isaiah sees the glory of the Lord and the Light of the world revealed.  Simeon and Anna were blessed with seeing Jesus in the flesh, as a baby brought to be named and brought in to the community of faith.

It’s good news that those of us who are living in this dark world have the Light of the World here with us.

Jesus Himself was named and set apart for God, one with God the Father always and beyond time. He was made incarnate by the Holy Spirit within the Virgin Mary, fully God and fully man, but He was still named and circumcised in accordance with the Mosaic covenant. Jesus had to fulfill the Law in our place.  We are born dead in trespasses and sins, and we cannot save ourselves. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

In our Baptism we are named and claimed as God’s people. We are brought into the life of Christ.  We share in His suffering and His death as well as His resurrection.

Jesus did not come to bring us happy feelies and Care Bears and flowers. He comes into this world bearing a sword, (Matthew 10:34-39) which inevitably brings upheaval and conflict in its wake.  Some of the most bitter and lethal conflicts in this world have been fought against the spreading of the Gospel, between those who have been brought to faith in Christ and those who would oppose Him. Jesus’ coming and the renewal and life that He brings have always been challenged by the world.

Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce her soul too. Her baby boy would grow to be a man who would be crucified to placate our petulant sinners’ demand for blood at the hand of Pontius Pilate, and left to die in cruel ignominy. She will lament at the foot of the Cross as her Savior and ours gives His life and His blood is poured out for her salvation as well as ours.

Light and truth illuminate their surroundings without prejudice. Beauty is made evident when the light shines on it, but so is ugliness.  When everything is brought into the light, we cannot hide.

Jesus brings us into His light- exposing the good, the bad, and the ugly. As we are given the gift of repentance, we confess our sin and shame as we are exposed to His light. He forgives us. He gives us a heart of flesh that desires God instead of a hard heart of stone.  He makes us reflect His goodness and light and takes away the sin and death that are our inheritance from the Fall. He saves us from death and the grave.

Jesus does not promise us an easy or a painless life on this earth, but He does promise us eternal life beyond this world. He does walk with us as we are promised in the beautifully comforting words of the 23rd Psalm. He carries us because we are challenged with many trials we simply cannot bear.  He gives us His peace.  We can pray the nunc dimittis, and go forward in God’s peace along with Simeon:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”