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Sunday after Christmas

Luke 2:33-40

Rev. Andrew Eckert

First Sunday after Christmas
Our Savior Lutheran Church  
Stevensville, MT

Sun, Dec 30, 2018 

Saint Simeon says, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against.”

By the words “fall and rising” is meant the same thing that Mary said in the Magnificat, “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.  He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.”

Do you sometimes feel lowly?  Do you feel like life ought to be better for you than it is?  Sometimes, these kinds of thoughts simply mean the discontentment with life that people commonly feel.  But for Christians, it can mean more.  We are often downtrodden in life for the exact reason that we follow the Lord Jesus.  We have chosen a life of humility and serving our neighbor, rather than piling up riches and serving ourselves.  We seek the honor of Christ, not the honor of ourselves.  We seek heavenly glory, not the brief glory of this present life.

To the world, Christians are foolish.  We spend lots of money on our churches, in which the world sees little or no value.  We trust in promises written in an ancient book.  The world laughs at that.

But Christ, in that dusty book, says, Blessed are the meek.  The lowly and the humble are the ones that He blesses.  This is because He will lift them up.  He causes the rising of many in Israel.  This is not, ultimately, only about the Jews.  All men react to Christ, either with faith or with disbelief.  Do you trust that only in Christ is eternal salvation?  Or do you put stock in your own ability to earn or win or to make a better world?  Is it you, or is it Christ?

If it is you that does the earning in your mind, then you will fall.  You will sink down to the place that your works have deserved.

But if it is Christ who is the winner and earner of all things for you, then He will raise you up.  You will rise up above the poor circumstances of this humble, meek life you live.  You will be crowned with glory and honored by the Father in heaven and all the holy angels.

Indeed, you have already risen in Christ.  He has raised you up with His righteousness and forgiveness.  You already possess His glory.  Yet it is not visible glory.  You must wait until the final day for that.

For now, you continue living in meekness.  You must be humble, so that at the right time Christ will lift you up.

Why do so many fall?  This is an especially troubling question because Christ says that many in Israel will fall.  Israel had the great advantage of being taught the Word of God.  They should have been well-versed in the true faith, and received the Messiah with joy.  Many did, but many more did not.

What causes people in the true faith to turn away from Christ?  Here we could speak of the Pharisees and how the religion of Israel became largely about an individual’s need to be a good person.  In this way, there was a pride in one’s own ability to earn status before God.  They lifted themselves up in their own eyes, yet in the end they would fall.

Christ causes this fall.  He leaves no room for a person’s ability to be good.  He says that it is Him or nothing.  “Trust in Me for salvation.  There is no one else you can trust, including yourself.” If someone does not like that message, then they will fall.

In Israel’s history, it was not always about the Pharisees and self-righteousness.  Very often, Israel would be snared by the temptation to worship idols.  Something allured them to bow down, whether it was made of gold or silver, wood or stone.  They trusted in that thing, when they should have trusted the coming Messiah.  For those people as well, Christ caused their fall, even when it was long before He became flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.

Here we have the true cause of falling away: idols.  The Pharisees had an idol, but it was simply their own self.  If you believed in some pagan god, that was simply a more obvious idol.

We also have many idols available.  Gold, which comes in the form of pieces of paper for us, is a big idol.  Materialism as well, but that seems terribly obvious.  Many other idols are more subtle, and therefore more dangerous, than a gold statue.  Emotions are a huge idol in America.  Your own comfort is big.  Family is a destroyer of many a person’s faith.  Self-esteem can stop up a person’s ears to the Word.  Success.  Love.  Good works can be an idol.  And so on.

These idols sneak into our hearts.  They try, and often succeed, in finding a place in us, even though we worship the true God.  We are probably not aware that they are idols, even though they often divert us from worship and capture our thoughts.

But a time may come when these little idols rise up inside us and make demands.  This often happens when the Word of God confronts us.  We may be forced to decide whether we are going to hold onto our idol (which we have grown to love) or the Word of God.

Often, we do not want to choose.  We love both the Word and our dear little idol.  So we may deny that there is really any conflict between the two.

But when the conflict is sharp enough, like a sword piercing our heart, then we must choose.  We may repent and set our heart on Christ.  Or we may take offense and leave Christ, clutching our idol.  We will probably never admit that we have left Christ.  We will simply stop listening to one part of the Word.  And where one part is lost, all will soon be lost.  A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

Christ demands first and central place in us.  We must trust Him and no other.  We will either speak against Him (whether we know it or not), or we must fight against our own idols.

May the Lord guide and protect us so that when the time comes, we may hold onto Him.

Those who hold onto Him will receive eternal reward.  We will be raised up by Him to the highest heaven.  We will enjoy victory over death, so that we depart in peace as Simeon did.  We will see the revelation of the glory of the sons of God, both Jew and Gentile, who will shine out like the stars forever.  We are the sons of God who are in the image of Christ.  In His life, death, and resurrection, He has earned for us eternal life and resurrection from death.  For He will cause our rising on the last Day.

To Him alone be all glory and honor, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God forever.  Amen.

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