31 December 2018

Homily for the First Sunday after Christmas (2018)

"Holding Life"
Luke 2:22-40

The world has put away the trees and decorations, but the Church still gets to celebrate Christmas. The world has entered the time of returning and exchanging gifts, but the Church still gets to ponder and treasure the gift of all gifts—God’s beloved Son become flesh. The world packs up and moves on to the next thing in its death-avoiding, stuff-centered life, but the Church still gets to meditate on and receive Life Himself as He comes to us in His Body and Blood.

Please, do not grow weary of the Church’s extended Christmas celebration! Let’s not strip the Christmas things away too soon! The world may see December 25th as the end of its rush-rush, get-more season, but the Church sees the 25th as just the beginning—the beginning of celebrating Life itself, Life-in-the-flesh for us.

But there’s a tension. That line between Church and world does not divide as neatly as we would like. It’s not us versus them. You and I live with feet firmly planted in both places. We are in the world, but not of it. Your birthday makes you a citizen of the world. Holy Baptism makes you a citizen of God’s Church and Kingdom. So that dividing line between Church and world cuts right through each of us, right through our very hearts.

Because of your birthday, you live from birth to death. That specter of death governs much of how you live your life—why you succumb to fear, why you are so harried and stressed, why you are so insistent on not missing out or even asserting your rights. No one wants to think about it, but the end of your birth lurks just around the corner; and it can snatch you at any moment. So you live your whole life trying to ignore death’s control over you and, at the same time, trying to run from it. You and I live as if this life and this world are all that matter.

But because of Baptism, you have a different calling. Your Baptism calls you to live as if God actually matters. It allows you to live from birth to life. Sure, each of us must still undergo that death we fear. But the waters of Baptism promise you that this death has already been dealt with. You have been drowned in the waters of Baptism, and so death no longer has a hold on you. Now Life Himself holds you and even lives within you. Now you need not fear death or anything else.

You see, when our Lord who is Life is given to you—washed over you, spoken into your ears, placed into your mouth—when you have this Life who destroyed death, when you have this Life who promises to be with you and see you safely through this world and into the next, then why be afraid of anyone or anything? Why let anyone or anything else control you? Why live your life in any way that goes against Life Himself? Why let anyone or anything else keep you from receiving this Life regularly?

Why? Because the fear of death and the world’s enticements are often strong and successful. They routinely succeed at pushing Life Himself out of your mind, out of your heart, and out of your daily living. No, Lord of Life Jesus does not loosen His hold on you. And, no, death and the world cannot loosen or pry His hold from you. Rather, you and I hold on more firmly to the world’s “life-to-death” vision, and we end up losing sight of the Lord’s “death-to-life” truth. But the Lord’s “death-to-life” way is what’s real. It’s what we have received.

Our Lord’s “death-to-life” truth—that’s what distinguishes the church from the world. Our Lord’s “death-to-life” truth gives you the courage to live against the world, against your sinful inclinations, and against your fear of death. In this “death-to-life” reality, our Lord plants Himself in you, so that you no longer live for yourself. Now He lives in you and with you and through you.

What does this look like? Look at old Simeon. Simeon lives for only one purpose—to embrace and hold on to Life. But Simeon does not embrace the world’s life, that “life-to-death” vision. Nor does he embrace his own concept of life or someone else’s. Instead, Simeon embraces Life Himself—Life in the flesh.

Now even as Simeon cradles Life in his arms and looks Life in the eye, he does see death—along with persecution, temptation, heartache, turmoil, evil, suffering, and cross. But Simeon will not be scared by these things. He will not let the world and the world’s devil take away the Life he holds. And Simeon will not let the horror he sees tear his heart away from the Life he holds and relies on. Instead, aged Simeon holds Life up and speaks a blessing.

“Behold, this Child—this Life in the flesh—is born to give life by being put to death. This Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel. He will clearly draw the line between Church and world, between life and death. He will make it plain that you cannot live the world’s life and still live after death. And He will call everyone from death to life, but few will hear, few will care to follow. Therefore, this Child will be a sign that will be opposed and spoken against. That opposition will be a sword piercing through your own soul because you embrace Him as I do. But don’t be afraid! Even as the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed, this Child is the Sun of Righteousness who brings healing in His wings.”

So do you see how old Simeon embraces Life? He blesses what others may curse. He blesses the suffering, the cross, and the death of the Christ Child. Simeon knows why our Lord Jesus “came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary.” It was not simply so that our God and Lord may have a taste of what it’s like to be human. It was not so that we may feel better about God, about our relationship with Him, or even about life in general. This Child whom Simeon holds and embraces is Life Himself. He is born to sustain and deliver those who are tempted, those who suffer, those who will die. He is born not to live a life we could never live, but to give us a life we could never have. He is born not to make our suffering go away, but to usher us safely through this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.

Christmas really does mean so much more than “Happy Birthday, Jesus.” Christmas means that Life Himself has come into our flesh to bear our sin and be our Savior. Amen.

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