Holding the Gifts
Text: Luke 2:22-40
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
There are many things that our current cultural celebrations of Christmas get wrong if we were really trying to celebrate the true reason for the season. We always point to the commercialism of the season, the focus on Santa and trees and elves, or the harried pace we keep during this time of year as opposed to slowing down and enjoying the peace that’s come into the world in Jesus Christ. I’ve always thought it odd as well that Christmas has come to be associated with Let it Snow and sleighbells ringing. It’s a beautiful scene and a dream which is why Bing Crosby sang about it, but the chances of having a white Christmas in the United States this year were less than 20%. As you know, our white Christmas was replaced with nearly 50 degree temperatures. This doesn’t even take into account the 10-12% of people who live in the Southern Hemisphere, where our celebration of Christmas falls in the summer months. But it’s not entirely out of the question that the place of Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem, could experience a white Christmas. On average the city receives about 3 days of snowfall each year, and December is one of the months this could happen.
Despite the many ways we tend to focus on the wrong things during this season, there is one thing we tend to get right. Even if we don’t always associate it with the proper celebration of the holiday. The giving and receiving of gifts perhaps originated with St. Nicholas, the 4th Century Bishop of Myra. It’s said that he was a generous man who gave gifts, a tradition that was then imitated by those who would mark the anniversary of his death, December 6th, in a similar way. The story of how St. Nicholas became our modern-day Santa Claus is a bit convoluted, but it’s safe to say that there is a connection. And in all the Christmas movies we’ve watched this year, one of the most common scenes is people sitting around the tree on Christmas morning opening gifts. And one of the most precious images is of the child holding the beloved gift they’ve received and now cherish. Here’s where the 2,000-year-old account and our own contemporary traditions can seamlessly meld together. On that night of our dear Savior’s birth, Mary held the most precious of gifts in her arms, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Given by God, no gift ever given or received, will ever match the gift of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem. Our gifts to one another pale in comparison to this gift, and yet they’re a reminder that even today
WE TOO ARE ABLE TO HOLD THE GIFTS OF GOD.
Which brings us to the connection with our text today from Luke chapter 2. “And it had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” How blessed were Simeon and Anna. They had the privilege of seeing the infant Christ with their own eyes. Simeon, and maybe Anna too, even had the joy of holding Him in their arms. What a joy that would have been. Better than any gift that’s ever been wrapped and placed under a Christmas tree was the gift laid in the manger and then presented in the temple on the 40th day after His birth. We can lament the fact that we weren’t there for either of those events, but that doesn’t mean that we are any less recipients of the greatest gift ever given because God places His redeeming Word into our hearts through our ears, eyes, and arms.
Humanity was created to receive the Word of God into our ears and our hearts. God’s Word was primary as it came from heaven in the creation of the world. “And God said…” But our trust in the gift of God’s Word, or lack thereof, is what so often leads us into sin and separation from God as well. The very first sin was a result of this lack of trust in the Word of God. “Did God really say…” It’s what continues to ail us today as we far too often question the validity of God’s Word and turn against it. When we put greater trust in the words of the world than the Word of God, we’re left with the post-Christmas letdown that happens at this time of the year. It’s easy to ask after the mostly empty celebrations the world has created around the birth of our Savior, “Is that all there is?” Is it really over?” When we fail to hear and heed His Word, what we’re left holding is our weak and fallen nature.
But God didn’t send His Son, the Word, into the world for a fleeting moment. He didn’t do it just so we could behold the beautiful picture of Mary holding Jesus with the angels, shepherds, and wise men gathered all around. We love that picture, but there’s so many more that were made possible because that one came first. The picture of Christ as obedient Son sharing the love of God with everyone. The picture of Him calling the children to Himself. Forgiving sins, feeding, healing, and leading. And most importantly, the pictures of Him hanging on the cross as He bore the weight of the world’s sin. And then rising from the dead to proclaim victory over that sin for you and for me.
It’s not just our ears that hear the Word and our eyes that see the pictures of what our Savior has done for us. All our senses serve to facilitate the work of the Word in Scripture, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. As newborns we feel the work of God in the water of Baptism as that renewing flood pours over us. Even today, we’ll hold in our hands and in our mouths the body and blood of our Savior. But do we spend our lives acknowledging the gift we’ve been given that we’re privileged to behold with our eyes and our ears? That we can hold in our hands, and our mouths, and in our hearts? To often we fail to recognize and appreciate the gift that we’ve been given.
Not Simeon and Anna though. They’re remembered, in part, because they were able to recognize the true identity of the promised One when many in Israel chose to reject Him. Which is how we’ll be remembered on the Last Day. Whether we were able to recognize the true identity of the promised One when so many in the world around us choose to reject Him. As privileged as Simeon and Anna were, they got to hold Jesus for one day. We have Him with us always. May we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, always recognize Jesus in our midst. May our ears and eyes always be open to hearing and seeing Him work in and among us. May our hands be ready and eager to receive Him. And may our mouths be ever praising His glorious name as was the response of Anna, who, “coming up at that very hour…began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” And in these days of the Christmas season and beyond, may we continue to focus on the right celebration of our Savior’s birth. The gift He is to us which we’re privileged to hold in our ears, eyes, hands, and in our hearts. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.