INI + AMEN.
Today, the Seventh Day of Christmas, we’re given to ponder Simeon’s prophecy that deals with who this Child is and what He came to do. If his words bother us because it’s Christmas time, then we’ve misunderstood Christmas entirely. “Behold, this child is appointed for the falling and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against…that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
((2. The Lord works by means of signs.))
Simeon is saying that how people react to Jesus will be a sign of whether they’ve received God or not. Mary received Gabriel’s message that she would have a Son. Elizabeth received Mary as the mother of her Lord. The Shepherds received the Word of the angel, and found the baby, by means of the sign told them, “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Those shepherds received the Baby and believed what was hidden: “A Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” “This Child is a sign,” as Simeon says.
In the Bible a sign often contains what the Lord Himself is doing and giving. They aren’t empty signposts. The Lord doesn’t do meaningless things. But the Lord’s signs are often hidden under their opposite. A sign is only revealed by a Word from the Lord Himself, and revealing requires hearing and receiving the Word—faith! When the Lord deals with us by signs, whose true nature are only revealed by a Word from Him, He reduces us to being only receivers.
Simeon had received a Word from the Lord. He wouldn’t die until he’d seen the Messiah. In old age, He still clung to that Word, and finally the Sign came into the Temple. Simeon rejoiced, and the messages that sign gave were “Now you will die” and “This is the Savior!” Looking into the face of this little Baby Simeon rejoiced because this Baby “was appointed” for his “falling and rising again.”
Do we want another sign beside this Christ who was a Baby, was a Man, was crucified? Do we want something else appointed to disclose what our falling and rising will be? Life going well, perhaps? My health? My money? My strength? My smarts? My family? A good harvest? These things are truly empty signposts that tell us nothing of what God is doing for you. There is only one “sign.” The One Simeon held in His arms. Jesus is the sign, as Simeon prophesies.
((1. Jesus is a sign for falling and rising.))
He prophesied to Mary that her Child was “appointed for the falling and rising again of many in Israel,” and this included her. Simeon told her that “a sword will pierce your own soul also.” And our hearts go out to a woman crumpled and weeping at the foot of her dead Son’s cross. Remember: Signs hide under their opposite. The sign hidden under the arms of the cross and in the arms of Simeon is the Lord’s salvation.
There is great mercy in the lowliness of the sign. You don’t need to lift yourself up to reach it. You don’t have make yourself worthy for God to deal with you. You also can’t sink so low that He can’t come down and reach you. No one so good that they pass beyond the sign and Savior, and no one is so bad that the sign and Savior does not stoop even lower to save.
Yet, He is a sign that is “opposed” or “spoken against.” People are lost by refusing the lowliness. They think it’s below them and that God should deal with them in a way that honors them. They want a God who will serve their purposes, advancing their own personal goals.
For Mary and Simeon, Jesus was a sign not only of their falling but of their rising. She may have been at the foot of the cross, but she would be raised up. Simeon would die, but would rise again. But for many in Israel and many today, Jesus is a sign only of their falling. They rejected Him. He was too lowly a Messiah: beaten, crucified, dying. They mocked Him. “The thoughts of [their] hearts are revealed” by how they receive Jesus. All who move beyond Him on a cross do so because they don’t see Him as useful to their own purposes. They want power or empowerment.
Mary’s Baby had more than enough power, but it was hidden under its opposite. Jesus is victorious not by exercising power but by exercising redeeming love. The King on a donkey has His throne on the cross. Many spoke against it and stumbled and fell. When God deals with us it’s either judgment and salvation, falling and rising, or falling only, judgment only.
When God deals with us, “the thoughts of [our] hearts are revealed.” We can cling to our own thoughts about God and what He must do for us, and we will fall and remain under judgment. If He shows us what we are, and we come clean in repentance, we receive the gifts of salvation that raise us up. Salvation comes under the unlikely sign of the Infant pulling on Simeon’s arm, the sign of a Man dead on a cross, the sign of the bread and wine.
We receive the body and blood of Christ for our forgiveness and are raised up and refreshed. His body and blood come to us through the bread and wine. It’s not an empty thing, a pointer, a reminder. The Lord doesn’t do empty things like that. The sign of the bread and wine really deliver His real body and blood as His own Word reveals, whether you believe it or not, whether you fall and rise, or simply fall. The angels revealed what was hidden in Mary’s baby. Christ’s own Word reveals what’s hidden in the bread and wine—His Body and Blood.
The Lord works by signs. He hides Himself, often in ways that are opposite to what we think or even want. He can be “opposed,” and whoever does that will not fall and rise, but will only fall. He comes lowly, and the salvation He comes to bring is only received in the same lowly way. That’s the sign He gives you, too.
JESUS IS THE SIGN OF YOUR FALLING AND RISING.
Simeon embraced the sign of the Baby that brought him his death and salvation. You embrace the Savior in the sign of the Sacrament. There you “fall” because there your thoughts and ideas about God perish. There you “rise again” because you are joined more closely with Christ, something that no sword through your soul nor anything else can ever destroy.
JESUS IS THE SIGN OF YOUR FALLING AND RISING, and so you rejoice to sing Simeon’s song after the Sacrament, rejoicing in the Savior in whom you have your falling and rising, your departure and salvation.
INI + AMEN.