This Child Is Set For The Fall And Rising Again Of Many


Note: This sermon is highly indebted to Rev. Donavon Riley and Dr. Norman Nagel.  It has been reformatted, edited, added to, and adapted by Pr. Richard for Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND.

Text: Luke 2:21-40

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

On this first Sunday after Christmas, we hear the remarkable words of Simeon, words that point us forward to what this Christ-child will bring about.  We hear,

“Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which will be spoken against ... that [the] thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”[1]

Did you hear this?

Listen again, “This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel.”

Hmm, this doesn’t sound very Christmasy, does it?  What kind of Christmas gift does this?  What kind of warm holiday gift brings about the falling and rising of people?  Does this not sound a bit too controversial for Christmas?  Are not Christmas gifts meant to keep on giving and not cause falling and rising?  Are not Christmas gifts supposed to bring warm fuzzies rather than provocation?   Is not Christmas meant to bring people together and not to divide?

Believe it or not, this idea of rising and falling is actually very much in line with our Christmas Season.  This is so, because since Christmas Day and all this past week the Church has observed the days of St. Stephen, St. John, and the Feast of the Holy Innocents. All these people were martyrs. That’s right all of these people were put to death for Jesus’ sake. How shocked we are by Simeon’s words of ‘falling and rising’ depends on what we traditionally have thought about Christmas. Otherwise stated, there are a great many deaths at the birth of Jesus, who is “the life of the world.”

Looking more specifically to today’s Gospel reading, Simeon says that Jesus is a sign and in relation to Him people will be drawn out to either receive or reject God—to rise or fall. What this means is that there is most certainly an impasse with the Lord, which will result in two and only two options: rising or falling, receiving or rejecting. 

This Advent and Christmas Season we’ve heard the many Christmas stories:  Luke’s Gospel sing the praise of Mary’s son, the Son of God; Gabriel told Mary she would have a son; Elizabeth greeted Mary as mother of her Lord;  Zechariah blessed God for fulfilling His promises, and for giving him his own son; John the Baptizer. The Baptizer would “go before the face of the Lord to prepare his way.” (Luke 1:76); the angels proclaimed the birth of “a Savior which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11); the shepherds hustled into Bethlehem because they received the angel’s words and embraced the baby in the manger as the Savior. All of this is to show that God deals with us all in this way to reduce us to the point at which we are nothing but receivers—receivers of Christ and His gifts.

What this means is that we are not required to pull ourselves up to a place that makes us worthy of God’s attention.  No climbing, no huffing and puffing, and no polishing necessary. On the other hand, there is also no point so low that we can fall out of his sight and reach.  That’s right, no ascending is necessary to receive and no point is too low to receive.

But what about those who reject, those who fall?  Indeed, people are lost by refusing His invitation to pick them up. Their pride is insulted by the idea of being a receiver. They do not want to be giveable to.  Rather, they insist on ways of being dealt with that improves their self-esteem. They contend, “Help me up, but don’t do everything for me, for I am not a beggar, but I am capable of doing some of it by myself.”  Yes, people want a god who will serve their purposes, a god who will meet their specifications and their criteria. They want a god who is not too close, but not too far away; just close enough that they know He’s there. However, it does not work that way with Jesus.  He can’t be used that way, but inevitably brings about the rising and falling of people. This is what happens when He gets too close, for He indeed gets as close to you and me as our next breath.

For Mary and Simeon, Jesus was a sign for their falling and rising. For many others in Israel, He was a sign only for falling. In their response to Jesus the religious big shots showed what they were. Their hearts were revealed. Jesus did not meet their specifications and the religious elite of the day certainly were not going to be reduced to receivers. From their perspective, they had no use for what they perceived as an unremarkable, weak, Beggar-Savior. They wanted someone useful. Someone who would advance: their social hope, their political agenda, and their religious endeavors… But for these advancement one needs power.

Mary’s baby had power, but the power was hidden in what seemed a contradiction. Jesus wins victories not by coercive power but by redeeming love that is made complete in weakness. His greatest victory was hidden under what seemed a contradiction. The Savior of the Universe rides on a donkey. The King of the world has a cross for a throne. Many in Israel spoke against that sign and fell. Many still do. They don’t pay attention to the sign. God always hides Himself in what appears to us to be a contradiction.

So this leads us to the here and now.  How does God deal with us today?  Dear friends, when God is with us, when God deals with us, it is judgment and salvation. It is falling and rising.

Permit me to explain.

When God deals with you, like it or not, you are shown for what you are. When God deals with you, your hearts, thoughts, words, and deeds are revealed.  The Lord’s cross destroys the illusion that you can do something apart from God thus making God less than almighty.  Furthermore, the Lord’s cross exposes sin by saying, “look how awful all your reckless living is that the Holy Son of God must suffer so for your sins.”  The person and message of Jesus confronts and reveals that we need to be saved from the unholy trinity of “me, myself, and I.”  This is indeed a stumbling block.  Otherwise stated, when the Holy Spirit through the Word draws near to you, the curtains are pulled back, the lights are turned on, and we see that we can do nothing, nor contribute anything towards salvation. 

Dear friends, if you cling to what you imagine must be true, if you cling to your demands and what God must produce for you, you are undone and remain under judgment. But when you are shown what you are and come clean in repentance you receive the gifts that raises you up. These gifts - faith, forgiveness, life, salvation - come to us by way of a sign: an infant in Simeon’s arms, the man dying on the cross, the bread and wine for you. 

Indeed, we fall in repentance. We are raised by forgiveness. We receive Christ’s body and the blood hidden under the unremarkable sign of bread and wine. The sign that holds and gives Christ’s body and his blood just as He says; whether you believe it or not, whether you fall or rise or only fall. God’s messengers declared that Mary’s baby is God hidden in flesh and blood. Christ’s own words declare that He is hidden in the bread and wine.

Simeon received the baby-Savior that brought him his death and his salvation. You too receive the Savior in your hands when you receive the Lord in-with-and-under the bread and the wine, bread and wine that bring you your death and your salvation. As it goes with Simeon, it goes with us.  The thoughts of all hearts and minds are drawn out into the open when Jesus shows up. Jesus collides with you, which is the death to: your self-esteem, your religious endeavors, and your spiritual resume. It is death to your specifying who God must be to you.  Take comfort though, the one that draws near to you is also the cause of your rising. Baptized Saints, you are with Christ, together with Him in the falling and rising. As it goes with Him so it goes with you.

You who have ears, hear your rising,

Salvation is done!  No more huffing and puffing.  No more pulling yourself up by your boot straps.  No more trying to make atonement by your own work.  All is done in Jesus.  In Jesus you have salvation.

As Christ the crucified draws near to you—you who are beaten up from sin and you who are in despair from your own failures of sin—hear your rising,

You are forgiven my dear ragamuffin.  Jesus came for sinners like you.  He is the great physician.  He came to grant you forgiveness, to crucify you and to raise you up as anew!  The old is atoned for, newness of Jesus is here.  Come unto me!

All this we rejoice in as we join with Simeon’s rejoicing.  We rejoice in this Savior in whom we have our falling and rising. Our strength and preservation. Our departure and our salvation. All of him with us, togethered, falling, and rising, rising never to fall again.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
[1] Luke 2:34-35

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