The Fall And Rise Of Many

Text:  Luke 2:33-40

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

The atmosphere of Christmas continues for most people well past Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  All the Christmas left overs, all the Christmas treats, and all the Christmas gifts will continue to bless you into this next week.  The decorations will stay up in your houses for a while longer.  Christmas songs will continue to flood your memory and you will hum them around the house.  Indeed, the aura and feeling of Christmas continues on and on and on, that is until we meditate on today’s sad thoughts in our Gospel reading from Luke. 

Today, with reluctance, our happy and warm Christmas thoughts are brought before our Gospel reading, where they collide with sad thoughts.  Otherwise stated, our celebration of the manger and our humming of, “Silent Night,” bump rather harshly and rudely into Simeon’s confession that the baby-Jesus is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel.  Yes, fresh from the manger we meet Simeon’s confession that this Christ-child will be a sign that will be opposed. 

I know how you might be feeling.  Two days ago we heard, “Merry Christmas; unto us a child is born!”  Now, we hear that this child will wreak havoc and stir the pot. 
Considering this, why has the historical church meditated on Simeon’s confession and why has it chosen to do this the Sunday after Christmas, when we haven’t even packed up the decorations and put away the tinsel yet?  Otherwise stated, “Why does the Church ask us to meditate on these sad thoughts while still within the sight of the manger?  Surely, [the historical church] wishes us to celebrate a joyous and happy Christmas.  Yet [the church has assigned] this [Gospel reading to the Sunday immediately after Christmas] to remind us that Christmas is not sheer poetry.”[1]  Dear friends, to rephrase this, “When all the ‘Silent Nights’  and “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehems’ are sung, when we’ve all oohed and aahed over the diapered deity swaddled in the manger, there remains the reality that God did not send His Son into the world to make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.” [2]   But rather, Jesus came down from heaven to redeem a real broken world, not some marshmallow world with ‘snow and mistletoes and presents under the tree,’ but a real world – with all of its ugliness and hurt and pain.  Yes, Jesus came to redeem this world and to do that would require hurt and pain and blood and conflict and all sorts of raw suffering.  This redemption would truly rattle the earth, confuse earthly wisdom, divide mankind, cause some to fall, and some to rise.  

This is exactly what Simeon points out to Mary, Joseph, you, and me in Luke’s Gospel account.  More specifically, as Simeon took the young baby into his arms, we get the sense that he became very serious.  He beheld an appalling sight.  As he held the little baby Jesus in his arms, he confesses that the child would be the rise and fall of many.  Indeed, Jesus and His life would bring about much opposition in Israel.  Instead of being accepted and loved by all as the Savior, Jesus would be met with rejection and suffering.  This was a dark picture and a terrible announcement to which Mary – His mother – had to listen.  For us today, this is not a very pleasant announcement as well; it is not a very Christmasy message for us to hear only 2-3 days after Christmas.[3]  Furthermore, it challenges the modern day assumptions that Jesus is only about love and roses and peace and happiness and tolerance. 

In the midst of our pleasant Christmas feelings, we most definitely hear the jarring message from Simeon that our Lord’s birth marks the beginning of a hard, bitter, life for Jesus.  For Mary, she would hear the jarring message from Simeon too; hearing that a sword would pierce her very own heart.  “She who once placed her two hands on her extended belly, wondering what kind of boy she would have, would eventually stand drenched in tears as she looked up at that boy, grown into a man, whose two hands were extended upon the cross-beams, drenched in blood, to save her and the messy world He so love[d].  Each nail that pierced His hands, each thorn that bit into His brow, the spear that punctured His side – they all were a part of the sword of sorrow that was thrust deep into [Mary’s] heart.”[4]

Because this Child in Simeon’s arms brings a rising and a falling to many, and is a sign that is opposed, and pierces the heart of Mary, we must ask today: does Jesus causes you and me to rise or to fall?  There is no room to wiggle out of this question, for Jesus Christ – the gift of Christmas – caused many to rise and to fall, as stated by Simeon and taught by Scripture.     This Christ is like a rock that caused people to stumble or to be raised; He will either cause you and me to stumble over Him or He will lift you and me up high on a solid foundation. 

For Mary and Simeon, Jesus was a sign for their falling ‘and’ for their rising.   Falling: Simeon knew that His salvation was not in himself; rising: he knew that salvation lie resting in his arms.  “Mary learned that she had a son, yet she did not have Him – He really had her.”[5]  On the other hand, for many others in Israel, Jesus was a sign only for falling. For example: in their response to Jesus, the religious big shots of the day showed what they were. Their hearts were revealed. They did not want to be reduced to point that they were nothing but receivers and they refused Jesus’ invitation to pick them up.  Their pride was insulted by the idea of falling to the status of poor miserable sinners.  Furthermore, Jesus did not meet their specifications.  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…

Dear friends, what say you?  Is this Child who was born that Christmas Eve your falling or your rising?    

To you who spiritually pull yourself up by your own bootstraps; to you who say, “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”; to you who consider yourself a bit less sinful than your neighbor; to you who depend upon your own works and seek your own righteousness: Christ is a stumbling block to you.  Like it or not, you cannot do Christianity and life apart from the Lord, thus making the Lord less than almighty.  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 – you trip upon the rock - and remain under judgment.  Indeed, you cannot stand in the presence of Christ, for Christ calls for faith, not works.  He seeks sick-sinners, not the self-righteous.  He comes to give to beggars, not receive from the self-important empty elite. 

Repent one and all.  Christ is your falling.  Fall upon the rock of Christ.

Let there be no mistake this morning, the person and message of the one in in Simeon’s arms – Jesus -causes our falling.  However, do not be discouraged, you who have fallen with me, Jesus is also our rising. 

Yes, when we are shown what we truly are, when we despair of self, and when we are made to be a poor beggar, this Christ-child is a rock for our rising. 

You see, the Lord pours faith into poor miserable sinners like you and me.  He places the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation into your open hands.  He draws you up out of the black waters of sin and hopelessness, and so saves you from eternal death.  This happens wherever the sign of the Cross is held on high.  The shepherds, Simeon, the Magi, the prophetess Anna, Mary, Joseph, many loyal souls of ages past, martyrs, and you blessed Baptized Saints this day, have been raised upon the rock of Christ.  This day you stand upon the rock of Christ, despairing of your own efforts, and trusting in the Lord’s gifts.  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, water splashed upon you in the name of God, and the bread and wine for you.

Simply stated, we fall in repentance. We are raised by forgiveness.  We must all fall, so that we all can be raised. 

Simeon received the baby-Savior that brought him his death and his salvation – his falling and rising. You too have fallen and been raised: you have been plunged into His death in baptism; you have been raised anew in the new-ness of life in baptism. 

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.

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 is with us; together in our falling and rising, rising never to fall again.

Merry Christmas to you in the name of the one causes your falling and rising, Christ Jesus the Lord: Amen.

[1] Fred H. Lindemann: The Sermon and The Propers: Volume 1, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1958), 99.

[2] Chad L. Bird, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons (Copyright © Chad Bird, 2014), 122.

[3] Fred H. Lindemann: The Sermon and The Propers: Volume 1, 98.

[4] Chad L. Bird, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, 122.

[5] Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2004), 33-34.

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