Our Falling And Rising

Text: Luke 2:33-40

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

The atmosphere of Christmas continues well past Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Indeed, all the Christmas leftovers, all the Christmas treats, and all the Christmas gifts have been with you this whole week to bless you.  In fact, the Christmas decorations and lights have most definitely been up in your houses all week.  Christmas songs will even continue to flood your memory, and you will hum them around the house.  It is true that 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.  I hate to burst our Christmas bubble, but it is true that 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 right now.  Last Sunday we heard, “Merry Christmas; unto us, a child is born!”  Now, we hear that this child will wreak havoc and stir the pot. 

Now, 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]  To rephrase this, when all the Christmas songs have been sung, and when we are done oohing and aahing over the Christ Child 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.  But rather, Jesus came down from heaven to redeem a real broken world  –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 reading from this morning.  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 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 had to listen.  Hearing this was like a sword piercing Mary’s own heart.  Mary, who once looked down to her stomach to see Jesus safely in her womb, would eventually have to look up at Jesus on a cross – crucified.  The pleasant kicks and hiccups from Jesus in the womb would soon turn to jolts of suffering and sighs of agony on a cross, as Jesus died for the sins of the world.    
For us today, this is not a very pleasant announcement; it is not a very Christmasy message for us to hear only a week after Christmas.[2]  Furthermore, it challenges the modern day assumptions that Jesus is only about love and roses and peace and happiness and tolerance.  In other words, 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.  His life would bring the rising and a falling to many – it would bring conflict and healing.  All of this, though, leads us to ask right here and right now, does this Jesus causes you and me to rise or to fall? 

Now, dear friends, there is no room to wiggle out of this question, for Simeon and the Bible show us that Jesus Christ – the gift of Christmas – caused many to fall and stumble and many to rise. Otherwise stated, this Christ is like a rock that caused people to stumble and fall or a rock that lifted people up to stand sure, which means that He will either cause you and me to stumble over Him or be raised high on a solid foundation. 

So, today, we must ask, is this Child who was born that Christmas long ago our falling or our 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 works and seek your 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 your demands and what God must produce for you, you are undone – you trip upon the rock - and remain under judgment while you lay on your face in the dirt of your sin.  Indeed, you cannot stand in the presence of Christ, for Christ calls for faith, not works.  He seeks sick-sinners, not self-righteous religious elites.  He comes to give to beggars, not receive from the self-important spiritual superstars.  If you try to stand in your own strength, Jesus will knock you down and be the reason for your falling. 

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 Simeon’s arms – Jesus -causes our failing.  He causes all of our human plans, all of our human endeavors, all of our human works to be undone.  We are crucified with Christ.  However, do not be discouraged, you who have fallen with me, Jesus is also our rising. 

When we are shown what we truly are, when we despair of self, when we are made to be poor beggars, and when we confess that we are poor miserable sinners, well… we have most certainly fallen, which then changes everything for the Christ-child is no longer a rock for our falling, but 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 efforts, and trusting in the Lord’s gifts.  These gifts of faith, forgiveness, life, and 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, 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. 

Regarding many people in ancient Israel and many people in our modern day and age? Jesus will be a sign only for their falling. The pride of religious big shots is insulted by the idea of falling to the status of poor miserable sinners.  Furthermore, Jesus does not meet their specifications.  From their perspective, they have no use for what they perceive as an unremarkable, weak, beggar-Savior. They want someone useful. Someone who will advance their social hope, their political agenda, and their religious endeavors.

On the other hand, Simeon, Mary, and you receive the baby-Savior that brings you death and salvation – your falling and rising. Regarding the falling of Simeon? Simeon knew that His salvation was not in himself.  Regarding the rising of Simeon? Simeon knew that salvation lies resting in his arms.  And Mary?  “[She] learned that she had a son, yet she did not have Him – He really had her.”[3]  And you my dear friends?  You too have fallen and been raised: you have been plunged into Jesus’ death in baptism, and you have been raised anew in the newness of life in baptism. 

As it goes with Simeon and Mary, it goes with you.  This Christmas Jesus collides with you, which is 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 and causes your falling is also the cause of your rising.

Baptized Saints, you are forgiven and raised anew in Christ.  He is with you in the falling and rising.  And as it goes with Jesus 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. 

Merry Christmas to you in the name of the one who causes your falling and your 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] Fred H. Lindemann: The Sermon and The Propers: Volume 1, 98.

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

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