Seeing with the Ears of Faith
Sermon for First Sunday After Christmas, series C, Gospel, Luke: 2:22-40
When I was writing the sermon for today I gave it the title, “Seeing with the Ears of Faith.” I didn’t look at the artwork for the worship folder until after we had everything printed up. If I had seen the picture earlier I might have titled the sermon, “You Gotta Know When to Hold Him.” And it would fit in with the sermon message today, which deals with how Simeon knew to go over to Mary and Joseph and hold Jesus up as the Lord’s Christ. What an amazing story we have today! What amazing events are described in today’s Gospel reading—the story of two people recognizing the baby Jesus in the temple, the first by Simeon and then by the prophetess Anna. Mary and Joseph had made the trip from Bethlehem to the temple in Jerusalem, six miles away, for Mary’s purification and Jesus’ presentation as the firstborn, fulfilling the ceremonial law. And there they were, probably standing in the women’s court of the temple when they are approached by an old man they don’t know, who just comes right up and takes Jesus from them into his arms, blesses God and starts singing, “Now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word. For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel ” (Luke 2:29-32 ESV). No wonder it says that Mary and Joseph marveled. But this was just the latest of amazing things that had happened to them and their son. In the last year, one totally unexpected thing after another had been happening to them. First, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would conceive a son by the Holy Spirit, then Joseph has a dream with an angel telling not to fear taking Mary as his wife, for the child she carried was by the Holy Spirit, then the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem with the shepherds’ visit and their telling of seeing and hearing angels in the field. Now this, an old man comes up and recognizes their son as the Messiah. One amazing thing after another!
Have you ever thought about how Simeon knew that this particular baby was the Christ, the Messiah of God? He didn’t have angels telling him details like “Look for a baby in swaddling cloths in a manger.” as the shepherds did. He didn’t have a star to follow. All we know is that scripture says that the Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not taste death, that is, he would not die, until he had seen the Lord’s Christ, the Lord’s anointed, the Messiah. Simeon must have seen dozens, if not hundreds, of families with babies come into the temple for various reasons over the years. Did he perhaps overhear Mary and Joseph say that they came from Bethlehem? There had been talk circulating recently about shepherds who had seen angels about a month ago, and those angels directed them to a baby who was born in Bethlehem, only six miles away? Did Simeon notice that Mary and Joseph had not paid the redemption price of five shekels for Jesus as her firstborn, the price paid to release the firstborn from consecration to the Lord? If Mary wasn’t paying a redemption price for her son, as some Bible commentators like I. Howard Marshall and Gerhard Kittel speculate, what was she doing with Him in the temple? Was she offering Him up, consecrating Him for service to the Lord, the way Hannah had done for her baby, Samuel?
Maybe it was a combination of all these signs or none that led Simeon to Mary and Joseph and Jesus. Scripture doesn’t tell us. It does tell us that the Holy Spirit guided Simeon to Jesus. The Holy Spirit told Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah with his own eyes, so Simeon trusted the Holy Spirit to point out Christ to him. For all we know, Simeon didn’t even know that he would see the Messiah as a baby. He didn’t let any preconceived notions of what the Messiah would look like get in his way or he might have overlooked the poor carpenter’s family with their newborn boy standing in front of him.
For preconceived notions can get in the way of our finding things. I remember more than one time in my previous career as an accompanist looking for music in my office in a panic right before a concert. I would be looking frantically, say, for a green book of Beethoven violin sonatas, pushing books around on my desk, digging in file cabinets, squinting at the books on the shelves. And many times, after much panicked searching I would eventually find it, right in front of me, in plain sight all the time. Only guess what? The book wasn’t green after all. It was blue. I’d blinded myself with a preconceived notion of the book’s color that I couldn’t see what was right in front of me.
So with many people in Jesus’ time. Most people were looking for a Messiah of obvious majesty and power, even though the prophet Isaiah had described the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, as a man poor and ordinary in outward appearance, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him,” (Isaiah 53:2b ESV) The people of Israel were looking for a second David or Solomon, restoring Israel to its former glory. They were looking for a worldly king, not the son of a carpenter and his young wife..
So, like me with my invisible blue book, many of the people whom Jesus encountered in His ministry could not see the Messiah standing right in front of them. Only the Holy Spirit could reveal God’s Anointed, His Christ, to them, blinded as they were by a desire for a powerful, worldly Messiah that fit their preconceptions. Only the Holy Spirit could reveal Christ to them, as He had revealed Christ to Simeon that morning in the Temple, to the devout man who had simply trusted in the Word of the Prophets like Isaiah, and the Holy Spirit’s promise to open his dim, old eyes so that he could see the Light of the World before he died. Following closely this scene with Simeon, the Holy Spirit also opened the prophetess Anna’s eyes so that she, too, could see her Savior.
Today the Holy Spirit continues His special work of revealing Jesus to us, opening our eyes through hearing the preached, taught, and read Word of God, and in the receiving the Sacraments, where we hear Christ’s words spoken to us and where we receive His holy gifts.. We, who were born blind and deaf—actually dead in spirit—Jesus called out of our darkened tombs like Lazarus with these words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We hear the words, and with the application of water connected to the Word of God, the scales of spiritual blindness fall from our eyes.
We hear the words of institution, “This is my body… This cup is the new testament in my blood…” and the Holy Spirit guides our wandering, searching eyes to find Immanuel—Christ with us—right in front of us, in the ordinary looking bread and cup of wine held up before us and blessed.
We hear the words of absolution, “I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” and the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see the Lord’s Christ speaking to us, standing in front up us in his “stand-in”, the Pastor.
With our eyes opened through receiving the Word of God with ears of faith, nothing will ever look the same again. Like a person who gets glasses or contacts for the first time, or has had Lasik or cataract surgery we see things we hadn’t noticed before. We see people in the grocery and department stores no longer as speed bumps and obstacles in the aisles and hold-ups in the checkout lines, but as fellow souls for whom Christ died. We see that people in the cars that clog traffic are not our adversaries, but people like us, struggling, working, hurting. We see that there are people in our community that have fallen through the cracks of society, like the nomadic shepherds had in Jesus’ time. We see that we don’t need as much as we thought we did, so we are freer to share our material blessings in our tithes and offerings. We see the when an opportunity arises to share God’s comforting word of peace through Jesus Christ with those we come in contact with.. With the new eyes and ears of the new man and woman and child that is raised each day in Baptism we see all things new, all things more clearly.
Dr. Dale Meyer, president of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, and former Lutheran Hour radio speaker, gave a talk after chapel one morning about the sermon he had just preached. At the talk he asked all of us a question, “What’s the most visual medium?” We thought about it for a while until someone who had heard Dr. Meyer ask this before said, “Radio.” “That’s right”, he said. When he was growing up, before television really caught on, radio dramas were very popular. In these dramas you were forced to use your mind’s eye to paint a scene described by the words, sound effects and music. Perhaps this helped Simeon know who to look for. Simeon had the words of the prophets and Psalms to help him imagine what the Savior would look like, but in the end, it took the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to open his eyes of faith so that he could see his Savior. That morning, even though Jesus didn’t speak a word to him for he was just a baby, Simeon still sang that he could now depart in peace. For he knew that this baby was the Redeemer foretold in Holy Scripture. The promised Messiah had come to him that morning. That meant that he God’s promises had been fulfilled, that the Savior bringing forgiveness of sins and life eternal was here. Through hearing the Word of God in faith, Simeon saw that his sins were forgiven and that he had been granted eternal life in this little baby. He could die in peace anytime now.
And we have so much more than Simeon did of the Word of God. We not only have the words of the prophets of the Old Testament, as he had, but the very words of the God-man Jesus Christ Himself, and the words of the Spirit inspired apostles and evangelists. Even more than Simeon we can now depart in the peace of God, ready to die at any time, confident in faith that our sins have been forgiven and that we have been granted eternal life through the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord. We have not seen the Lord with our own eyes yet like Simeon, but we have seen Him with ears of faith, enabling us to live in peace with our neighbors and to share with them every good gift that we have received from the hands of our heavenly Father, most of all the gift of hearing the Word of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ Jesus. As Saint Paul says in Romans, chapter 10, “ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) So much more now we can see with the ears of faith. Amen.
Preached at Calvary Lutheran Church, Wellington, Kansas, December 21, 2014