Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
In our Gospel reading for this week we go with Jesus, Mary and Joseph to the temple, as Jesus is to be presented to the Lord, the firstborn male born of Mary. While Jesus is in the tmeple, he is taken up by Simeon, who praises God and prays that he may now die in peace.
To our current sensibilities, this seems out of place. Really? A baby is being presented in the temple and you are saying you can now die satisfied? You aren’t supposed to talk about death at any time, especially when a newborn is being brought to be dedicated to God! Why, nowadays, it’s hard to get people to speak about death even at a funeral, as they are often re-titled as a “celebration of life” rather than a “tucking in to await the resurrection of the dead.” What’s going on here in Simeon’s prayer?
Simeon recognizes that it is God’s salvation, prepared for his people and for all the world, in the infant Jesus, that allows us to face death without fear. He realizes that the Lord has given life and salvation through Jesus so he can have absolute confidence forever. Jesus is the one who conquers death, so Simeon will no longer have to worry about it. And he does it not only for Israel, but also for all nations.
This is the tremendous good news of our current season, the Christmas season. It is because of the Christ that all who believe him have life. Without that baby being born we have no hope. Because he is there, a very real baby, truly man and truly God, we have hope for life and salvation forever.
I think it’s instructive that there are two times that this passage of Scripture is typically used, aside from this Sunday. One is after a celebration of communion. Our sins have been forgiven by the true body and blood of Jesus, the very same one who was held in the arms of Simeon. Because of that forgiveness, we can pray with Simeon and say we are ready to die in peace. The other time we use this passage is in a funeral service, when, again, we proclaim, for ourselves and especially also on behalf of the person who has died, that the dismissal is in peace which the Lord has prepared.
There’s no fear left. Jesus has come into the world.
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