Gospel: Luke 2:22-35 (Christmas 1: Series B)

Reading Time: 4 mins

God’s Spirit, the Paraclete, works through the promises spoken by God’s people. Through those promises, He leads people to look for the Lord’s salvation.

In his fifteenth letter to Wormwood, the junior tempter in CS Lewis’s classic The Screwtape Letters, the seasoned demon Screwtape warns his nephew about the danger of letting humans reflect on the concept of time. When they think about time, he cautions, they are inclined to think about eternity. When they think about eternity, their attention turns to the Enemy. And when humans think about Him, Screwtape bemoans, that is a problem for “Our Father Below.” The better move is to focus their attention on neither the past (which can foster gratitude) nor the present (which invites reflection on God’s grace and commands). Instead, good demons keep their human patients fixated on the never-realized future. “In making them think about [the future],” he explains, “we make them think of unrealities.”

The first Sunday after Christmas this year falls on New Year’s Eve. You might think Screwtape’s instructions would be especially necessary on this day. But Wormwood’s colleagues have done a surprisingly good job in our day. Rather than thinking about eternal matters on this hinge between two years, our collective attention is directed most often to such “unrealities” as New Year’s resolutions, plans for short-term self-improvement, and bucket lists.

Because New Year’s Eve falls on a Sunday this year, however, more people than usual will give you their attention. Which means you have the opportunity to direct their thinking away from future unrealities and, instead, consider such things as eternity, God’s gracious intervention in time, and the promise of salvation that is for all who long for the Lord’s appearing.

One way to do this would be to direct attention to Simeon. Here is a man who had the long game in mind. He was thinking about God’s work of salvation (“the Lord’s Christ” in verse 26) and its eternal implications both for Israel and the Gentiles. This makes him an obvious point of reference for your sermon on the last day of 2023.

So, let us think about Simeon. His cameo in this text is all we know about him. We usually imagine he was an old man when he took the child into his arms. But there is good reason to question this assumption. His supposed elderly age comes from an eastern tradition that identifies him as was one of the seventy translators of the Septuagint. This would have made him approximately 360 years old. If that were the case, no wonder he would have been ready to “depart in peace”! But, in fact, Luke says nothing about Simeon’s age. Which means he was almost certainly not that old. He may have even been a young man. This would make an interesting thought experiment. What if Simeon was in his twenties or thirties when he made this confession? It is one thing for an elderly person to announce he is ready to depart. But imagine what it would sound like coming from one who still has the prime of his life ahead of him. Such a confession could only come from someone whose perspective of human time and existence did not stop at death.

Such a confession could only come from someone whose perspective of human time and existence did not stop at death.

I wonder how many of our young (and old) Christians today recognize that the salvation of God in Christ is infinitely more important than any temporal goal, self-improvement plan, or career achievement. Jesus’ story about the rich man in Luke 12:16-21 comes to mind. That fool was firmly caught in Screwtape’s clutches. If there are people like him in your congregation, the most helpful gift you could give them is Simeon’s perspective on the impermanence of anything that does not last into eternity.

Simeon had not figured these things out by himself, of course. Jesus was just a baby, after all, and there is no indication He glowed. Even as a child, Jesus was the Savior of His people and all nations. But at this point, He had done nothing to deliver anyone from anything. The Spirit had been at work in Simeon’s heart, however. He had been:

“...waiting for the consolation (παράκλησιν; parakleesin) of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the Temple” (Luke 2:25-27).

The Spirit of God was behind Simeon’s confession of faith. Is that not how it always works? God’s Spirit, the Paraclete (παράκλητος; parakleetos), works through the promises spoken by God’s people. Through those promises, He leads people to look for the Lord’s salvation.

The Spirit opened Simeon’s heart as He opens the hearts and minds of all who look to Jesus with faith. This does not necessarily mean you should highlight (or even mention) the Spirit in this sermon. You might, of course, but you could also recognize your proclamation as the means by which the Spirit consoles your members who have spent their lives building bigger barns and chasing unrealized New Year’s resolutions. As you expose the vanity of such pursuits, and as you caution them against self-imposed slavery to self-improvement in the New Year, and as you call them to repent of their devotion to whatever “unrealities” they may be chasing, they will need the consolation which comes only from the comforting Spirit of Jesus. Your job is to proclaim to them the salvation God has “prepared in the presence of all peoples” (Luke 2:33) for their forgiveness, life, and salvation. In doing so, you will give them Simeon’s faithful view of time and eternity.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out out 1517’s resources on Luke 2:22-40.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 2:22-40

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 2:22-40.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 2:22-40.