Everything Has Been Done

First Sunday after Christmas

December 31, 2017

Luke 2:33–40

Do you ever find yourself asking What If questions? What if you had chosen differently in an important decision? What if you had been born in a different country? What if your favorite team hadn’t fumbled on the final play in the championship? What if questions usually are asked when the outcome is not what you would have liked or were expecting. If you had known then what you know now you might have made different decisions. But we don’t have that benefit. We do the best we can with the knowledge before us. We can’t know exactly how things will turn out.

It’s all the more amazing that God chose to become a human being. And not just a human being. He didn’t just descend to earth as a grown man. It’s truly amazing that God became flesh by first being in the womb. And that He was born just like you and I are. It’s amazing because God knows far more than we do. When things don’t turn out the way we like it’s usually because we are not fully in control. God knows everything and can do anything.

And yet He chose to be at the mercy of human beings, the very people He created. We would expect God to run the show and we humans to do as directed by Him. But God knows far better than we do the depths of our sin. We have chosen to sin against Him. We chose to live our own way when He shows us His way and the way that is far better for us. We have fallen in our sin. And yet in His amazing way He chose to be at the mercy of people like you and me. Mary was an ordinary woman, Joseph was an ordinary man. They were the ones that would raise Jesus. Of course, we have every reason to believe that they were loving, faithful parents. Even so, every parent has failings and doesn’t do everything in the best way possible.

It’s stunning that that was okay with God. He was content to entrust His Son to the care of ordinary, and sinful, people. So when we talk about salvation being accomplished by God, there is a lot that was accomplished through human beings like you and me. In the Gospel reading today the events that take place are in the temple. Mary and Joseph have come to the temple because they are keeping the Law of the Lord. In the Old Testament God had commanded certain sacrifices to be made after a child was born. Mary and Joseph were faithfully carrying out their obligations in bringing their baby Jesus to the temple.

What if they hadn’t? What if they decided this law of God didn’t apply to them? What would have happened to God’s plan of salvation if the people entrusted to the care of Jesus failed in their responsibilities? All what if questions are ultimately hypothetical and therefore cannot be answered. And the fact is, many of the people in Jesus’ life did fail and did not do the things that they should have done. But we see from the Epistle reading that God chose to save us through coming to us in our circumstance. When the time had fully come God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law.

We give thanks when the people of God live in accordance with God’s will. And Jesus’ parents bringing Him to the temple is an example of this. We are grateful that they not only loved their baby but that they took seriously God’s Law. Jesus was helpless as a little baby but was nevertheless fulfilling God’s Law by being brought to the temple to be dedicated to the Lord as the firstborn son of His mother.

In the temple a man they had never seen before took their little baby in His arms. The way our Gospel reading today begins is that Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was said about Him. What was said about Him was what we will be singing after we receive the body and blood of Christ. “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation. A light to reveal You to the nations and the glory of Your people Israel.” They had been amazed at what shepherds had said about Him and now they were amazed about what this old man had said about Him. The Lord’s salvation was entrusted to their care. The Lord’s salvation was in the flesh, the very baby born of Mary. I would be amazed too.

But now Simeon had a prophecy regarding this little baby. This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel. The birth of Jesus was good news. Holding Jesus in your arms was holding salvation in your arms. But it can’t be escaped that this child, this salvation in the flesh, would be the cause of many to fall and also many to rise. Most of the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John give example after example of people who rejected Christ as well as those who repented of their own unworthiness and went on faith that this human being was the actual Lord of all and Savior of the world. Jesus would not receive a welcome from most people but rather from a few. And ultimately, when it came time for Jesus to carry out what He had said He had come for, all would fall away. Jesus would face crucifixion alone.

This would be especially painful for the mother of our Lord. Simeon said that a sword pierce her own soul also. As a young girl engaged to Joseph she no doubt was looking forward to becoming a mother and raising children with her soon-to-be husband. But she could never dream that she would miraculously conceive by the Holy Spirit the very Son of God. And though she may have had a better grasp than anyone of who her Son was, she could never conceive of the pain of seeing her Son die on the cross. No one truly knew the pain He bore, as His suffering was bearing the weight of guilt, sin, and punishment for the sin and guilt of every person. She loved her Son and would have to witness Him enduring such pain.

Even so, at the moment in the temple, the stark reality of Simeon’s prophecy was balanced by the words of Anna, another person they didn’t know who also was speaking of their little baby. She spoke to those who were waiting for the redemption of Israel. In the same way that Simeon spoke of the Lord’s salvation being the very baby he had held in his arms, so the redemption of Israel Anna spoke of was that very baby Himself.

What Jesus was doing was accomplishing salvation. It’s strange to think that you can accomplish something when you’re the one who’s not doing the work. Luke says that Jesus’ parents completed everything according to God’s Law. They were doing this and Jesus was just being as all babies are, having various things done to them and being taken care of. But Jesus had made this decision to entrust Himself to the will and the action of His Heavenly Father, and this meant that He would accomplish salvation by being at the mercy of sinful human beings. It meant that He would undergo every ordinary thing you and I do and experience many of the unpleasant and difficult things of life. He would live in humility.

But He would accomplish what we could not. He would live joyfully according to the will of His Father in heaven. And having lived this way from infancy everything would be accomplished. When He took upon Himself the sin of the world, everything had been done. When He was the recipient of the wrath of God upon sinners, everything was completed. There was nothing else to be done.

Which means for you and me that everything has been done. The Law of the Lord? Accomplished. Living faithfully according to His will? Already done. Good works? Loving your neighbor? Living without sin? All of it, done, accomplished. There is nothing for you to do because it has already been done. As Jesus lived in the joy of His Father, you and I can too. Jesus entrusted Himself to His will and to the care of others. You and I can too.

Since there is now nothing to be done for salvation, all there is for us is to live in that salvation. Lord, let your servant depart in peace, Your word has been fulfilled. My eyes have seen your salvation. Simeon held Him in his arms, you partake of Him in bread and wine. Anna spoke of Him to others, you share the Gospel with others. God loves you and has given you His Son. You are forgiven. He loves to use people like you, just like Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna. Go in peace. Amen.