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“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32 Read Luke 2:22-39

In our worship service, following the Lord’s Supper, we sing the Nunc Dimittis, the words of Simeon at the presentation of our Lord, recorded in Luke 2:29-32. It’s also an option in the Order of Vespers.

Simeon of old was ready to depart this life, but God had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ, the promised Messiah and Savior from sin, the one promised of old who would “redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Psalm 130:8).

Now, having seen with his eyes and having taken Jesus up in his arms, Simeon was ready to depart this life in peace because he had seen the promised Christ Child. He was ready to die and face God’s judgment because he knew that His God and Savior had come and that, for the sake of the holy life this Child would live and for the sake of the innocent sufferings and death this Child would accomplish, atonement for his sins would be made.

He was ready to die at peace with God for, in Christ Jesus, he had a Savior from sin and its eternal punishment! Having believed the promises of God and waited years for God to send his Savior, Simeon was privileged to see the fulfillment of God’s ancient promises with his own eyes and to take up his Savior in his own arms!

What about you? Are you ready to die and stand before God, your Maker? Are you at peace with God, knowing that your sins are paid for and forgiven for Christ’s sake?

For such confidence, we look to the pages of Holy Scripture, for there we, too, see our Savior and the salvation God has provided for us. There we see Christ’s holy life for us under God’s Law, and there we see His bitter sufferings and death for us on the cross.

There we see Jesus, our Savior, the Light of the Gentiles and the Glory of His people Israel. There we learn of God’s pardon and peace upon all who repent of their sinful ways and look in faith to Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross. There we learn that, through faith in Christ, we are not condemned but have eternal life!

The Scriptures tell us “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). The Scriptures tell us that “he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2); and that through faith in Him, “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). The Scriptures tell us that for a believer to depart this life is “to be with Christ; which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). God’s Word assures us that the one who hears Jesus’ word and believes on Him that sent Him, has “everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).

And so, when we look at Christ through the Scriptures and trust in Him, we too can be ready, as Simeon was, to depart this life in peace; for, as the Scriptures say, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2).

And it is most certainly fitting that we sing these words of Simeon after partaking of the Lord’s Supper, for there we partake of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29). As Simeon took up the Christ Child in his own arms and said the words of the Nunc Dimittis, so we take up Christ in the Lord’s Supper and eat and drink of His body and blood given and shed for the remission of our sins.

And, as we depart this service, we depart in peace, knowing that Christ has come and won for us forgiveness and life everlasting. We leave with the assurance that our sins are pardoned and forgiven and that we have peace with God because Christ died for our sins and rose again.

And, when we depart this life, we can say with Simeon, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

God grant us such faith and peace in Christ Jesus our Savior!

Lord Jesus Christ, let our eyes behold You through the pages of Holy Scripture, that we too may trust in You and always be ready to depart this life in peace. Revive the weak in faith and strengthen all of us, that we may stand fast in our Savior until He returns to grant unto us and all believers life everlasting. Amen.

[Scripture is quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’
“15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.
“17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
“20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” Luke 2:8-20

When Jesus the Messiah was born and laid in a manger, an angel announced His birth to shepherds staying in a field nearby and keeping watch over their flock by night. The heavenly messenger brought them good tidings of great joy not just for themselves but for all people; for that very day in Bethlehem, the city of David, a Savior was born, the Messiah, the LORD (Jehovah) Himself in human flesh.

And, as the angel choir said in its hymn of praise, this child was a bringer of peace between God and men and is God’s gift of merciful kindness and goodwill toward sinful mankind.

How could this be? Though all of us have come short, Jesus Christ satisfied the righteous demands of God’s holy law for us, keeping all God’s commandments perfectly and without sin in His thoughts, desires, words, and deeds. And in our stead, He suffered and died on the cross and paid in full the just punishment for the sins of all that God might have mercy upon us and graciously forgive our sins when we look to His Son in faith for pardon and peace!

Having heard this joyful news, the shepherds were not content to go back to their work of guarding the flock; they went to see the things of which the angel had told them. And they found it just as the angel had said. They found Mary and Joseph and, with them, the Christ Child lying in a manger.

Nor did the shepherds keep the good news to themselves; they told everyone — they made known abroad — what the angel had told them concerning this Child born in Bethlehem.

Mary herself treasured the words of the shepherds concerning her Son and pondered them in her heart.

And, when the shepherds returned to their flock, they glorified and praised God for all they had seen and heard, which was just as the angel had told them. They rejoiced in God’s gift of a Savior who would redeem them and win for them a place in God’s eternal kingdom.

Of course, these events in history have great significance for each and every one of us today. God’s own dear Son was born in Bethlehem on that historic day. His birth is good tidings of great joy to us as well, for He is the long-promised Messiah, the LORD God Himself, and He went to the cross for the sins of the world — for the sins of each of us — and He rose again in victory, that each and every one of us might have forgiveness for all our sins and life eternal through faith in Him!

God would have us heed the message of the Christmas Gospel and turn from our sinful ways to Christ Jesus in faith that we might receive the pardon and forgiveness He won for us by coming into this world as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger at Bethlehem and then fulfilling all the demands of God’s commandments for us and, on the cross, making full atonement for our sins and rising again in victory!

Dearest Jesus, we thank you for coming into this world a true man — that babe born in Bethlehem — and going to the cross to redeem us and make us Your own. Move us to take the time to see, to believe, to worship, and to spread abroad the good news of salvation through faith in Your name. Amen.

[Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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O.A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland illustration published by The Standard Publishing Company in 1925.

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:1-7

Far more than a quaint story, these verses from Luke, chapter two, describe a historical event that occurred at a real time in history and in a real place in this world. It was the fulfillment of all those ancient prophecies that promised the Seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent and the one who would redeem His people from their sins (Gen. 3:15; Ps. 130:7-8).

“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).

It happened in the days of the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. Cyrenius was the governor of Syria.

Though Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, the Prophet Micah (approximately 700 years before Christ) foretold the birthplace of Messiah to be in Bethlehem: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).

And God, in His divine providence, moved Caesar Augustus to take a census at just the right time, making it necessary for Joseph and his espoused wife, who lived in Nazareth (some 90 miles to the north), to be in Bethlehem when the days were fulfilled for Mary to bring forth her firstborn son “because he [Joseph] was of the house and lineage of David.” The genealogies of Joseph in Matthew 1 and Mary in Luke 3 show that both were of the “house and lineage of David.”

While we often have pictures in our heads of Jesus being born on that first night after Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, that’s not really what the Scriptures say. Verse 6 of Luke 2 says: “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.” They could have been there a few days, a few weeks or even a month or more — the Bible doesn’t say. But it does say that, while they were there, the day came for her to give birth.

“She brought forth her firstborn son” while there in the crowded city of Bethlehem — there were many descendants of David who also had to register in Bethlehem. It’s there that Jesus was born.

As we read, Mary “brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” Notice that no mention is made of a donkey on which Mary supposedly rode or of a barn or stable in which Jesus supposedly was born (not even of a cave or shelter), just a manger in which Jesus was laid.

The eternal Son of God, the Creator of heaven and earth and all things (cf. John 1:1-5, 14), humbled Himself and was born a man of lowly birth. Instead of being born in a king’s palace and clothed in royal garments, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger (a feeding trough).

But God sent His Son into this world not to be exalted here but to live humbly as a man — not to make full use of His divine power and glory but to live humbly like us — that He might take our place under the Law of God and fulfill it for us and that He might bear upon the cross the just punishment for our sins and the sins of the entire world.

“Christ Jesus … being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:14-17).

And much like the night of Jesus’ birth, Jesus is still relegated to the mangers of this world. The inn is full and there is no room for the Messiah and Savior of the world. Jesus is crowded out — even crowded out of the celebration of His birth!

It is as John wrote: “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:10-11).

Therefore, if we wish to find Jesus, we are not likely to find Him in the biggest and best churches and cathedrals of this world. The place to look for and find Him is where God’s humble means of grace are in use, where the Word of God is preached in its simple truth and purity and people are confronted with their sins and the judgment of God upon them but also comforted with the Gospel of pardon and forgiveness through faith in Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross, where people are joined to Christ and become His covenant people through the waters of Baptism and where believers are comforted in Holy Communion through partaking of the body and blood of the Lamb of God who gave Himself as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Indeed, the day could come when we may need to worship in barns and stables, or outside in the elements, to hear and learn of the true Christ who came into this world to redeem us because there is no room for God’s Christ or for God’s people in the inn. It’s happened before.

What’s the point of this message for you and for me?
Though the world was not awaiting the coming of Christ Jesus with open arms, and though God’s own people (members of the outward and visible church in this world) were too busy to welcome Him, God kept His ancient promises to send the Savior. God’s only-begotten Son took on human flesh and blood and was born a true man of the Virgin Mary so that he might pay the price for our sins and redeem us. He came humbly, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, that He might fulfill God’s plan and go to the cross as our sacrifice for sin.

And where do we find Him?
Where the Word of God is preached in its truth and purity and where the Sacraments are administered in accord with Christ’s institution. There we will find and learn of the Christ who died for our sins and redeemed us. There we will be comforted with the forgiveness of our sins and the eternal salvation He won for us.

O gracious and merciful Father, we thank Thee for the gift of Thy dear Son and His humble birth as a true man that He might redeem us from our sins and grant unto us pardon, peace and life everlasting through faith in His name. By Thy Holy Spirit, open up our hearts and minds to the truth taught us in Thy Word and grant us faith to look to Christ Jesus as our Savior and to receive the eternal blessings He won for us by His innocent sufferings and death on the cross for the sins of the world. In His name, we pray. Amen.

[Scripture is quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham: To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” Luke 1:68-75 (Read v. 67-79)

In the Song of Zacharias, his Benedictus or words of praise to the LORD God of Israel inspired by the Holy Spirit, Zacharias gives the reason for His song of praise to God: “For He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began. …”

We, too, can join together in the Benedictus and praise the LORD God of Israel because He came into this world — He visited His people — in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, who is God Himself in human flesh. In Messiah Jesus, God redeemed His people by taking on human flesh and blood in the virgin Mary, fulfilling all righteousness for us and then bearing on the cross the full and just punishment for the sins of all and rising again from the dead.

Jesus is that horn of salvation raised up for us in the house of God’s servant David (cf. 2 Sam. 22:2-4; Ps. 18:1-3; 80:17). Jesus’ coming is in fulfillment of God’s promises through the prophets since the world began. Jesus is the Seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), the Seed of Abraham who would bring blessing to all the nations of the world (Gen. 22:18), Shiloh, the rest-bringer (Gen. 49:10), the Son of David and the Root of Jesse who would establish an eternal kingdom (2 Sam. 7:16 and Isa. 11), the Child born of the virgin who is God Himself with us (Isa. 7:14 and 9:6-7), the One who would suffer and die to make atonement for the sins of all people and rise again in triumph (Ps. 22, Ps. 130 and Isa. 53), and that Ruler who be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2-5a).

By His death and resurrection, Jesus delivered us from our old evil foe, the devil or Satan, who has held mankind captive since the fall of Genesis 3. And He will deliver us from all our enemies and bring us safely through this life to himself in heaven (2 Tim. 4:18), where we will “serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life” — even forever (Luke 1:74,75)!

We also learn from these inspired words (Luke 1:76-79) the mission of John the Baptist as the forerunner of Messiah Jesus: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

John was to prepare the people for the coming of their Lord and Savior by calling all to repent of their sinful ways and to look in faith to Jesus and His atoning sacrifice as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He was to give his hearers “knowledge of salvation” … “by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us.” John was to point people to Jesus and His cross for pardon and forgiveness.

John was to “give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” He was to shine the light of God’s Word into this dark and sinful world and show lost sinners the only way to have peace with God — through faith in Jesus, God’s Son made man, the only way to be made acceptable to God the Father and to dwell in His presence (cf. John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

And that is what we are still called to do today as we await Christ’s second coming and His judgment upon this world (cf. Luke 24:46-47).

Has the “Dayspring from on high” risen in your hearts? Have you come to know of the salvation God has provided for you when He sent His only-begotten Son into this world to redeem you and give you life? (Cf. 2 Pet. 1:19; 2 Tim 3:15).

O gracious and merciful LORD God, our Creator and Redeemer, grant that we join with Zacharias and Your people of all generations in praising You for the salvation You have provided for us in Your Son, Christ Jesus, our Savior. And may we also share this knowledge of salvation with those around us in this dark and dying world. Amen.

[Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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“And the angel said to her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give to him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary to the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing who shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:30-35 (Read Luke 1:26-56)

Who is Jesus? The announcement of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary leaves no doubt. Jesus is Jehovah God in the flesh! He is the “Son of the Highest” and also the promised Son of David who would rule over God’s people forever and ever.

“How shall this be?” The Holy Spirit caused Mary, a virgin, to conceive; the power of the Highest overshadowed her. It is in this way and for this reason that the Holy Child born to her would be called the Son of God. Jesus is Immanuel [meaning God with us]. He is the LORD [Jehovah or Yahweh] God our Savior, as His name itself tells us.

It is as Isaiah prophesied some seven hundred years before Christ: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14); and, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” (Isa. 9:6-7).

In the Person of Jesus, and by means of the virgin birth, the LORD God Himself took on human flesh and blood and became true man and lived among us that He might fulfill the righteous demands of God’s law in our stead and then bear the full punishment for our sins by going to the cross and suffering and dying as the atoning sacrifice for our sins (cf. John 1:14,29). This Jesus did, and because He is the very Son of God, His innocent sufferings and death were accepted by God the Father as a propitiating sacrifice, making full atonement for the sins of the whole world. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is proof of that fact (cf. Rom. 1:3-4; 4:25).

What a miracle for a virgin to conceive and bear a Son! And what a miracle of grace for God Himself to become a true man and go to the cross to redeem you and me that we might turn from our sinful ways to Jesus and His cross in faith and be pardoned, forgiven, and granted eternal life! “With the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption” (Psalm 130:7).

O gracious Father, we thank You for so loving the world that You sent Your only begotten Son to be born a true man of the Virgin Mary, that He might redeem us from sin and death and grant to us life everlasting through faith in His name. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

[Scripture is quoted from the Revised Webster Version of the Bible.]

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