1st Sunday after Christmas – B LSB #’s 370, 375, 770
Text – Luke 2:35
…so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.
A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
It’s a figurative way of asking someone to rejoin a conversation. It asks a person lost in thought or otherwise distracted to tell the speaker what they’ve been thinking about or to simply redirect their attention back to the conversation they are supposed to be having. It suggests that the speaker is willing to give the person lost in thought a ‘penny’ to hear what they’re thinking.
It’s not an uncommon experience – wondering what other people are thinking – when it comes to things like our job performance at work or what grade the teacher is giving us in school. What do people think of the car we drive, or the phone we have, or how often we mow the lawn around our home?
What thoughts are going through someone’s mind as they look at you? It can be unnerving when you think too long about that. In the worst case scenario it’s not unheard of for teenagers obsessed with social media to end up taking their own life over the things being said about them online. What thoughts are going through your mind right now?
Thousands of years ago, in Jerusalem, a devout & righteous man was speaking to Joseph & Mary about the thoughts of other people. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Simeon prophesied that Jesus will be a sign that many people will speak against, & then Simeon explained, “…so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:35 ESV)
When your thoughts are being revealed to others, without your permission, things can get very uncomfortable very quickly. It’s especially true when those thoughts are manipulative or unkind. In Simeon’s case, those are not the thoughts he’s prophesying about. He’s speaking of a much larger picture, on a much grander scale, as the words of Revelation 12 make clear:
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, & on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant & was crying out in birth pains & the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads & ten horns, & on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven & cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God & to His throne, & the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. (Rev 12:1-6 ESV)
If you were to retell the story how would you summarize what’s happening? It could be said like this. An important woman is giving birth to a son who is to rule the world, but an evil creature wants to destroy the child. The child is rescued & the woman flees to the wilderness where God is protecting her from the evil creature.
In a sense, all of salvation history is condensed into one brief paragraph. Almost no details are included because the view is from high up in heaven. What’s being portrayed is the cosmic war between God & Satan, a war taking place in the heavens & on earth. This warfare is the source & the cause of all the battles between God’s people on earth & the forces of evil.
In the Gospel reading from St. Luke, the Holy Spirit, through the words of Simeon, pinpoints the cosmic warfare going on & centers it in the child that Simeon is holding in his arms. This is the male child that the red dragon was seeking to devour, & the most important question in all warfare, is this: Whose side are you on?
Since the children of God have both saintly & sinful natures, it is extremely complicated for us to determine whose side any other human being is on. Keep in mind, it’s not our primary purpose here on earth to determine whose side anyone else is on, but the words of Simeon do give us a clue:
…“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall & rising of many in Israel, & for a sign that is opposed, …so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35 ESV) Primarily those words are addressed to each one of us individually. In our thoughts, words & deeds, whose side are we on? We should be asking ourselves that question daily & with every choice we make. And we do so for the purpose of seeing our sins, & then, by the power of Jesus’ forgiveness, we repent of those sins & believe that Jesus has paid their price on our behalf.
Yet, Holy Scripture makes clear that not everyone is ultimately repentant, & that is what determines whose side you are on. The problem is, in this world, we live by faith, not by sight. That’s true because we cannot see the heart of man. We cannot tell if another human being’s heart is oriented towards God, or away from Him.
It’s true, their actions often speak louder than words, but of the trio, thought, word & deed, their thoughts are by far the least visible to us. And the great red dragon is referred to by Jesus as the father of lies. So a person whose heart is oriented away from Yahweh may still claim to believe in & follow Jesus. Satan himself is able to ‘appear’ as an angel of light.
But God has not left us completely in the dark. Through Simeon, we have been given a sign, …“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall & rising of many in Israel, & for a sign that is opposed, …so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35 ESV)
The preaching of Jesus caused humans & demons to reveal their thoughts, by their opposition to Christ. In the Garden of Gethsemane, His disciples fell asleep, & Satan tempted Him to walk away from the cross. Judas betrayed Him. Peter denied Him. Eventually, humans & demons were allowed to crucify Him.
The season of Christmas, in spite of its brightly lit & often jovial character, is a good time to spot opposition to Jesus. What adult hasn’t heard a story about a child, on Christmas Eve, blurting out, “Where are my presents?” We laugh, at least in part, because we know from experience that it’s all too true, in our own hearts as well. Our prayers often take the form of a demand of God, “Where is my healing, where is my larger house, where is my dream vacation, where are my presents?” But we seldom say those thoughts out loud, especially when other people are around. That’s why we need the sign that Simeon gave us.
For example: People who promote the theory of evolution are opposing Jesus as the author of the universe. People who promote abortion or euthanasia are opposing Jesus as the author of life. People who promote choosing your own gender are opposing Jesus as the author of themselves.
Preaching & teaching in the name of Jesus will cause humans & demons to reveal their thoughts, by their opposition to Christ. Those who oppose Jesus are revealing that they do not believe in Him as the Savior from their sins. Preaching or teaching what Jesus taught will cause others to rise up against you, & that opposition reveals their thoughts of unbelief.
Knowing that we would face opposition on account of Him, Jesus forewarned us of the world’s hatred for us. He told us in advance, what their thoughts would be:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18-20b ESV)
This talk of opposition can make us uncomfortable. Especially at Christmas, people want happy sermons & happy songs. However, people who exclusively promote happy sermons may be opposing Jesus as the author of division. They are forgetting St. Luke’s quotation of Christ:
“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, & two against – or two in favor & three against.” (12:51-52 NLT)
Jesus is God’s instrument for exposing human resistance to the work of their heavenly
Father. The inner thoughts of people come to the surface when Christ is preached. Many of them manage to keep their evil nature pretty well hidden until then. But through their attitude toward Christ, people reveal what their thoughts are – their thoughts toward God & toward living by faith instead of by sight.
Simeon’s oracle is meant to keep Joseph & Mary from entertaining false hopes about the ministry & the reception of Jesus. He calls Jesus a sign that will be opposed & this is part of God’s plan. The picture is of a banner unfurled, an ensign, that serves as a rallying point for some & for others as the focal point of attack.
The star of the Magi functioned as such. The Wise Men followed it to worship Jesus & Herod followed it to have Jesus killed. What thoughts are going through your mind right now? Those who thoughts toward Jesus are negative doom themselves to eternal death, even though God gave the life of His Son in order to save them.
Neutrality toward Jesus is not an option because there is a war going on & Satan will never surrender. Jesus is the point of decision, precisely because He is the point of salvation. It cannot be another way. Yahweh’s primary will is that all be saved, but He does not impose salvation on anyone. Only sacrificial love, not force, is able to change someone’s heart.
That is the terrible & horrific reality of sin, but that is also why Simeon & Anna were so joyfully proclaiming thanks to God for the unfathomable gift that He gives to us in His Son Jesus Christ. They knew & believed that they were saved by this Child from the terrible & horrific realities of sin.
We too can have this peace by means of the Gospel of Peace preached to us & through the faith it creates in us. As Simeon held Christ in his arms we too can take hold of Jesus in our hands & mouth in Holy Communion. Through His body & blood the Son of God is delivering
you from all your sins, all your failures & all of the shame that hounds you here in this world.
As we leave the Lord’s Supper & as we leave the house of God this morning, along with Simeon we can truly say, “Lord, 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.” (Luke 2:29-31 ESV) Amen.
Come, your hearts & voices raising, Christ the Lord with gladness praising; loudly sing His love amazing, worthy folk of Christiandom. Christ, from heaven to us descending & in love our race befriending; in our need His help extending, saved us from the wily foe. Jacob’s star in all its splendor beams with comfort sweet & tender, forcing Satan to surrender, breaking all the powers of hell. Oh, the joy beyond expressing when by faith we grasp this blessing, & to You we come confessing that Your love has set us free. Amen. LSB 375:1-3, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet