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Our Only Comfort and Joy

 

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5; 42:5-7; Luke 2:22-35; 2:29-32 (text)

December 24, 2014 • Download this sermon (PDF)

"The Mourning Jews in Exile" by Eduard Julius Friedrich Bendemann, 1831 (click image to enlarge)

“The Mourning Jews in Exile” by Eduard Julius Friedrich Bendemann, 1831 (click image to enlarge)

Finally, the promised Seed of the Woman, the Offspring of Abraham who would be the Blessing to All Nations, the Prophet greater than Moses, the Son of David who would be the Everlasting King, has come! He was born of a woman, but conceived by the Holy Spirit. Although “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19), because of God’s love for his people, he came down from heaven and humbled himself, and “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7).

For many centuries, Israel looked forward to a coming Redeemer. Isaiah, writing about 700 years before the first Christmas night, called this Redeemer “the Consolation of Israel.” In our text, Simeon also looked forward to this coming Consolation until the last days of his life. And when the Spirit revealed to him that the Child named Jesus was that promised Consolation, he was ready to be “dismissed” by God from his earthly pilgrimage. With reverence and joy, he burst into a song of praise and thanksgiving for God’s salvation for all peoples through this infant son.

Comfort in Life and in Death

The description of this man Simeon was very short and simple. He was an old man who lived in Jerusalem, “righteous and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” The other main characters in the drama of the birth of Jesus were also described similarly: righteous, just, and having favor with God: Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth.

All of these people were living by faith, believing in God’s promise of the coming Consolation of Israel, even when centuries have passed since they last heard of this prophecy. While waiting for their promised Redeemer, they lived godly and righteous lives, loving God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, walking in the Spirit, and obeying God’s commandments.

You who believe in Christ 2,000 years after his birth: you also walk by faith. You also walk in the Spirit. How can you still believe in his promised Second Coming when 2,000 years have come and gone since he promised that he would return? It is only because you walk in the Spirit, and not in the sinful nature. You’re able to obey God’s commandments because you’re immersed in God’s word and your soul is nourished by the sacraments on the Lord’s Day.

How are you able to persevere through all your afflictions, temptations and even persecutions? It is only through “the father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor 1:3-4). How are you able to wait for the Lord’s answer to your prayers for so long? Waiting for the Lord is a virtue given only by the Spirit to believers. It is only through Christ who strengthens you.

We don’t know how long we have to wait for the appearing of our Consolation. It may be next year, in 10 years, in 100 years. It may or may not be during our lifetime. But while waiting for our blessed hope, let us “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Tit 2:12-13). If you walk by the Spirit, your life will surely produce fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).

Then, like Simeon, at the end of your life, you are able to say to God, “Now let your servant depart in peace.” You have peace with God, because Christ has made you a friend with God. At the end of your life, you are able to say, “I’m ready to meet my Consolation, because I have peace with God.”

Salvation for All Peoples

Simeon waited all his life for the Consolation of Israel. Who is this “Consolation”? Isaiah 40:1-2 tells us, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.” In the Greek translation of the original Hebrew of these verses, the Greek word for “comfort” was parakletos, which is usually translated as “comforter,” “helper” or “advocate”—like a lawyer who helps defend an accused in court.

Jesus told his disciples before he died on the cross that he would send “another Helper… the Holy Spirit” (John 14:16, 26). This is why the Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as the “Paraclete,” from the Greek word. The Spirit will comfort, help, intercede and guide us while we wait for the return of our Consolation.

When Simeon saw the infant Jesus, he said he has seen the salvation that God has prepared from eternity for all peoples. He was echoing the angel’s announcement to Joseph that this Jesus will save his people from sin. And the people of God consists of many from all tribes, languages, peoples and nations of the world.

Luke then classified all the peoples of the world into two groups: Jews and Gentiles. This infant child would one day give salvation to both groups of people: to Gentiles living in a dark world, not belonging to God’s people, without hope in this world, and without God; to Jews, who were once God’s people and God’s glory, but now suffering because they have broken God’s covenant. Luke knew that Simeon’s prophecy about the Comforter also came from Isaiah and the Psalms:

Isaiah 49:6—“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Psalm 98:2-3—“The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations… to the house of Israel.”

Jesus himself spoke of his coming as light to the world living in darkness, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

The Apostle Paul preached the same Comforter to the Gentiles, quoting Isaiah 49:6 in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:47). When he appeared to defend his preaching of Christ before the Gentile King Agrippa, he said Christ sent him to the Gentiles “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins.” Furthermore, Paul declared that Christ came to “proclaim light both to our people [Jews] and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:18, 23).

Conclusion

As we continue to ponder on the coming of Christ in this season of rejoicing, let us also take to heart the words of comfort of Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A. That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.

This is our only comfort: that the Father chose us for salvation in Christ from sin and Satan through the working of the Holy Spirit. What comfort and assurance!

 

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