First Sunday After Christmas Day: Feast of the Holy Family
“Purity of Mission”
I want to look at this particular verse in Luke 2:25: “There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel.”
Perhaps this verse doesn’t mean very much to us, because the word ‘consolation’ just doesn’t mean anything special to us anymore. Usually consolation is when you don’t get what you really want, or something didn’t turn out the way you plan, and someone says, “Well, if it’s any consolation, your enemy didn’t do well either.” Or it’s the prize they give to the one who doesn’t win – the consolation prize. Who wants that? The consolation prize is what they give to the one who finishes third in a three-man race. It’s a friendly way of saying, “Dude – you lost!” It’s like in High School Musical when Ryan Evans says to all the tryouts who didn’t make it into the Spring Musicale, “Sorry, you’re not good enough for us – but buy tickets!”
This is not what Simeon was looking for. The Greek word translated ‘consolation’ is ‘paraklesis.’ It is used around 10-15 times in the New Testament, but it is usually translated differently. Rather than consolation, the word more often used is ‘encouragement’, as in:
Acts 4: 36: “… also called Barnabas, which translated, means ‘Son of Encouragement.’” It is son of paraklesis in Greek. Barnabas encouraged people to do greater things for the Lord.
Romans 15: 5: “Now may the God Who gives perseverance and encouragement …” God gives encouragement to us who are working for Him and leading lives for Him.
Philippians 2: 1: “If there is therefore any encouragement in Christ …” It is a stirring up, a building up of our courage in Christ as Christ makes us bold and courageous.
Hebrews 6: 18: “… we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us.” We who are looking for hope in God, we need encouragement. We need to be stirred up in our courage, and in Christ, we have that strong encouragement.
So it seems that the consolation Simeon was waiting for was more of what we would call encouragement. Next question: What did he see that was so encouraging? When he saw the baby Jesus as He was put into the arms of His mother, Simeon from his own lips said in Luke 2:30, “My eyes have seen Your salvation.”
Simeon saw in the baby Jesus Israel’s salvation, and this was the encouragement he, and they, were awaiting. So what does this mean so far? Is it the salvation from sin the angel promised Joseph in Matthew 1: 21 when the angel was announcing to Joseph that his wife hadn’t done anything but she is going to have a baby to be called Jesus, which means salvation, and this baby is going to save His people from their sin? Yes, and more. Moses, the psalmist, and Isaiah had all proclaimed (Exodus 15: 1; Psalm 118: 14, Isaiah 12: 2) “The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation.” This is a progression: Strength from God to stand fast to resist temptation; a song from God which is your purpose and your joy, then salvation, which includes forgiveness of sin. What is the reason you wake up in the morning? It is another day and you jump out of bed because there is a reason for you to get up. You know that God has a purpose for you and there is something lying ahead of you that is good. There is something for you to get involved in and this is your song and your purpose and your joy!
Often we hear at this time of year about the forgiveness of sin found in Jesus, but the consolation, the encouragement, awaited for centuries by Israel involved much more: strength and song, purpose.
The first reading for today continues this theme. Isaiah 61: 10 says: “He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness.” Compare what Jesus wore in the manger in Bethlehem, and what Jesus has given us to wear. Jesus came in swaddling clothes, so we could get these glorious garments. Swaddling clothes were strips of cloth, like a mummy, in a way Jesus was foreshadowing what He would be dressed like 33 years later in the tomb – wrapped in those burial clothes. While Jesus came in swaddling clothes, He gave us garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness. When the clergy wear their robes in the altar, they remind themselves, “Lord, you have given me a robe of righteousness. You clothe me in garments of salvation.” We may not wear the actual vestments but God has also given us the same robe of righteousness and garment of salvation. This is just a representation of what God clothed us in.
Notice the pairing of salvation and righteousness; garment of salvation and robe of righteousness. This is repeated in Isaiah 62: 1: “Her (Israel) righteousness goes forth like brightness, and her salvation like a torch that is burning.” In 61:11, Isaiah pens, “The Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all nations.” Why praise instead of salvation? Remember the verses quoted earlier, “the Lord is my strength and song.” Horn, a symbol for strength, is also a metaphor for praise, as Psalm 148:14 tells us, “And He has lifted up a horn for His people.” Likewise, praise is often expressed in song. So Isaiah is using the word ‘praise’ as a metaphor for salvation. Thus, we see Isaiah’s message: that righteousness and salvation come together to bring us something.
Salvation is a fruit of God’s strength and song in us. What about righteousness? It’s more than just “Right standing with God” as many Christians would define. In addition, it involves being in right standing with His plans and purposes for mankind and all His Kingdom. So what does this say to us? Our salvation is not just a clean slate with God, which we need a lot because we keep getting it dirty – in other words, we need forgiveness because we often get out of that righteous standing with God’s plans and purposes. We have a salvation marked by righteousness. We can’t separate salvation and righteousness. Salvation is also the strength to overcome. We have strength to stay true to God’s ordinances, and a song in our heart which is knowing and understanding Who God is, who we are, and who we are not. No longer are we slaves to sin. No longer are we losers to temptation and weakness, good only for a consolation prize. Now, we are winners!
There are three powerful principles in our readings today. First, there is the fullness of salvation and the fullness of righteousness– the true meaning of salvation and righteousness, and how they work together. The second principle is that walking in this salvation and righteousness, we are winners. In Isaiah 61: 10 the prophet showed us that the bridegroom is given a garland and the bride jewels. The garland and jewels bestowed upon God’s faithful are signs of victory. They are the crown of beauty, the royal diadem in God’s hand. Thus, when he says “You will be called by a new name,” I can tell you what that new name is: Winner! Overcomer! This is the name for those who know the potent combination of righteousness and salvation – not two names for the same thing, but two different things which, working together, bring us the garland, the crown, the royal diadem.
Galatians 7 tells us that we are no longer slaves or just ordinary people, but now, we are heirs of Christ. We are children of the King, which is why we get to wear that royal crown. We couldn’t wear the royal diadem unless we are related by family to the King; and because of the work of Jesus Christ, we have been adopted children of God. We are not just slaves or servants, but children, royal heirs of God. As children of the King, we get to wear the royal diadem and this is not just the crown of the king, but the crown of the victors. In Isaiah 62:2 says, “You will be called by a new name,” and the new name is “Winner” or “Overcomer.” We are not just someone who needs consolation because we lost, but we are now winners! This is why we get the crown. This is the name for those who know the potent combination of righteousness and salvation, which working together bring us the garland, the jewels, the crown and the royal diadem.
We don’t need to buy a ticket anymore, because we’re in the show – that’s a part of our righteousness, because God’s purpose for us is to live out our roles in His Kingdom. And in that Kingdom we’re wearing the royal diadem, because, as Galatians 4: 7 tells us today, we are heirs with God. How in the show can we get? No need for consolation prizes, Ryan! That’s real encouragement, real consolation!
This is all important for one more reason or principle which both Isaiah and Simeon bring out: let our light shine. All this, as St. Paul said to Festus and Agrippa (Acts 26: 26), is not to be done in a corner. Righteousness and salvation are to spring up before all nations (Isaiah 61: 11), shine and soring forth like the brightness of a torch (62: 1), and all nations and kings will see it (62: 2). In the immortal words of Simeon (Luke 2: 32), they are to be a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel.
So, as all are on the big stage, with all eyes watching, it is not the time to talk about the power and strength of God, and how He is a song to us, and our salvation; and yet not having the righteousness to be able to walk in harmony with God’s desire to be humble, honest, and selfless. The light is on us. The world is watching. God doesn’t get glory when we say, “Salvation, strength and song,” but we don’t live out our righteousness. Walk in the principles of God. With all eyes watching, we need to walk in newness of life! If we want to live our faith at this level, our salvation must be accompanied by the righteousness that goes beyond forgiveness of sin, and moves in power over sin. We have to, above all things, walk in love. If not, all the kings and nations and peoples who see will know and say, “Pay no attention. They just blow hot, then, blow cold with the same breath. Nice dream, but it’s not coming.”
That righteousness that reveals true salvation is here, now among us! It is available to everyone who wants to be serious about their relationship with God.
Simeon saw that in Jesus, and he knew it was the consolation, and the encouragement he had waited for his whole life. Even though Jesus may not necessarily have something on the top of His head, He was wearing salvation. He was salvation – the crown of a winner. This is consolation; paraklesis, and this is what Simeon saw.
Are you, too, looking for consolation, real consolation, that is more than just another way of saying, “Better luck next time”? Are you looking for a salvation that is based on strength and song, and not excuses? It’s available! Simeon saw it, and rejoiced. How about you? Are you looking for salvation, righteousness? It brings God no glory for a church that talks a lot of salvation but doesn’t work with righteousness. We have true consolation paraklesis, encouragement. We don’t have to be afraid today, to be weak, but we can be courageous, with a song and purpose our hearts because our eyes have seen the salvation of God for the glory of His people, Israel.