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“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, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel” (Luke 2:28–32).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Linda, Rick, and Jim, the words of our text were regularly spoken or sung over the years by your mother as she attended Divine Service at St. James, Memorial, Our Saviour’s, and elsewhere. They are the Nunc Dimittis, part of the liturgy of Holy Communion. A few days before the Lord called her home, your mother recited these words, along “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven,” having received Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of her sins and the strengthening and preserving of her body and soul. That individual communion of the Lord’s Supper in her room at Good Samaritan was the last of her many earthly rehearsals for the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb in heaven.
Simeon first spoke these words. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before seeing the promised Savior. Then the Holy Spirit moved him to be in the temple when Mary and Joseph brought in the baby Jesus to present Him to the Lord and led him to recognize this baby is the very promised Savior. And then, the Holy Spirit gave Simeon this confession of faith: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:29-30).
These same words the Holy Spirit has also given us to proclaim. In fact, in this celebration of the resurrection that Christ has given Helen, we will observe how these words of Simeon are the words of every believer in Christ and were, in a special way, the words of Helen throughout her life.
In these words of Simeon, “My eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:30), we know that he recognized, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that this baby Jesus was the promised Savior. Here was the fulfillment of the promise to Adam and Eve, when they fell into sin and the terror of death came upon them, how God would provide the Seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent, who had brought sin and death and bondage into the world. This is that Child, born of the Virgin: Immanuel, God with us. “My eyes have seen Your salvation.”
The conversation with Joseph and Mary revealed that Simeon saw more than a baby in his arms. The Holy Spirit revealed to him what this baby would accomplish as a grown man. “This child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel,” he told them, “and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).
As one who waited for the consolation of Israel, and who undoubtedly knew the Scriptures, Simeon would remember that the Servant of Yahweh would be “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief [just as you today experience sorrow and grief]… wounded for our transgressions; … cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people” (Isaiah 53:3,5,8).
Did the Holy Spirit reveal the scene thirty-three years later beneath the cross, the crowd mocking “He saved others; He cannot save Himself” (Mark 15:31). Mary, beneath the cross, hearing the words of her Son, “Woman, behold your son!.… [Son,] behold your mother” (John 19:26-27)? Did the Holy Spirit bring to Simeon that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18)? His words would lead us to say, “Yes! This Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against” (Luke 2:34). More than a baby, this is the one who would bear the curse of sin, death, and eternal damnation and would grant salvation to all who believe. “My eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:30).
Helen, too, was privileged to see her salvation, though not physically while taking Him up in her arms as Simeon did. She saw Him by faith when He took her up in His arms in the water of Baptism, where He joined her to Himself in His death and resurrection when she received that Blessed Sacrament. Through faith and repentance, Helen lived in her Baptism daily. Her eyes saw the Savior in the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
Helen saw her Savior through the preaching of the Word every Sunday. When the Scriptures were opened, she was shown that the Christ, the Savior, must suffer, die, and rise again to bear her sins and reconcile her to her heavenly Father. She saw her Savior in the breaking of the bread, a term used by the Early Church for the Sacrament of the Altar. When health made it difficult for Helen to come to worship, we brought the Church to her. Fed and nourished by God’s Word, Helen could also say, “My eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:30).
Because Simeon saw this salvation, he said, “Now you are letting your servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:29). That could mean, “I can leave knowing my sins are forgiven, and I can go serve my Lord. I now have a living hope. This Light to lighten the Gentiles removes the darkness of my despair. I’m ready to go out and live.”
Helen could say that, too. She could go about her various vocations as wife, mother, grandmother, church secretary, bookkeeper confident she was serving Christ in love to her neighbor. She could enjoy hobbies and activities like reading, knitting, crocheting, snowmobiling, fishing, and playing cards with friends, thankful that God had blessed her with so many opportunities. She could confidently say, “I’m ready to live. My eyes have seen my Savior.
But when Simeon said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:29), he might have simply been stating, “I am ready to die. I have seen my Savior.” The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not see death until he had seen the promised Savior. We tend to think of Simeon as old because he spoke these words. Not necessarily so. The same words could be spoken if he were younger and had a terminal illness. For that matter, he could have been young and healthy. Death comes to all people, young and old, sick and well. It’s been so since the fall of Adam: “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
Scripture also reminds us that not all people die in peace. Death holds terror for the unbelievers because they will be eternally damned. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Intuitively, all people know that when they die, they will have to stand before their Creator for judgment. If people come before Him in their own righteousness, which the Bible says are as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), then there can be no peace in dying. They can only anticipate the Judge of the whole earth saying, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41).
Simeon and Helen could say, “I am ready to die in peace, not because I have lived a good life, but because ‘my eyes have seen Your salvation’” (Luke 2:30). There is only one way to die in peace, and that is seeing by faith the Savior born at Christmas, who died on Good Friday and was raised on Easter morning to conquer sin, death, and Satan. The Holy Spirit gave them that peace.
Helen was eighty-eight years old. People of that age know that death cannot be far off. She could say in old age, “I don’t have long to live!” But even in her youth, and throughout her years, as one whose eyes of faith saw her Savior, she could say, “Now let your servant depart in peace. I am ready to die because in His Word and Sacrament I have seen my Savior.”
This was very clear when I met with Helen last week that she was ready. She knew that her time to depart was near. But more important, having seen her Savior, Helen knew that at the moment of her death she would hear the words of her Savior, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). In fact, the longing of the apostle Paul may also have been hers when he said, “I desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 3:21).
Helen could die with the confidence that this lowly body—subject to the ravages of disease and time—will be transformed like Christ’s glorious body in the resurrection. Because she saw her crucified and risen Lord, she could confess, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:54). She, with all believers, could go on to taunt, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
If Helen could speak with us as one of those in the great cloud of witnesses who have finished the race, as described in Hebrews 12, she would, from the vantage point of her seat in the stadium of eternal joy and glory, say to you, children, grandchildren, friends, and fellow church members, who are still in the race: “Lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and… run with endurance the race” (Hebrews 12:1). And “fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
Keep your eyes on Jesus, by continuing to hear and learn the Word of God. Come to the Lord’s Table often, so that you may live and die in the words of Simeon, “Lord, now you are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:29-30).
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.