“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,
according to Thy Word.” — Luke 2:29
As the old year winds down to its final days and the new year is about to dawn, it is appropriate that we Christians take stock of our lives and examine ourselves as to our faith (II Corinthians 13:5a). We should first of all recognize and confess in true penitence our many sins against our God and Lord in thoughts, desires, words and deeds (Proverbs 28:13), beg His promised mercy for Jesus’ sake (Luke 18:13; John 6:37b), and confide in His gracious forgiveness in Christ Jesus for true peace with Him (Romans 5:1). Once again, it is also that time of year when we reflect upon the past twelve months and examine both our many accomplishments, which we have achieved by the grace and with the help of God (I Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 2:20) and our many shortcomings which are the result of the weakness of our sinful flesh (Psalm 73:26; I Peter 1:24). And it is that time when we often make resolutions and set goals, motivated by the Gospel and fruited by our faith, which we hope to accomplish by God’s grace during the new year as the evidence of our faith and as the proof of true repentance.
The children of this world also make resolutions and goals for the upcoming year; but, with their minds focused on earthly things (Philippians 3:19), it is no wonder that almost all of their “New Year’s Resolutions” are quickly abandoned or are accomplished only superficially. St. John writes in his first epistle: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life is not of the Father, but is of the world” (I John 2:15-16). In comparison, how are we, who are “not of the world,” to look forward past this new year (John 15:19) and to anticipate with joy “the end of our faith” (I Peter 1:9), assured to us by the God of our salvation? The text of God’s Word chosen for the theme of this article clearly teaches us what our focus should be and the reason for it.
Being filled with the Holy Ghost, Simeon glorified God at the presentation of the Christchild in the Temple, saying: “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). Like Simeon, filled with the Holy Ghost by means of His precious Word, we too should praise God for having made good on all His promises to us by sending His Son into the world for our redemption, and then proceed into the new year with confidence in our justification, looking forward to our final salvation in heaven!
Upon examination of our text, we know that the Holy Ghost had told Simeon “that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). This was indeed a very special blessing bestowed upon Simeon by the Holy Ghost, for we know that no Messianic believer in the Old Testament, though all had been justified in the sight of God by faith in the promised Savior (Romans 4:4-5; 5:1), was given the special privilege of seeing Christ in the flesh (Matthew 13:17; Hebrews 11:13). Nevertheless, at the time when Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the Temple forty days after His birth to present Him to the Lord and to offer up a sacrifice for the purification of His mother, Mary, the Holy Ghost Himself led Simeon there and identified to him his Redeemer so that he could actually hold the Savior in his arms. It was at this point that Simeon glorified God for fulfilling His promise to him, not only the promise that, before his death, he would see the Lord’s Christ, but also His divine promise of salvation in Christ which He had made throughout the whole Old Testament (John 5:39). We too have “seen [His] salvation, which [He hath] prepared before the face of all people” (Luke 2:30-31). We latter day Christians have the entire revealed knowledge of God at our very fingertips! In the Scriptures we see with our own eyes all the promises of God concerning our salvation and their fulfillment “when the fulness of the time was come” (Galatians 4:4), beginning with God’s first Gospel promise to Adam and Eve after the Fall (Genesis 3:15), continuing all the way through the Old Testament (Acts 10:43; I Peter 1:10, 11), and into the New Testament, as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (II Corinthians 1:20).
Simeon then continues his prayer of gratitude by identifying God’s Salvation and pointing out who He is: “A Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the Glory of Thy people Israel” (Luke 2:32). Jesus Himself testifies that He is that Light, saying: “I am the Light of the world; he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Again Jesus is identified by St. John: “He [John the Baptist] was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of the Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him; and the world knew Him not” (1:8-10). We especially should be thankful for this precious Light, for He was sent, Simeon testifies, “to lighten the Gentiles.” We are “Gentiles” according to the flesh — that is, non-Jews, not descended from Abraham; and, by nature, we were spiritual Gentiles, “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise… But now, in Christ Jesus, [we] who [formerly] were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:11-13). We who have the Scriptures for our very own must continue in them, for “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” is given to us only in the Holy Scriptures (II Corinthians 4:6). “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).
Moreover, Simeon and the rest of the Old Testament Messianic believers did not need to wait for this time in history in order to be forgiven of their sins; for this had already been accomplished by God in eternity (Revelation 13:8; Isaiah 53; Acts 2:23; I Peter 1:20). In time, we recognize the coming of Christ into the world in the flesh, because Christ was sent into the world “when the fulness of the time was come” (Galatians 4:4). In His omniscience, God had already foreseen Christ’s completed vicarious atonement which satisfied His divine justice and therefore, in view of that all-sufficient payment, had forgiven the sins of the whole world, “to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them… For He hath made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:19, 21). Thanks to Christ’s work of redemption, we and the entire world of the “ungodly” (Romans 4:5) stand justified in the eyes of our God; and by faith we have appropriated that justification for ourselves and “have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). What an “unspeakable gift” (II Corinthians 9:15) to us, poor, wretched sinners! Therefore, having confidence in our justification and peace with God as His dear children by faith (Galatians 3:26), we may proceed into this new year, knowing that God will work all things to our benefit. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).
Furthermore, we should be confident that, even if we do not live to see another year, we may cheerfully say with Simeon: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word.” In our New Man of faith, we look forward with joy to our final salvation in heaven, as St. Paul writes: “I [have] a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). Let us not simply look forward to the new year, but past it, “looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Knowing everything that God has done for us and for our salvation, and having full confidence in His unilateral justification and its blessed results, we rejoice with unspeakable joy in our Savior Jesus Christ, “whom, having not seen, [we] love; in whom, though now [we] see Him not, yet believing, [we] rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, receiving the end of [our] faith, even the salvation of [our] souls” (I Peter 1:8, 9).
“O, Lord Christ, our Savior dear
be Thou ever near us.
Grant us now a glad new year.
Amen, Jesus, hear us!”
(TLH 97, 4)
— Daniel P. Mensing, Seminarian
(Submitted through his Pastor)