First Sunday after Christmas
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Isaiah calls the Temple the House of Prayer for all people. But despite Isaiah’s moniker the Temple segregates. It divides men from women, Jews from Gentiles, and priests from laity. The Temple in which Our Lord was presented was not the Temple of the Old Testament, the one built by Solomon according to Divine command. That had been desecrated and destroyed. The Temple of the presentation, where Simeon sings his song, was the one built by wicked Herod.
And yet, still, despite Herod’s vanity and shallow politicking, the desecration of a Roman eagle and other sacrilege, God sanctified that Temple. He made it His place. The blood of animals was spilled there in the place of men’s, as the wages for sins. The aroma was pleasing to God. He chose to dwell there on behalf of His people with His gracious, merciful presence.
And yet, still, that Temple was no more permanent, with its brick and mortar, its beams of Cedar from Lebanon, than the roving canvas Tabernacle of Moses. The Temple in which Our Lord was presented and laid into Simeon’s arms, where as a boy He taught the teachers, where He preached and healed and baffled His vain enemies, and from which He drove out the money-changers, that Temple was destroyed. It no longer exists. It has been gone now for 1,930 years. And even if a Temple like Herod’s is rebuilt, God will not dwell there again. That Temple has served its purpose. Now God has raised up for Himself a Temple which men did not build, but that men did tear down. He rebuilt that Temple on the third day so that now the days no longer count. And men will never tear Him down again. This living, eternal Temple is the only one that counts.
So we do not need the Temples of Solomon and Herod. We have the greater Temple. He is older than those others, older even than Moses’ Tabernacle, older than the sacrifice that clothed Adam and Eve as they were expelled from the garden. He is more durable, too. Those other places were only shadows of Him who has now come. They are fulfilled in Him who died, but who lives. The good they did they did by Him, by the power of His death and resurrection, and He is all that they were and more. He is the place of God’s gracious presence. He is Immanuel, God with us, God as one of us for us. He is the Atonement and appeasement of God’s wrath, the Passover Lamb that takes away not just the sins of those whose doors are marked, but the sins of the whole world. It is His Blood that is sprinkled upon us, distributed from the Chalice, which gives us faith, that makes us clean, that declares us righteous. He stands between us and God’s perfect Law, our shield and protector. He is the seat of mercy, the House of Prayer for all people, who intercedes for His beloved even while teaching them to pray. He is the consolation of Israel, the redemption fo those who believe.
He is greater than all the types, all the symbols and foreshadowings, that went before Him. And He does not segregate. Unlike the man-built Temples, in Him, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female. And in Him there are no laymen. All believers are priests of the order of Melchizedek, His own order. All who confess His Name are members of the royal family, too. They offer up the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and moved by their request He spares the world of His greater wrath. He is not bound to time or space, to real estate, but He bound Himself to the stuff of Mary’s womb that He might bleed and die and rise again to recapture men for Himself. Now His humiliation is ended. As a Man, as Mary’s Son, our Brother, He always and fully uses His Divine rights and attributes. As a Man, God dwells in the hearts of men, making them the temple of His Holy Spirit where His own loving Father is addressed by Grace as Our Father. As a Man, in the Flesh, He is present in bread and wine to join us to Himself in a sacramental union that defies our intellect but satisfies our faith.
So this is where God has called you to be: where He is, where He has said that He would be for you, by Grace. That doesn’t mean that where He promises to be, here in His Word and in His Sacrament, is always a gushing, emotional high or a brain thawing revelation of His Grace. Indeed, He gives those times. And we give thanks for when they come and are glad in them. But ours is the life of faith. Living by faith means believing in the Word and His promises, even when we feel cold and dead inside, when the brain has gone solid and full of self-pity, when our soul seems lost in a foggy, make-belief world, and the only emotion is a lackadaisical melancholy. Even then, we live by faith, we trust God’s Word. In such desperate and painful, uncertain and fearful times, faith boldly says, “So what of that? Yes, I hurt. I am sad. But God’s Word is still true. I’ll believe in that! No matter what I know that God is good, that God is true, that God is here for me as He has said that He would be for Jesus died to set me free. I’ll believe in that!” So goes Grace. So goes Faith.
This is what the birth and death and resurrection of Christ Our Lord was for: your eternal peace. Time is not without an end, and neither is your sorrow or your pain. It will not last. Christ lives. He is coming back. For now, while we wait, He is here for you in the places that He has promised to be: His Word, His Body and Blood, the Holy Absolution. It is none other than that perfect torn-down and built-again Temple which is put into you this morning by way of the mouth, that you yourself would become what He is: the place of His gracious presence, His own beloved in whom He is well pleased, the abode of His Spirit, the Temple not built with hands but created by His Word, a priest in the order of Melchizedek, without genealogy, without merit or right, but with a Father, righteous dwelling in peace! Christ, the Firstborn, is presented here this very day, even as He was in Herod’s Temple so long ago. He is presented for you, always, for you.
There is your peace.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Ft. Wayne, Indiana