What do we do we do now that Christmas is over? It really isn’t—today is only the Fifth Day of Christmas—but the world has ended its Christmas, and our lives so easily fall into the world’s cycles and trends. Maybe a better question is, what do we do now that December 25th has passed, that the tree’s days are numbered, the presents have been unwrapped and put away or returned, and the time of Advent preparation and anticipation is behind us? At least liturgically, Advent and its looking forward dominated our lives. What’s the point now that the anticipated event has come and gone?
Today we are reminded what sort of people we are. What is the last phrase we confess each Sunday in the Nicene Creed? I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. We are people who look to the future, who live in anticipation. For this, we take a lesson from Simeon and Anna in the Temple. Both of them spent their lives in anticipation. Aged Simeon was promised that he would not see death before he had seen the Christ. Anna was a prophetess who never left the Temple, who lived each moment in anticipation of the promised Messiah. We are to be like them, ever watchful for Christ and His coming. Anticipation characterized their lives, and it should for us as well, our eyes ever focused on the fulfillment of God’s promises.
But we know how easily we lose focus. We get caught up in the stuff of daily life. We aren’t blessed with vocations that keep us in God’s house day and night like Simeon and Anna were. We’re given vocations as moms and dads, caregivers, students, workers of every kind, supervisors, friends, and encouragers. These all come with responsibilities that pull us in many directions. They come with concerns that draw our attention away from the eternal and focus us largely on the temporal—when is payday, what rehearsals do the kids have this week, when is my project due, does that kid really have to be in my class, how can I help my friend through another grief? Our gaze easily turns downward and inward as the demands of our various vocations pull us in different directions.
When that happens, that is precisely when we need to learn from Simeon and Anna to keep our focus, not on ourselves and our manifold distractions, but on the external and sure promises of God. Where does God direct us to look? To the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. By necessity, that points us first to Jesus—to His birth in Bethlehem, His perfect life, His death and resurrection. Through these comes the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. This is the kind of expectation that should shape our lives. Whatever sorrows and distresses, distractions and frustrations that pester us now will be taken away in God’s good timing. Amid all of life’s problems, one truth stabilizes everything and gives me hope: The Word became flesh, was crucified and rose again, and on this basis I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
So, what do we do now that Christmas is winding down, as the season of festivity and lights and parties, brightness in the midst of darkness and the death of nature gives way to the monotony of winter? Nothing different, really. We are encouraged to do what we always do—hear the Word, receive the Sacraments, set our hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, and anticipate the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Through these, the Holy Spirit does what He has always done, what is good for our life here and now. He works repentance, He reassures us of our forgiveness through Christ, and He gives us encouragement and strength to live out our various vocations. He promises that, though we may not be able to live like Simeon and Anna in God’s Temple day and night, He will not leave us or forsake us. As we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, He will redirect our eyes as often as they look away. He will keep that bright hope alive in us even when life is dreary. He will keep us in His peace to sing with Simeon: Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.