Go in Peace!
Across the sky the shades of night this New Year’s Eve are fleeting
We deck Thine Altar, Lord, with light, in solemn worship meeting;
And as the year’s last hours go by, we raise to Thee our earnest cry,
Once more Thy love entreating.
Before the cross subdued we bow, to thee our prayers addressing,
Recounting all Thy mercies now, and all our sins confessing.
Beseeching Thee this coming year to keep us in Thy faith and fear
And crown us with Thy blessing.
Then, O great God, in years to come, whatever may betide us,
Right onward through our journey home be Thou at hand to guide us;
Nor leave us till at close of life, safe from all perils, toil, and strife,
Heaven shall enfold and hide us.
[TLH #110, st. 1,2,6]
The Apostle Paul encourages us to "let the peace of God rule" in our hearts. In the variety of ways Paul admonishes us to do this, we find a good source for "new year’s resolutions" even as we see our failures of the past.
Text: Luke 2:25-32 (especially vv. 29-32 which are the words of Simeon)
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel."
In Christ Jesus, our Prince of Peace, dear fellow-redeemed:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
Many of you undoubtedly recognize these words as the first verse from a rather famous Christmas carol. What you may not know is the setting in which these words were first written. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem (that became the carol) on Christmas Day 1864, four months before the end of the Civil War in America. Living in a war-torn country on Christmas Day and witnessing the lack of earthly peace in a war between brothers led to Longfellow’s lament. In less familiar verses he wrote:
Then from each black, accursed mouth,
The cannon thundered in the South
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth good will to men.
It was as if an earthquake rent,
The hearthstones of a continent
And made forlorn the households born
Of peace on earth good will to men.
Then follows the greatest lament of the poem:
And in despair I bowed my head
"There is no peace on earth," I said
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth good will to men."
“Hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will to men…” The poet was both right and wrong when he wrote these words.
If these words mean to say that the war, the hatred, and the evil of this earth mock the content of the Christmas message to the shepherds, then they are absolutely correct. Hatred, evil, and every work of darkness on the earth is from the Devil and opposed to God. "The darkness of this age” and the “spiritual hosts of wickedness” (cf: Ephesians 6:12) do mock the song of God’s saving Word and the proclamation of the Christmas angels.
However, if these poetic words are understood to mean that the hateful reality of this earth puts to shame the "supposed" truth of God’s Word. . .If in more modern slang we might say: "Yeah, right! Peace earth? Good luck! I don’t know what you’re talking about Christmas angels, I don’t see much peace on this earth"…then the words couldn’t be more wrong.
In front of the shepherds the angels spoke of a greater peace than what we might strive to have between people and nations. The "peace" which the angels proclaimed and which Jesus brings, is peace between God and sinners because sin is forgiven. It is a peace which miraculously can flourish in the midst of worldly hate and war.
The past year has done more to demonstrate a lack of earthly peace than any other year in my lifetime, and therefore also in the lifetimes of those younger than I, and perhaps even for some of you who older. For many in our country and across the world tonight, there is fear and trepidation. Fear because if the past 100+ days could be so filled with turmoil, what can be said for an unknown 365 days of pure future?
This evening as we praise the Lord for the past and ponder the future, we do well to think of Martin Luther’s words in one of his Christmas hymns: “What harm can sin and death then do? The true God now abides with you. Let hell and Satan rage and chafe, Christ is your Brother, you are safe!” [TLH 103. st. 4]
This New Year’s evening, Jesus, your brother, says to you: "GO IN PEACE."
GO? Where are we going? We don’t know the future. How can I go in peace when I don’t even know where I’m going??? It doesn’t matter. Wherever the Lord leads you and me in the future, wherever we are called upon to go, and whatever we are called upon to do, Jesus says, "I am with you, go in peace."
Peace for Simeon
Simeon had a special promise from God—he would not die until he had seen the Christ in the flesh, born on earth to save the earth. The excitement and joy tied into this promise was much more than just being able to see Jesus Himself on the earth—as exciting as that would be even today! To understand what a marvelous gift this promise to Simeon was, we need to remember how much the Old Testament believers longed for, anticipated, and prayed for the Savior to come.
For 4,000 years or more God had been promising to send a Savior from sin. The people who lived in all of those years faced the same sorrows and troubles as we do in the same sin-filled world in which we live! The Old Testament children of God had the earnest desire to have God fulfill His promise and send the Savior who would redeem them and rescue them from sin and all of its misery. All who put their faith in the coming Messiah had full and free forgiveness just as we do. Those who died before Jesus was ever born died "in the Lord" and inherited eternal life just as we will. So the faith and the blessing of the Old Testament believers wasn’t any different in substance than ours; but they so wanted to see His one greatest promise fulfilled and witness the accomplishment of that in which they put their trust, namely, the work of redemption.
We know that Simeon was one who was faithfully and eagerly anticipating the coming of the Savior for Luke describes him as a believer strong in the faith: "[He was] just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel (the salvation promised) and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” [v.25]
Put yourself in Simeon’s place—trusting in the Savior for your forgiveness and hope both now and forever; and then have God add His sure promise that YOU, PERSONALLY, would see the Son of God in your lifetime!! It might be comparable if you now were to receive the sure promise of God that Jesus would return in glory for judgment in your lifetime! Think of how a promise like that would change your life! How excited you would be! How impatient you might feel waiting for the joyful day to arrive and wondering each morning… "is today, the day??!"
The day on which Mary, Joseph, and Jesus came to the temple to fulfill God’s law concerning Mary’s purification following childbirth was the day God had appointed for Simeon to meet his Savior. On that day, at the time Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were in the temple, God made sure Simeon was there too.
When Simeon took Jesus in his arms, he declared: "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace.”
These words of Simeon are often used to conclude that he was an old man and was now ready to die. That is not necessarily true. Simeon’s words, “Lord now you are letting your servant depart in peace…" only relate to his death because that was the time frame of God’s promise. The point of God’s promise was not "I’m going to let you live to be an old man so you can see Jesus. And once you’ve seen him you’re going to die." It was simply, "You won’t die until you see the Christ." In other words, "Sometime in your lifetime you will see the fulfillment of My promise." Simeon may have lived many years AFTER he saw Jesus, but regardless of whether his remaining life was short or long, God’s promise was fulfilled. Simeon HAD seen Jesus before He died.
Nor was Simeon’s own emphasis in his words on his departing. He emphasized "IN PEACE."
The PEACE in which Simeon rejoiced to find himself and in which he was "departing" was the peace of the knowledge that God provided salvation for sins. Simeon had that peace before seeing Jesus, but now he saw the fulfillment. He, himself, saw the climax of salvation beginning to be reached. A plan of salvation that God had been preparing throughout the ages. A plan of salvation for which God had directed the whole course of world events to accomplish. A plan of salvation and the Savior who would come from the people of Israel and be their greatest treasure (even though most in Israel would despise him), and not only Israel but all nations.
This Savior whom Simeon held in his arms would bring LIGHT to a world filled with sin’s darkness. This Savior whom Simeon held in His arms would uncover and reveal the forgiveness of sins and salvation to Gentiles—heathen peoples who for centuries had been bowing down to wood and stone, who had no knowledge of the true God, who were lost and wandering helplessly and hopelessly in the world without God, without Christ, and toward eternal destruction. This Savior whom Simeon held in his arms was the fulfillment of what God had promised to Abraham so very long ago: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
Simeon knew and understood that the child he was holding would not createearthly peace. When the adult Jesus was preaching and teaching, many looked for Him to establish that kind of peace, but that was not His purpose. Simeon told Mary, "Behold! This Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against.” (Luke 2:34). Simeon understood that Jesus and the truth He would preach would actually, in many cases, create turmoil and not peace on the earth. Simeon knew what would ultimately happen for again he told Mary, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35). A sword certainly did pierce Mary’s heart as she watched her firstborn son die on the cross. By the Holy Spirit’s working in his heart, Simeon knew and understood all of this, and yet he declared that he had PEACE in this child.
The earthly sorrow of Jesus’ death and the turmoil raised against Him and against His teaching by His enemies was all part of what Jesus would endure to bring Simeon TRUE PEACE. The little child Simeon held would die on the cross to pay the debt of sin for Simeon and all people. His death would wipe out the handwriting of God’s law that stood against him and every other sinner. As Paul wrote to the Colossians, “You, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross”(Colossians 2:13-14).
Simeon knew that Jesus would establish peace between himself and God so he didn’t need to fear God’s anger at the present time nor in the final judgment. Simeon knew that Jesus would accomplish what was necessary to reconcile sinners with God, sin would no longer stand between them making them enemies, but by God’s grace would redeem sinners to make them the beloved children of God. Therein lay Simeon’s peace and therein lies our peace as well.
Peace for Us
We, of course, have not seen Jesus with our eyes nor held Him in our arms. By the working of the Holy Spirit, however, we DO hold Him in our hearts and see Him through the eyes of faith. The Lord is letting us "depart in peace" as well.
Neither you nor I could suppose to know what lies ahead in the year to come. Nevertheless, we are departing this year and going forward in Peace because we have seen and believed God’s salvation. It is a blessing of our calendar year that Christmas comes so close to the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Christmas is a time when we are especially uplifted and spiritually invigorated as we remember and ponder in our hearts the grace of God that sent Jesus as our Savior. A true celebration of Christmas is a most exciting time and every year it gives our souls a running start into what could be a spiritually draining year.
The psalmist wrote, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in him!” (Psalm 34:8). In the Christmas Gospel you have tasted the goodness of the Lord and His Salvation. You have had the joy of salvation and forgiveness wash over you…you are ready to depart this year and go into the next in the PEACE of forgiveness, the joy of salvation, and the promise of life everlasting.
When you go to work or school in the mornings of 2002, as you go about your daily routine of retirement, Go in peace. Go about your daily lives knowing that God fulfills His promises. Go about your lives knowing that Jesus has died and now lives again to forgive your sins so when that daily life includes sin, you are able to repent and depart that that sin in peace because Jesus paid for it when He died.
When you socialize with others, go in peace. The peace in which you live is to be like an aura around you. It defines you. It is at the root of your character and your outlook on life, your world view, and your stepping stone in everything you do. Go in peace. Make use of the peace Jesus gives you in your salvation. "Oh what peace we often forfeit oh, what needless pain we bear…" [TLH 457] because we forget to go in peace and leave the peace which God gives set upon the shelf of our hearts.
When you face decisions next year, when you are sitting around the kitchen table and no matter how many times you turn the situation around and around in your conversation it still doesn’t seem to come out with a happy ending…Go in peace. Take your problem to God in prayer, and go to His Word to be strengthened in your peace.
When your best friend just screamed at you on the playground saying, "I hate you! You’re not my friend anymore!" Go in peace…tell Jesus how much that hurt and ask Him to help both you and your friend repair what is broken. When someone you trusted lets you down and all of sudden seems far less trustworthy…Go in peace to the One is always trustworthy and who will never disappoint.
Wherever you go and whatever you do in 2002. Whomever you meet and "who knows what" goes on around you, nothing will change Your Savior who is the same in 2000, 2001, 2002 and forever. Nothing will change the salvation God has prepared, the light Jesus brings, the forgiveness of sins He won for YOU on the cross. That work is done…it has been finished by the Son of God! How could anything ever change that? It can’t!! Go in peace.
These words of Simeon are familiar from what we know as the "Christmas story" but also because we sing them after each celebration of the Lord’s Supper—as we will tonight. It would be 33 years later before the baby in Simeon’s arms would institute the Lord’s Supper, but the words of Simeon richly apply to you, communicants, as you leave the Lord’s Table.
You come to the worship services as sinners and you leave as sinners, but in the meantime through the Gospel, God reassures you that Jesus died for your sins and your guilt is all taken away. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is giving you personally the very body and blood which He offered on the cross in payment for your sins. Jesus Himself tells you, "Take eat…this is my body, I’m giving it to you so that you will know that I laid my life down for YOUR SINS. Eat this bread and with it receive my body as a guarantee of your forgiveness." And Jesus tells you, "Take drink…this is my blood. This is the blood of the Lamb of God that washes away your guilt. It is not like a spray of water that might leave some of the filmy grime, it is an all cleansing blood that leaves your soul white as snow." To you, Jesus says, "Eat…drink…then go back to your daily lives in peace strengthened to live for Me."
One of my personal favorite Bible passages and one that comes quickly to mind each New Year’s Eve and whenever there is something new in the future is from Exodus. God told Moses and the Children of Israel to leave Mt. Sinai. God promised: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." Moses, responded, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.” (Exodus 33:14-15).
Without God we wouldn’t want to go anywhere and couldn’t go anywhere with confidence; but He promises to be with you always, wherever you go, and in whatever you face. Go in peace. Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt