I do not know if you realize this, but among the clergy there exist a certain amount of skepticism when it comes to a wedding. Not that pastor’s do not value and cherish holy matrimony, they certainly do. It is more that in a wedding there is a lot of extraneous fluff which dominates the moments. Actual vows, the reading of the Word of God, the ritual of the ceremony is often buried under flowers, dresses, beautiful settings, and the anticipation of an open bar. But despite all the distractions, there is something to love and appreciate about a wedding. For in a way, at its core a wedding is a choosing; one person choosing to be bound to this one other person, and that one person choosing, willingly choosing to be with the other. To be chosen by another, especially if the choosing is to be the object of love, care, compassion, and provision, is perhaps one of the greatest blessings of life. So, while there may be plenty at a wedding to be skeptical about, there is something absolutely wonderful about being the object of an other’s choosing.
In a way, this plays out in churches around the country. Part of what makes the ancient liturgy of the Church something worth holding on to is how it keeps us grounded to what is the core of our fellowship. We can get carried away with all sorts of other distractions that can transform a worship experience into either entertainment on the one hand or a motivational “Ted Talk” on the other. But the old rituals, the old traditions which form the movement of our services recall us to what stands at the core of our worship. It is not about our offering our doing our creativity. Those things are there, but at its core it is about the work of God, about His doings, His gifts. In fact, it is about His consistent choosing of you to be the object of His love, care, compassion, and provision. One of the reasons I often argue for keeping the old traditions of the Church is that we need to do if for the children, for the forming of their faith, for the strengthening of their confession in this central gift. For here, words are placed in their mouths and ears which they will spend a lifetime learning. They are words that will guide them and bring them over and again to the gifts of our Lord. These words speak about the Chosen One and those whom He chooses.
When you grow up with the old pieces of the liturgy rolling around in your head, you find yourself singing truths you never really thought through on your own. For instance, I do not recall learning in any formal way the Song of Simeon. You probably know it as well, “Lord, now You let Your servant go in peace; Your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which You have prepared in the sight of every people: A light to reveal You to the nations and the glory of Your people Israel.” These are the words spoken by Simeon as he holds the Christ child in his arms. He is confessing this child is the salvation promised by God, Jesus is a light of revelation to the nations and the glory of the people of God. We sing it in our liturgy every Sunday, but its roots are far deeper than even Simeon, for Simeon’s words take us back to the prophecy of Isaiah. In chapter 49 Yahweh says to his faithful servant, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” This is the Child born of Mary, the One Simeon blesses, and the One we continue to sing about.
Notice how Isaiah describes this servant. He says, “He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand, He hid me; He made me a polished arrow; in His quiver He hid me away. And He said to me, ‘You are My servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’” His mouth is a sharp sword, and He is a polished arrow in the hand of God. His weapon is His Word. With the proclamation of the truth, He cuts to the core of humanity, exposing our weakness, and revealing our sin and shame. His Word measures you and shows you your own sin. You have lived as if God did not matter and as if you mattered most. You have not honored the name of the Lord your God. You have hurt your neighbor and failed to help those who call out to you in need. Your thoughts and desires are soiled with sin. The Word of God does not care for your excuses. It cuts to the core of your being and leaves you nowhere to run.
But, as we know full well and continue to celebrate, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word of God, the chosen Servant of Yahweh comes. He is the child held by Simeon, and He does not come to condemn but to save. He comes to bring light and life to men. This too Isaiah proclaims. For God declares, “It is too light a thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make You as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” It is too light of a thing to only be a savior for the people of Israel. It is too small to only redeem these ones. No, this servant of Yahweh, this Word made flesh will be the savior of all the nations of the earth. In His name all people can be saved. In the work of this Chosen One the promise of eternal life goes forth to everyone.
Now, God’s working may seem strange to us. He tends to do His great work under the form of opposites. He uses the lowly and simple things of this world to give His great gifts. So, as Isaiah records for us this ancient image of the promised Servant, he also confesses that He will be despised and rejected. In fact, in another image of this same Servant he will say, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” Yet, this is the one who is chosen by God. This is His Holy One, the Redeemer of the nations. This is the One who in the end will have kings and princes bowing before Him.
So, the Chosen One moves from a redeemer for Israel to a light for all the nations of the earth. He goes from a suffering servant to a king of glory. He goes from a sharp sword of division and despair to the promise of eternal life for all who believe in Him. He goes from the Child held in the arms of Simeon, to the cross of Calvary, to the empty tomb, and to the right hand of the Father. But this Chosen One continues to do His work. He continues to make the promises of eternal life. He continues to deliver His gifts, for He continues to choose you. And you may wonder, “How? How am I chosen? How can I be sure?” Well, where His gifts are given, His choosing, His election is found. He chooses in the waters of Holy Baptism. He chooses you to be His own, clothed in His garments, and redeemed by His work. He chooses when you confess your sins, and you hear Him declare: “You are forgiven.” You are free in His absolution. He chooses you as His own body and blood are placed into your mouth for the forgiveness of all your sins. In these lowly and simple things, the Chosen One chooses you, over and again. He cleanses you, redeems you, sanctifies you, and loves you.
You know, it is delightful and reassuring that after we have gathered around the Altar of our Lord, after we have received yet again the promise of forgiveness and life everlasting, we sing the old Song of Simeon. His words become our words. We have seen salvation in the gifts of our Lord. We rejoice in the light which reveals Him to the nations and proclaims the glory of the people of Israel. We are reminded that beneath all the trappings, all the frets and worries of the day, at the core of our gathering in this place our Savior has been at work… just as He has promised to be. And in that work, Jesus chooses you. You are the object of His love, compassion, forgiveness, and redemption.