THE THRESHOLD OF THE NEW AGE
CHRISTMAS is not just about children. In the lesson we just read we see two senior citizens. Anna was 84. We don't have a number for Simeon, but we are led to believe he had seen many winters. At one time Simeon had received a special revelation. Some how, God would point out the Messiah to him before he died, so he was waiting in the courts of the Temple when Mary and Joseph brought the forty-day-old Jesus for the Jewish ritual of the redemption of the firstborn, the Presentation. Somehow Simeon knew this baby was the Messiah. He approached the parents and explained what was happening. No disagreement from these parents! They believed Jesus was the Messiah. They might have wondered whether it was safe to talk about such things in Jerusalem, but they did not doubt the truth of it. Luke then tells us that Simeon prophesied, that is, he spoke an oracle from the Holy Spirit, which was what we call the nunc dimittis. We use that as a Vesper canticle and a post-communion hymn. When he had finished the oracle, Simeon had some words to say to Mary, telling her that her Child was set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and that a sword would pierce her own soul as well. How did he know these things? And how did Anna know what she was telling everybody, that this baby was the Messiah. Both of these elderly saints knew that they had lived to see a new age, the Messianic Age. That filled them with such hope, that they were ready to leave this present life.
They weren't the only ones who were aware of it. Herod would find out because of the Magi, who probably had not yet arrived. He had some very strong feelings about all this. He liked being King of the Jews. Now with an Infant Messiah lurking in the backstreets of Bethlehem there was bound to be trouble. He thought he could find out more from the Magi, but that didn't work out. Eighteen centuries earlier, the ancestors of these two had played out a tense drama. Jacob, the ancestor of Jesus, had tricked Esau, the ancestor of Herod, out of his birthright. Now the Magi tricked the son of Esau so he could not put out Jacob's Star even as it was rising. Herod had another trick. The event which we commemorated yesterday, the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, was his "solution" to the usurping Child. That failed as well. Herod was doing the Devil's work, trying to make Jesus die the wrong way at the wrong time, but during His childhood and youth Jesus was surrounded by divine protection. The Devil could do nothing until that protection was withdrawn. By then Jesus was an adult who could not be tempted. He kept advancing toward that fateful Passover when another Herod would join with the chief priests and Pontious Pilate, but by then it was the right death and the right time. Satan had failed. Jesus was set for the fall and rising of many, and eventually He seized the keys of death and hell.
Are we standing in front of a new age like that? Was Jesus the ultimate Messiah of Israel, or do we await additional revelation? Is there another kingdom, or perhaps a Messianic republic? Most of us are aware of that cultural phenomenon that our writers call the New Age. Believe me, it did not come from God. All it promises us are confusion and darkness. Jesus is the True Light that enlightens everyone. The darkness did not overcome Him, but it is trying to over come us.
Alas, we are the weak link in God's security system. When we get to heaven we won't be vulnerable any longer, but while we live in this life, Satan calculates well how to deceive us. If he wanted our whole society to think that 2+2=5 he knows which words would persuade people to believe that. Who would have thought that the Constitution of the United States was so unclear that courts could get all sorts of outrageous claims out of it? Neither is that ancient serpent content with political evil. He creeps into the Church talking about things like "fool-proof fundraising," and hell's favorite word, spirituality.
St. Paul, in I Corinthians, compares the spiritual man favorably with the natural man. That's all right for Paul. He could be spiritual because he was a Christian. Plato was spiritual, but it made him a self-satisfied, world-denying nut. We compare the spiritual with the material. Careful here! It is true that Christians should never trust in Mammon, but we dare not turn from the material world in disgust. God made material things for His glory, and made us His stewards of them. Lake Erie looks like just a lot of water, but with God's Word added to it we have the raw material for making many people into Christians. If God so loved the world as to give His Son for it, we should see it as a great mission field.
Examine the New Age closely and you will find the same old errors. They say that man can become divine. The snake put the same idea to the mother of humanity in Paradise. That caused the universal sin that plagues mankind. The latest New Age might have some new toys, like Oriental religion, occult arts, and feminism, but the main attack began in the 18th century, replacing holiness with the human spirit. Yes, the main attack is still the Progressivist attack, which is a secular model of the snake's program, you shall be like God. Today that secular philosophy is our contemporary Herod, seeking to destroy what it cannot rule. No one needs that kind of spirituality. The only spirituality that is good is broken and contrite spirituality, because as St. Paul tells us, there is a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.
The Gospel tells us that the opposite happened, God became man. Everyone needs to hear this. The Child of Mary and Joseph who began the one true new age is God Incarnate. God in His mercy had blocked the way to the Tree of Life lest Adam should eat of it and live forever in sin. Today He calls us to the Tree of Calvary, to take and eat its fruit as we do in the Holy Eucharist, and live forever in righteousness. Yes, Simeon and Anna knew something. The genuine Messiah was Immanuel, God made man. The age of Jesus the Messiah was the new age they longed to see, and did. As Death reached for Jesus it destroyed itself. God took man's sin, and death, defeated them, and rose above them. So all whom we call to repentance, we also call to Him. He makes us righteous, which is far better than being spiritual. AMEN
~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross