Summary: Christmas is not a time when we like to discuss death, but the story of our Lord and the calendar of the church year won’t allow us to ignore it. The question then is how can we face this experience we would rather not discuss with peace.
Christmas 1 B
A Peaceful Passing
"A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle;...they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; ...those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. It (the release) comes at last--the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them--and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence,...a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever." That’s how Mark Twain spoke about matters of life and death.
It’s sad really -- for a man who had so many blessings in life and so much to look forward to – that he had such a dismal attitude as his life drew closer and closer to death. But it’s not all that unusual either.
Death is not a preferred subject. In fact most of us, even we who have glorious expectations for life after death, would prefer to talk of something else. That’s probably even truer today. It’s Christmas. It’s a time of joy. It’s a time teaming with excitement and life. It’s no time to think about death.
And yet we can’t help it. The church calendar won’t let us. In some parts of Christendom the martyrdom of St. Stephen was celebrated just a day after all the feasting on Christ’s Birth. Still others recognized yesterday as the slaughter of Holy Innocents, as they remembered that Christ’s birth came at the expense of every male child, 2 years and younger in the vicinity of Bethlehem. And now today, on this first Sunday after Christmas, the church gathers to here of another expected passing. Sainted Simeon beholds the hope of the world and exclaims, “Lord, now lettest thou, thy servant to depart in peace according to thy word.” Simeon speaks of death, his death.
Yet, did you notice the difference in attitude? Simeon doesn’t seem the least bit concerned. In fact he appears to be welcoming death whenever it may come, whether it be that day or some other in the near or distant future. Whatever his course may be, he’s at peace; a realization today that begs the question. “How can that peace be ours?”
That is the real pressing question of the day. Simeon’s eventual departure from this life isn’t really of any importance. And it’s not the least bit surprising that God’s Word says nothing more of this man or the sainted Anna again. We don’t know how and when they passed out of this world. All we know is that they faced that day with the peace that passes all understanding. That’s what is of great importance, and that we come to know that peace too, because Simeon’s is not the only one passing today.
In a couple of short days the whole world will stop to observe the death of another year. Most people will celebrate just as they did on Christmas morn. Some will even celebrate just a tad bit more. But behind all the festivities is the very real reality that this is also the passing of one of our years. Like those we meet in our lesson today, our days are swiftly passing, which makes it all the more important that we know and embrace that which made Simeon’s departure such a “joy” filled, “peace”-ful expectation.
Many would probably wonder what all the hubbub is about, because by most people’s standards Simeon was as already as prepared for death as one could possibly be, even before he entered the temple that day. Simeon was a godly man, well versed in the Word of God and obviously a regular visitor at God’s house. He was as close to being right with as any man could expected to be. Perhaps not perfect, no one is; but surely God would note and give him credit for trying.
His heart was in the right place, and look at his expectations. His attitude is hopeful. His outlook is good. He believes the future is full of promise, an excellent disposition to help ease the distress of passing away.
Or so many say. According to definition, Palliative Medicine is the administration of care with the intention of making patients comfortable in the face of death in contrast to curing them. Beyond the obvious goal of pain management, the top two goals of such care is (1) the exploration of spiritual goals and (2) the management of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. In simple terms that means that they work hard to keep peoples’ hopes high and their lives in order in preparation to meet their God. Indeed, that’s exactly what you read in much of the literature written by patients facing their death. One woman wrote that as long as “people stay aware, and release their fears and their illusions, and just go with the process, death can be death can be a good thing, and everybody can be enriched for it. Another person said, “I’m looking forward to the most fascinating experience in life, which is dying. You’ve got to approach your dying the way you live your life - with curiosity, with hope, with fascination, with courage and with the help of your friends."