Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for my eyes have seen thy salvation. (Luke 2:29-30)
The whole life of Christ was a continual Passion; others die martyrs but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified, even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for to his tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last. His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas day and his Good Friday are but the evening and morning of the same day. And as even his birth is his death, so every action and passage that manifests Christ to us is his birth, for Epiphany is manifestation. Every manifestation of Christ to the world, to the church, to a particular soul is an Epiphany, a Christmas day.
Now there is nowhere a more evident manifestation of Christ than in that which induced this text, “Lord now lettest thy servant depart in peace. . . .” It had been revealed to Simeon, whose words these are, that he should see Christ before he died. And actually, and really, substantially, essentially, bodily, presentially, personally he does see him. So it is Simeon’s Epiphany, Simeon’s Christmas day. So also this day, in which we commemorate and celebrate the general Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the whole world in his birth, all we, we who besides our interest in the universal Epiphany and manifestation implied in the very day, have this day received the body and blood of Christ in his holy and blessed sacrament, have had another Epiphany, another Christmas day, another manifestation and application of Christ to ourselves. The church prepares our devotion before Christmas day with four Sundays in Advent, which bring Christ nearer and nearer to us and remind us that he is coming to enable us by a further examination of ourselves to depart in peace, because our eyes have seen his salvation.
To be able to conclude that you have had a Christmas day, a manifestation of Christ in your souls, you shall have a whole Good Friday, a crucifying and an “it is finished,” a measure of corrections, and joy in those corrections. You shall have temptations, and a Resurrection and an Ascension, an inchoation and an unremovable possession of Heaven itself in this world. Make good your Christmas day, that Christ be born in you, and he who died for you will live with you all the year, and all the years of your lives, and inspire into you, and receive from you at the last gasp, this blessed acclamation, “Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. . . .”
Simeon waited, says the story, and he waited for the consolation of Israel. And all that God had said should be done was done, for as it is said, “It was revealed unto him, by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ,” and now he had seen that salvation. Abraham saw this before, but with the eye of faith, and yet rejoiced to see it so, he was glad even of that. Simeon saw it, too, but he saw it with the eye of hope. Of such hope Abraham had no such ground; no particular hope, no promise that he should see the Messiah in his time. Simeon had, and yet he waited, he attended God’s leisure. But hope deferred maketh the heart sick (says Solomon). But when that which is desired comes, it is a tree of life. His desire was come; he saw his salvation.
Simeon is so good a servant as that he is content to serve his old master still, in his old place, in this world, but yet he is so good a husband too as that he sees what a gainer he might be if he might be made free by death. If you desire not death (that is the case of very few, to do so in a rectified conscience and without distemper), if you be not equally disposed towards death (that should be the case of all, and yet we are far from condemning all that are not come to that equanimity), yet if you now fear death inordinately, I should fear that your eyes have not seen your salvation today. Who can fear the darkness of death that has had the light of this world and of the next too? Who can fear death this night that has had the lord of life in his hand today? It is a question of consternation, a question that should strike him who should answer it, dumb (as Christ’s question, “Friend, how camest in hither?” did him to whom that was said), which Origen asks in this case, “When will you dare to go out of this world, if you dare not go now, when Christ Jesus has taken you by the hand to lead you out?”
This then is truly to depart in peace by the gospel of peace to the God of peace. My body is my prison and I would be so obedient to the law as not to break prison. I would not hasten my death by starving or macerating this body. But if this prison be burnt down by continual fevers, or blown down with continual vapors, would any man be so in love with that ground upon which that prison stood as to desire rather to stay there than to go home? Our prisons are fallen, our bodies are dead to many former uses; our palate dead in a tastelessness; our stomach dead in indigestion; our feet dead in a lameness, and our invention in a dullness, and our memory in a forgetfulness. And yet, as a man that should love the ground where his prison stood, we love this clay that was a body in the days of our youth, and but our prison then when it was at its best. We abhor the graves of our bodies, and the body, which in the best vigor thereof was but the grave of the soul, we over-love.
Pharaoh’s butler and his baker went both out of prison in a day; and in both cases, Joseph, in the interpretation of their dreams, calls that (their very discharge out of prison) a lifting up of their heads, a kind of preferment. Death raises every man alike, so far as that it delivers every man from his prison, from the encumbrances of this body. Both baker and butler were delivered of their prison, but they passed into divers states after, one to the restitution of his place, the other to an ignominious execution.
Of your prison you shall be delivered whether you will or no. You must die. Fool, this night your soul may be taken from you; and then, what you shall be tomorrow prophesy upon yourself, by that which you have done today. If you did depart from that table in peace you can depart from this world in peace. And the peace of that table is to come to it with a contented mind and with an enjoying of those temporal blessings which you have, without macerating yourself, without usurping upon others, without murmuring at God; and to be at that table in the peace of the church, without the spirit of contradiction of inquisition, without uncharitableness towards others, without curiosity in yourself; and then to come from that table with a bosom peace in your own conscience, in that seal of your reconciliation, in that sacrament; that so, riding at that anchor and in that calm, whether God enlarge your voyage by enlarging your life, or put you into the harbor by the breath, by the breathlessness of death, either way, East or West, you may depart in peace, according to his word, that is, as he shall be pleased to manifest his pleasure upon you.