9. Surprising Encouragement

Lessons from the Nativity: 9:  Surprising Encouragement

Luke 2:27,28   When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God,

We have commented about how working out the will of God can sometimes be confusing and even requiring much patience, and often life is merely getting on with it and trusting the Lord to work it all out. The Nativity story is full of surprises. Obviously the first surprises were the angelic appearances to Mary and Joseph,, and the fact that Mary is pregnant without any help from Joseph.  You probably can’t get any bigger surprises in life that those which these two young people coped with. I suspect that for many of us who came to the Lord at least from teenage years on, if you asked us did we have any inclination of what was coming several years earlier, we have to acknowledge that for each of us who has been born again, that very series of events came as a surprise. In fact if I think on to all the big milestones in my spiritual life, I have to say they came as a surprise; they were God initiated and as such I didn’t see them coming. I think when you work your way through the main characters of, say, the Old Testament, (true also of the New) – Abram, Joseph, Moses, for example – they all have encounters with God which appear to come as a surprise. Moses at the burning bush has to be the classic on.

The point I think underlines this next incident in the Nativity story and which, as I have indicated above, is that life, and especially the Christian life is never all neatly mapped out for us so we can see exactly where we are going. Yes, in life there are things that are pretty much expected – going to school, going to college or university – yet even within those things there is great opportunity for variety of outcome which often have little to do with our efforts. So for Mary and Joseph they safely reached Bethlehem before Mary’s baby arrived. Then came the surprise of the shepherds turning up telling, no doubt, of their angelic experience, but after they have gone and the days pass life settles down and once the registering for the emperor had taken place (and we don’t know how long that took) they were free agents, but the appearance is that they stayed where they were for the while.

However as good Jewish young people with a child there was one thing they felt they should do, and that was take the child to the Temple in Jerusalem and give thanks fro him them according to the Law: When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, (see Exodus 13:2,12) “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord (see Lev.12:8): “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” (Lk 2:22-24). The period for purification was 40 days and so Mary would have had to wait 40 days before going to the temple to offer sacrifice for her purification and to offer her firstborn to the Lord (see  Ex 13:12-13).   The distance from Bethlehem to Jerusalem was only about six miles, and so being that close they would have remained in Bethlehem a little over a month before taking the opportunity to go up to Jerusalem.  So far, they are simply acting in accordance with the Law without any great expectations. No doubt they would be looking forward to going up to the Temple in Jerusalem  because even though they might have visited there before, now it was for a very personal reason.

What they don’t know is what has been going on in the life of an elderly man who lived in or near Jerusalem: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.” (v.25-27)  This is a man in close relationship with the Lord who had previously received revelation from the Lord and now received a prompting by the Lord to get into the Temple on this particular day. Trying to get inside this man I once wrote a short piece about Simeon and include it following this meditation.

Now I leave you to look up the story and see the things Simeon said to them. They are words of comfort and encouragement and also of warning. He is clearly a messenger of God and at this point in their lives it must have been such a welcome reassurance. No, they were not living in a dream; they are living in the purposes of God, amazing as they are.

Here’s the point: God is good on encouragement and so although all the things I’ve said previously about uncertainty are true, nevertheless the Lord is always there and there to encourage us. I have lost count of how many times, over the years, I have asked the Lord for encouragement over some issue or other, and it has come, often very quickly indeed – but of course you have to be open to recognize it, but it will be there.

The story does not end with Simeon for the Lord often delights to bless with a double blessing and so another of His servants, Anna, is on hand to carry on blessing them (see v.36-38). We are called to walk by faith and not by sight but the Lord knows we need encouragement along the way and He delights in bringing it. Perhaps all we need do is ask for it and then watch out for it, and then give thanks for it. Amen? Amen!

Simeon: a story

The old man had been praying. He was very conscious of how good it was to live in Jerusalem and be near the Temple . It was an easy walk in each day, to this place where the presence of God was supposed to live. It had started some time back in the local synagogue when the scrolls had been brought out and the Rabbi had read one of those enigmatic prophecies from of old that spoke about a coming one. As the words were read, something in him seemed to say, “You’ll see him!” He gently chided himself for his foolishness, “I’m an old man. We’ve waited all these years and there has been no sign. I can’t have long to go. Why should I be special? Why should I see him? It may be centuries before he comes!” But that inner voice seemed to persist, “No, you will see him when he comes to his house.” It was then he had decided to move into Jerusalem, to be near the house of God, the Temple. How long would he have to wait, he wondered?

Day after day he had risen early and made his way into the Temple and sat in the courts in the shade and watched the pilgrims who came, but no special figure appeared. How would he come? Riding on a donkey or riding in on a charger? Would he arrive with an escort or would he make a lone entrance? The pilgrims came and went, but no special figure appeared. Had he come and I missed him, he mused?

That morning he woke from a disturbed sleep. He felt tired. Perhaps, just this once I may stay at home. How many days have I been going there? What’s been the point? Perhaps I just made it up. What had Joel said? Old men will dream dreams. Perhaps it was just a dream of an old man, perhaps it was wishful thinking. Yet there again came that gentle nagging inner voice, “This is the morning. Today he will come.” Oh, what am I on about? This is silly! There’s nothing special about this day! It’s no great feast day! Surely he would come in great glory on a feast day, a day of celebration in his house? “Today he will come.” The inner voice persisted. Very well, I’ll go.

He made his way up to the Temple courts. He ached a lot this morning. It hadn’t been a good night. He felt highly unspiritual. I’ll just sit in the shade and watch what happens. He had been there an hour or so, just watching the crowds coming in, when he first saw them, a young man and even younger woman, more a girl really, and she with a bundle in her arms that looked like it could be a baby. His eyes drifted past them to others following them in, but strangely he felt his eyes being drawn back to them. Something inside him leapt. He found himself on his feet and moving towards them. Is this young man the one, but with a girl and a baby? No, it’s the baby! Suddenly he knew! It’s the baby! He ran towards them. They looked startled as this old man with a big smile came panting up to them with his hands out. “Please….” The girl looked up and smiled and handed the tiny bundle over.

As he took the child into his arms his heart seemed to explode with joy. He looked upwards with tears pouring down his face. “Almighty Lord, it’s just as you promised! I can come home now! I’ve seen your glory!” The young couple looked on in wonder. He turned to them, “Dear children, may the Lord bless you! This child of yours will be a measuring stick to determine God’s people. He will reveal their hearts.” He turned to the girl. “Your heart will be pieced before his days are ended, but fear not.” Just then an old lady appeared at his elbow praising God for the tiny child. The old man handed it back to the girl and then slid away while others came up and blessed the little family. With his heart beating so much he felt it would burst, the old man made his way outside and sat down. Still with tears running down his face he looked up. “Lord, I can come home now.”

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