The Impossibilities of God in a Broken World, the story of Christmas, Meditations:
11. Bring on the Oldies
Lk 2:25,26 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 on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Lk 2:36,37 There was also a prophet… She was very old …. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.
Continuation: We carry on past ‘the Christmas day’ because there are yet to be seen two more things that I believe should be included to round off the Christmas story, neither of which tend to be included in Nativity plays. The first of these two things – and remember we said yesterday we have been seeking to pick up in the ‘big issues’ – is to do with old people.
People spread: Before we get into their accounts, it is perhaps interesting to observe the spectrum of people who we have seen and are included in these accounts, surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. First of all there were a childless elderly couple. Interesting and note that for a moment, the accounts start with an elderly couple. Then there was a young engaged couple. Then there was an emperor, a brief mention of a local king, then some wise men from the east, then the outcast shepherds and now, to round the story off so to speak, another elderly couple. This couple though are not related but they do have similarities. But isn’t that an interesting spectrum of people?
Time’s Motivation: So time moves on and because it moves on, fresh activity within this little story is provoked: “When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”).” (Lk 2:22,23) This referred back to Israel’s very early days, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me,” (Ex 13:2) The Law laid down guidelines: “On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding.” (Lev 12:3,4) It went on, “When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting …. a sin offering. He shall offer them before the Lord to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood…But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering.” (Lev 12:6-8)
Time Scale: There is the time-scale, a little over a week and the boy is to be circumcised, a month later an offering is to be made, originally in the Tabernacle, now in the Temple. Briefly, why these things: there is within these procedures perhaps a recognition that childbirth is a messy business and certainly a dramatic business, a business that can take the thoughts and actions of the couple involved – and especially the woman – away from God and entirely onto the business in hand. Understandable, but to draw them back into the place of right relationship, focusing on the Lord, there is this requirement that symbolically cleanses from any self-centred godlessness and restores to the Lord. There is nothing judgmental about childbirth but just the simple recognition that in the midst of the wonder of it all, we can temporarily take our eyes off the Lord (not necessarily but understandable if it happens). But it is these time requirements that now mean that Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus travel the few miles from Bethlehem to the Temple in Jerusalem to perform this rite. They are, you may remember, righteous young people. And there they meet two elderly people.
Old Person No.1: So let’s consider Simeon first. He is described as righteous and devout, was waiting for and expecting the arrival of Israel’s Messiah, he was a Holy Spirit person with an open ear to God and had thus heard from the Lord that he would see this Messiah before he died. He was guided by the Holy Spirit to be at the Temple at the time when the little family arrive. He takes the babe into his arms, gives thanks and prophesies, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss[d] your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel…This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Lk 2:29-32,34,35)
Old Person No.2: Then we come to Anna, a prophet, very old, a widow for many years, spending her life in the Temple, worshipping, praying and fasting. She too comes up and acknowledges the child for who he is, and tells everyone around about him.
And Us? Can we note the full spread of this story, with an elderly couple at each end? Yes, let’s not forget how Zechariah’s religiosity hindered belief but be grateful that he learned and responded to God, and let that be an example for us. Can we feel sorry for he and his wife’s childless situation and then rejoice that God changed it? And when we come to Simeon can we feel empathy for these two elderly people, on their own now, waiting for death? But can we also take the challenge that they present. Everything about him says a man open to the Holy Spirt – filled with the Spirit, listening to the Spirit, guided by the Spirit, anointed by the Spirit to prophesy. Can we say that about ourselves and if not, why not?
Anna screams to us of godly availability. OK, she has nothing left but to seek God, and then she has the privilege of being the last person from Israel mentioned who saw and acknowledged the little family (yes, the wise men are yet to arrive). But even in old age she is declaring the glory of the Lord: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15) Wow what a wonderful demonstration of those words she was!
Applied: As we pass by Christmas and come out the other side of the celebrations, can we in the cold light of day hold on to some of these challenges. Can we let these lessons impact and challenge us, can we be open to the Lord (and the world) bringing new things, can we be open to His voice, can we be described as full of the Holy Spirit, led and guided by the Spirit, can we still bear testimony to the truth of God’s love and goodness into old age? The powerful lessons within the Christmas story are not only about the impossible acts of God, they are also about people caught up in those acts because they were open to Him, and available to Him, so may that be us also.