Nine Lessons of Christmas Meditations: 11. And that’s it?
Addendum: Luke 2:22-38
Luke 2:32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.
Context: Well, yes, we did come to the end of the readings yesterday but they left in me a feeling of incompleteness. I realise that those who constructed this ‘service’ had to limit the number of readings and draw a line somewhere and although I always think of Zechariah, Elizabeth and John as part of it, I realise adding in their story might seem a distraction from the main story. However, when it comes to Simeon and Anna, they definitely add to the main story and of course chronologically they come before the wise men. If I was adding a header to this extra ‘reading’ it would be “The story goes on” and with tongue in cheek I might add, “and that’s just the beginning”.
Reading: The Law required a period of 40 days of ‘purification’ for the woman before she was to take a thank offering to the Temple, so a little over a month passes and they go up to Jerusalem with him (v.22) to comply with the Law (v.23,24). It is then that we are introduced to Simeon, an elderly, righteous and devout man, a Spirit-led man, who had a sense that the time for the coming of the Messiah was near (v.25,26). Moved by the Spirit he goes to the Temple courts and there encounters the little family (v.27) and takes the child in his arms and prays (v.28-32). In it he describes the baby as God’s salvation, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (v.32)
This leaves Mary and Joseph marvelling (v.33) but that is only the beginning for Simeon now prophesies, “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.” (v.34,35) We are then told about an elderly prophetess, Anna, a long-term widow who virtually lived in the Temple courts fasting and praying (v.36,37) and she joins in, giving thanks and telling everyone what God was doing (v.38)
Lessons: Again we are in the big-picture stuff here for there is no specific teaching, just a series of facts about an historical event, but as we look at these verses, as with all Scripture, we must ask ourselves, are there lessons for us, what does God want to say to us through these things.
Ongoing Story: Well, the first and somewhat obvious thing is that this says the usual things picked up in the Nativity story are not all that there is; there is an ongoing story to be followed up. How many children or unbelieving parents (and maybe even Christians) go away at the end of a Nativity play in church or in school and think, “That’s it. Now let’s get on with the real celebrations on Christmas Day.” But it’s not, it’s just the beginning and it is failure to follow on the story that leads so many people’s eternal destiny to be a negative one, and their future lives on earth to be dismal and destructive.
It didn’t finish with the Wise Men, it didn’t finish with Simeon and Anna. They don’t know it yet but this little family are about to have to flee to Egypt for a time, before eventually retuning to Nazareth where we hear nothing more for twelve years (Lk 2:41-52), and then another long gap until Jesus is about thirty, and then it all starts happening. The natural question that must follow on is, do you and I pursue our Christian faith as an ongoing ‘story’ or do we settle with the comfortable bit to which we’ve come. There is more.
Listening and Watching: Simeon, a Spirit-led man, and Anna, a prophetess, were among the few who had a sense the Messiah was about to arrive. The rest of the world was taken up with its daily affairs but these two had their eyes on heaven. The wise Christian has their eyes on heaven asking that question that comes only from the lips of those who are available, “What next, Lord?” God never stands still. The plans and purposes of God are ever rolling out in the flow of history and you and I have a part to play in it.
As I have been praying, I sense that the next series of meditations to follow this one are to be called, “Newness, Expectations and Hope” because that’s what we leave this series with. The new has arrived, the Lord’s Messiah, His own Son. In Mary and Joseph there must have been a wondering about what was now to come, an expectation that if all this had occurred, God must be taking it somewhere. There was a hope for the future that God was going to come and do more. In the incident when he was twelve, we read, “his mother treasured all these things in her heart.” (Lk 2:51) Mary watched and listened – and wondered. What is the future going to hold. What did Simeon mean?
In for the Long Haul: There is a future for this baby and Mary and Joseph are his guardians. Unlike many self-focused parents of today in the West, they were in for the long haul and although it is thought that Joseph died before Jesus started ministering, Mary was there the whole time and was even there at the foot of the Cross where, yes, a sword pierced her heart, figuratively speaking at least.
Whether it be as parents or simply as Christians, we are here for the long haul. This isn’t just for a couple of enthusiastic years, this is right on to the end. I love those verses in Psa 92 that refer to the elderly believer: “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)
You may flag along the way but, with the grace of God, can you pick yourself up and keep going with head held high and heart beating strongly. The Lord may give you a vision for your life, and for a while it may grow dim, but He will renew it again and stir you on; it’s how it works. The story (of your life as a Christian) does not stop here; there’s much more to come and it needs you and me to determine to be faithful to the end. Yes? May it be so! Amen.
Bonus Story 2: Simeon
Sometimes it is fun to try and think yourself into a Bible story. This one tried to sense what it must have been like for Simeon. It’s a bit more basic that the previous one but hopefully catches something how it is when the Spirit moves.
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 year 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 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 in to 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 coming here? 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.