11. Bring on the Oldies

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.

28. Expectations Recap 3

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 28. Expectations Recap 3

We have come to the end of this part of the series that took us through historical characters in the Old Testament and concluded at the beginning of the Gospels with Simeon. From now on we will consider expectations in the more familiar form of ‘hope’ that is now part of our Christian lives as a result of the work of Jesus. But before we do that, we will do what we have done twice before in this series and have a Recap to cover those studies since Recap 2, to highlight and hold on to the key points that have been made in these latter studies.

In the studies prior to this we had seen David chosen by Samuel, David having to wait some time for the fulfilment of that anointing to become king, and David slaying Goliath. Moving on from there we then considered the growing awareness that David had that he was in fact there by the working of God. We saw that we can have expectations formed by a word from God coming but, very often, the ‘vision’ has to die as we wait for the Lord to bring it about. Once He starts bringing it into fulfilment, we then have the challenge of believing that is what is happening and cooperating with Him in that.  We realise that our earlier expectations were real but now they become more concrete, we might say.

Following David, we then considered his son, Solomon who, as his father was clearly in his last days, first worked at removing remaining ‘belligerents’ from the previous reign and then, when confronted by the Lord in a dream, recognised the difficulty of the task before him and his need of the Lord’s wisdom, which had then been granted him. Solomon’s expectations of the future before him as the king following in his father’s footsteps were quite realistic. He knew it would be difficult and he recognised his need. We asked the question whether we too recognise the need for the Lord’s wisdom in our lives as we look forward to the things before us.

As we watched the dividing of the kingdom after Solomon died, we considered that variety of expectations that people have of God and suggested that it was inadequate expectations of God that were behind all that happened in both the northern and southern kingdoms. The north stumbled over idol worship and never recovered from it. We saw the number of times the Lord spoke into the situation but His determination was to divide the kingdom after Solomon’s disobedience, and pondered on reasons why it should be. The primary reason seems to be to double the chances of future kings getting it right. The opportunities of Israel – north or south – to get it right with God, were thus doubled. The tragedy is that both kingdoms failed to get it right. It was, therefore, also a double opportunity for sin to be revealed through these two kingdoms and perhaps as we compare them as we read about them, their failures are accentuated in the comparison. We also noted that an observation of history reveals that what we see in Israel is repeated again and again in the nations of the world. Sin is clearly the motivating force behind multiple wars at national or international level and family divisions at individual level.

Jumping to the end of the existence of the southern kingdom, the north having passed away long before, we saw Jeremiah speaking to the nation in the years running up to the exile and pondered on the folly of the nation that (unlike the rest of the world) had amazing records of their dealings with God through well over three centuries, and marvelled that they obviously disregarded or forgot these. These was a people who had received prophetic words galore and who knew what was expected of them after they had entered into the covenant with God at Sinai.  Although words of hope were brought through Jeremiah, the main thrust of his ministry had been a call to repent. He laid out clear cut expectations of what would happen if they failed to heed him, but nevertheless their lived in deception with the expectation that it would be ‘all right’. It wasn’t.

Staying with Jeremiah we observed the circumstances that rolled out in the final destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and the life of freedom that was granted to Jeremiah by the Babylonians. We saw how a remnant gathered after the Babylonians had left, leaving behind a governor, and we saw how some of that remnant killed the governor and then made everyone decamp to Egypt despite Jeremiah bringing a clear warning against doing that. It is a story that tells us that even if we are God’s servants, the ways of this fallen world may carry us into circumstances we wished we didn’t have. But the biggest lesson, as we watch Jeremiah continue to prophesy in Egypt, is the call to faithfulness regardless what we expect of the days to come. As a subtext to that story, is the awareness that in this fallen world, changing hearts does not come easily and often it seems, it is only the pressures of trials and tribulations that will truly change a heart towards God.

Following the years of the exile, we recognised that humanly speaking Israel’s expectations of the future had diminished to zero unless they heard and believed Jeremiah’s ‘seventy years’ prophecy. It was possible to maintain good expectations for the future only if they held on to God’s recent word to them. We are not called to have faith built on the obvious, because more often than not, the Lord does not reveal how He will bring about that which appears impossible to us at the moment. Israel could not have foreseen the coming of Cyrus and God’s ability to move on him and get him to send Israel back to their land to rebuild the temple. Similarly for us, we have to recognise that we may have expectations from the Lord in the form of personal prophecy, but more often than not we will not have a clue how that can come about, but it will. You cannot foresee a miracle! That is the shortcoming if expectations!

The years passed and then a man named Nehemiah heard the state of Jerusalem. Yes, the temple had been rebuilt but basically the city was still a demolition site. His heart was moved in anguish and the end result is Nehemiah back in Jerusalem rebuilding the walls of the city.  The expectations of the majority did not include the rebuilding of the city. It was down to one man to have such a hope and, we believe with God’s support, he brought it about. The expectations of just one person can change history; such is the significance of the individual – you or me? The Lord looks for those who will stand in the gap, who will intercede, or who will step up to serve, people who say we do not just have to accept the status quo if it runs contrary to God’s heart.

And so we eventually arrived at the New Testament and bedded these historical reflections of expectations of men or women of the Old Testament, and we did it with, again, just one man, Simeon, a man who was righteous and devout, a man of the Spirit, a man open to the leading of the Spirit and a man that God used to encourage His two servants, Mary and Joseph. Again, and we must emphasise it, it was just one man in Israel who was alert to the purposes of God being unfolded before him. He challenges us to be people who, similarly, will have our eyes and our hearts open to be alert for the moving of God.

Each of this last set of studies since the last Recap, have been about individuals:

  • David, who began to realise that the expectations he had as a result Samuel’s anointing, were now starting to be fulfilled.
  • Solomon, who realised that with the task of leading the nation before him, he needed the wisdom of God to match the expectations that he had of that role.
  • The two kings who caused the kingdom to be divided, whose expectations of God were too low, so that they failed to heed the opportunity to be godly kings.
  • Jeremiah, the faithful prophet of God in all the years running up to the destruction of Jerusalem, who recognised that his expectations for the future of the nation depended entirely on how the kings would respond to God’s word. One way – repentance – would result in future hope and continuation. The other way – rejection – would result in destruction and restoration only seventy years in the future.
  • Jeremiah, again the faithful prophet, but prophesying to the remnant escaping to Egypt. His expectations were not to do with his end but with his ability to keep on being the mouthpiece of God, wherever he was. His expectations were all about faithfulness.
  • Cyrus, who came to understand he could be God’s means of His people returning to their land and rebuilding the temple, an expectation probably no one else had had before that!
  • Nehemiah, one man whose expectations flowed against the general tide of acceptance of the status quo, a man whose heart moved him into dangerous territory to fulfil a hope that surely was based on the heart of God.
  • Simeon, another man on his own, who set his heart towards God and caught the heart of God as He brought His Son to the temple, so that His servants could be encouraged. Simeon’s expectations were based on the heart of God and thus caught the move of God.

This is the message of this last set of studies: individuals are important in the kingdom of God and the expectations we have of God are all-important: that we are called by God with a purpose, to achieve that purpose we need His wisdom, His power and His leading, that is at the heart of godliness, called to be witnesses to Him, to remain faithful regardless of what anyone else may be doing, open to Him to do what only He can do – a miracle to open a door or fulfil a vision, called to have hearts that can be moved by Him, called to be Spirit-people who can be led by Him, people who are called to achieve the impossible  because we are simply vessels of God. May we learn these things.

 

27. The Waiting Game (2)

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 27. The Waiting Game (2)

Luke 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 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

Long Periods: In the previous two studies we have seen first how God nudged Cyrus to release the Jews to go back to their land to rebuild the Temple, and then how Nehemiah’s anguish for the state of Jerusalem caused the rebuilding of the city to come about. In the midst of this, there are long periods – seventy years between the start of the deportation of Israel to the time post-exile when they started returning, seventy years between the destruction of the temple to the time when the rebuilding was complete, twenty years for the rebuilding, seventy years between the completion of the temple rebuilding and the start of rebuilding the city. These are long periods that roll off the tongue too easily. Seventy years is my complete lifespan!  But all of this pales into insignificance when we realise that between the last historical details of Ezra and Nehemiah and the last of the prophets through to the start of the records of the Gospels, is over four hundred years.  Four hundred years for the USA takes us back to colonial history. If we go back to 1700 you would have to wait another 32 years for George Washington to be born. Four hundred years for the UK means 1700 was seven years before the union of England, Wales & Scotland.

One man: Yes, four hundred years is a long time, especially when it means silence from heaven for a nation that had known prophetic input for hundreds of years. When a man named Simeon, living in Jerusalem, was getting old, he might have reflected that a once godly (well semi-godly) people were now a shadow of what they once had been. Now they were a vassal state to the Roman Empire with Roman occupancy and oversight. The Romans had allowed them to have nominally Jewish rulers, but the real power came from Rome. Simeon and all his fellow Jews might have been excused if their faith levels were rather low, because they appeared a somewhat abandoned people. Yes, they still had the temple that had been built after the exile and, in fact, Herod had greatly enlarged it and made it a truly splendid building. And yes, they had a high priest and all the trappings of a religion. Yes, there were guardians of the Law of Moses, called Pharisees, but religion was more a formality rather than a reality. So Simeon could have been excused if he just filled his life with growing vines or whatever – we don’t know what he did – but all we are told of him is detailed as four points in two verses.

First, we are told he was “righteous and devout”. Now there is a challenge! In our Western societies when God is absent, ethics go out the window, morals decline. It has been a very obvious thing to note. I have noted in these studies before my measuring stick. Many years ago, for seventeen years, I taught Law. At the beginning of every year I asked the class about their beliefs and at the beginning of that time (late 1970’s) a hundred per cent of the class each year said they believed in absolutes, there was a clear distinction between right and wrong. By the end of that seventeen-year period (early 1990’s) one hundred per cent of the classes said they did not believe in absolutes, in a difference between right and wrong. That was the change that took place in our society, and so it is little wonder that over the last twenty to thirty years, every area of our society has had moral scandals. Perhaps it was only Judaism’s remnants that kept people on track in Simeon’s day. Simeon was clearly a follower of God and of His Law for he was both righteous (morally correct) and devout (a follower of the Lord). A faithful man!

Second, he was waiting for the consolation of Israel”. He was a man aware of the prophetic Scriptures about a coming Messiah and as he read them or heard them read in the local synagogue, they rang true and his heart leaped.

Third, “the Holy Spirit was upon him.”  This man had a close relationship with the Lord, so much so that he was open to the prompting and leading of the Spirit, which is what eventually got him into the Temple precincts when baby Jesus was brought there.

Fourth, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”  Not only had the prophetic scriptures about the Messiah rung true, the Spirit had imparted to him the knowledge that he would see this one. We might add, fifth, “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts,” (v.27a) and it as there he encountered Mary and Joseph and Jesus (v.27b).

And Us? Now it seems to me that Simeon stood out in his generation. Apart from the Wise Men, the Magi, Simeon seems to be the only one on the alert for what is going on, so here is the question I find rising in the light of this: how many of us today are alert to a coming move of God? How many of us are living in expectation of the Lord doing something? The other side of the coin, somewhat negatively, might be, how many of us are involved with ‘religion’? We go to church every Sunday. We may even go to a prayer meeting or bible study. But we don’t go with much expectation.

Church with expectations? Turn the coin over again. How many of us ‘go to church’ on a Sunday morning with great expectation of meeting with God, of hearing from the Lord (more than just a good sermon), of being used by God as an instrument to bring encouragement, revelation or even perhaps healing to others? How many of us go to the Prayer Meeting with the strong expectation of hearing from God, of getting direction from Him what to pray, who leave with a sense that He had been there, He had revealed His heart and His will and when we prayed, He had decreed change? How many of us pick up our Bible every day or go to the weekly Bible Study with a strong expectation that His word is going to come alive and we are going to be thrilled, challenged, taught, encouraged and corrected by it?

Simeon’s Example: Simeon stood out in his generation as one full of expectations. He was a man of the word, of the Law, of righteousness. He was a man of prayer and of listening to God. He was a man open to the Holy Spirit. He was a man available to the Holy Spirit to bring encouragement and blessing to Mary and Joseph, while everyone else was just taken up with life or with religion. Can we be such people of expectations?

Waiting Faithfully: In a previous study we saw how David’s life was largely one of waiting for God’s time for him. While he waited he was faithful and was still used by God against the enemy and to encourage God’s people. We may not think Simeon did a great deal, but he did encourage Mary and Joseph, and so he did earn a place in the Bible. Amazing! Let’s go for it! It’s too late to appear in the Bible but it’s never too later to appear in the archives of heaven!

11. And that’s it?

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.

8. Anticipation – Simeon

PART TWO: COMING

Focus on Christ Meditations: 8.  Anticipation  – Simeon

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 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.

We have been considering some of the prophetic ‘hints’ (and some of them are considerable stronger than just ‘hints’) about the coming Messiah in the Old Testament. If we have been Christians any length of time, we may take these prophecies for granted, but in fact they raise questions about the way God communicates. To circumvent a long discussion, I will simply suggest that I think He mostly communicates in small portions so that it will only be those who truly seek after Him who will find the answers – which is basically what Jesus said when he was explaining his use of parables (Mt 13:10-17). So we have had prophecies that leave us wondering and now as we approach the actual time of Jesus’ coming as a baby we ask the question again, ‘How does God communicate?’ In this and the next two studies we’ll see three approaches.

I don’t know if you have ever got up early in the morning and gone outside while it is still just dark, but there are glimmers of lightness appearing. You wait and watch and gradually the sky lightens and then eventually on one horizon the sky starts taking on a red glow and then there is a glint of brilliant yellow right on the horizon and as you continue watching the sun fully rises so brightly that it is impossible to look directly at it.

Having spoken a number of times in our previous studies about the Coming One being a mystery, we might be led into believing that no one on the earth now had any anticipation of his coming, simply because it was too confusing and they had all given up, but that is not true. Old man Simeon – and he clearly is old otherwise he would not have been worrying about not having enough years left to see the Messiah – was at least one ‘dawn-watcher’.

He is quite remarkable. In thirty years time when Jesus’ ministry starts, it is going to become patently obvious that this is a nation with much sickness and many people oppressed and possessed by evil spirits. The way people also flocked to John the Baptist is an indication of a spiritual hunger in a spiritually dry time. For four hundred years there has not been a voice from heaven and the nation is now under the domination of Rome and its religion is highly institutionalized. As we have already noted, life carried on in the synagogues, but nothing and no one changed week on week. Overall, the signs are not good. And then comes Simeon. Observe the descriptions of him.

First of all he was “righteous and devout”. He is a good man, a godly man. If you want revelation from God, that is a good place to start. We are also told that he was waiting for the consolation of Israel,” which the Living Bible puts most simply “constantly expecting the Messiah to come soon.” Another way to put it perhaps is that he was looking for the comfort the Messiah would bring to his people at his coming. Now that clearly speaks of expectation, that the scribes’ and teachers’ work of unpacking the Old Testament scrolls had done a reasonable job for those with a heart after God, to see and expect one who would come in accordance with these prophecies, one who, at the very least, would help Israel in their low spiritual state and, maybe, their state under the control of the Romans.

So that was what Simeon was doing, but why? First of all because, “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Wow! A Spirit-led, Spirit-aware, Spirit-directed man. But there is more: “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Even more, Wow! This elderly man was open to God and heard from the Lord – the Messiah is coming! So, number one method of God communicating with those around at this time – by His own Holy Spirit, but the reality is that there were clearly not many open to hear.

What is even more remarkable, although this elderly man is not designated a prophet, “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” (v.27,28) No, that’s not the prophetic part. See what follows: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.” (v.29) Now he doesn’t actually say the words, “I’ve seen your Messiah” but that is clearly what his words mean and he ratifies that as he goes on: “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (v.30-32)

This Messiah is going to bless both Jew and Gentile, but he has more: “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.33) or as the Living Bible puts it, A sword shall pierce your soul, for this child shall be rejected by many in Israel, and this to their undoing. But he will be the greatest joy of many others. And the deepest thoughts of many hearts shall be revealed.” Yes, as we’ve considered before, this Messiah will reveal hearts and, depending on what is revealed, will mean the lifting up and blessing of those with hearts open to the Lord, or a pulling down and condemning of those whose hearts were not open to God (even though they might have tried to hide that!)

So prophecy continues. In the Old Testament it looked forward to the one who was going to come.  In the early New Testament, it reveals the one who has come but who is not yet obvious. In the Old the apostle Peter, in respect of the prophets, spoke of the circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing.” (1 Pet 1:11) Now it is the Spirit of Christ or the Holy Spirit who alerts Simeon, shows him the Messiah and gives him words about the ministry of this one who is before him in the form of a tiny baby.

To reflect upon:  If we were in Simeon’s shoes, would we have been open to the Spirit’s leading, would we have caught His revelation and word?

6. Simeon

6.  Simeon

(Warning: In this little series of ‘meditations’ there are simply wonderings about what actually some of the people in the Christmas story felt. They are obviously based on Scripture but they are only wonderings, for we do not know. Yet, if they help us really think into the wonder of what happened two thousand years ago at the time we call Christmas, that will be good.)

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.”

Reading for today’s story: Luke 2:21-35

2. Simeon

People who met Jesus : 2 :  Simeon

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 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.

I love the account of old man Simeon. He is obviously old because God has told him he will not die before seeing the Messiah or Christ. He’s counting the days. I’m going to depart from the style of these meditations today and instead insert an imaginary story that I once wrote of Simeon, based on the Scripture:

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.”

Well there it is. It is a story of a man who had learned to listen to the prompting of God – and he saw Jesus. He wouldn’t be around very much longer but that didn’t matter. He had seen God’s answer to the world’s problems. That was enough. Yes, he would meet him again but only once he had returned home. That would be wonderful!