A Christmas Story
Today we find ourselves on the other side of Christmas. All of the pretty paper and bows have been torn off to reveal the treasures that were hidden under the tree. Santa Clause has come and gone leaving presents for some, and coal for others. And now all that is left is returning the gifts that were the wrong size, wrong color, or just outright wrong.
There is a side of us that would admit that during this time of family, Jesus, and Peace on Earth, we spent an awful lot of time and money hoping someone would have the best Christmas ever. Maybe you were able to get your hands on one of the top gifts to give this season. According to a survey released last week the most popular gifts for 2015 were Star Wars Toys, followed by self balancing hoverboards, The Smart Toy Bear, and Yeti Cups. In our consumer driven society, it doesn’t matter how many churches put on their signs that Jesus is the reason for the season, all too often it’s the gift makes the season. In a child’s mind and their parent’s minds as well Christmas is a blessing or a bust depending on our ability to get the right gift.
I would venture to guess that you remember the holidays by the gifts that were given and received. I have had 42 Christmas days and only remember a few of them, and the memories are tied to the gifts. I remember the Christmas that I got our trampoline, the fourth Christmas I spent with Trista when I scrimped and saved until I could get her a pair of diamond earrings, and the first Christmas with both of the boys when we should have saved our money and just given them boxes.
One of the greatest Christmas movies of all time is based on a young boy’s memory of the time that he received the perfect gift. The movie takes place in the 1940’s and follows a 9 year old boy Ralphie Parker who is trying to get an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot BB gun with a compass in the stock. The whole plot of the movie is how he worked, plotted, planned, and dropped hint after hint for the perfect gift only to have everyone from Santa Clause to his mom say "You'll shoot your eye out." On Christmas day there is a pile of gifts including a pink bunny suit from a loving Aunt but no B.B. gun. Ralphie settles in that this will be the worst Christmas ever until. (Play Video)
There is something about Christmas that brings anticipation and hope. Those are the most beautiful emotions that are tied to this time of the year. In our text for this morning we are introduced to two characters in the Christmas Story who were experiencing their own time of anticipation and hope.
In Luke 2 we read the story of Simeon, a man who was waiting for the Christ Child who would be the light he longed for, and Anna, a prophetess who was waiting on God to fulfill His promise. While you may have had some great christmas memories, Simeon and Ana had the greatest Christmas ever.
Aside from what we are told in Luke 2, we know nothing about these two who were waiting in the temple with hope and anticipation. We don’t know their background, their hometown, or even their education. We know that Anna is older and assume that Simeon was an old man because the Holy Spirit promised him he would live long enough to see the Christ Child, but we can’t be certain of that. They simply appear on the stage of history as bit players in the drama surrounding the birth of Christ. After their part is over, they fade from the scene, never to be heard from again.
In the text that was read for us this morning we’re introduced to Simeon who was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. One of the things that waiting does for us is build anticipation. The people of Israel had waited hundreds of years for the Messiah to come.
The coming Messiah was promised in Genesis 3, promised again to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God told Moses that a great prophet would come. God promised David a son who would reign on his throne forever. God then spoke through Isaiah and promised that a son would be born of a virgin, and that his name would be called Immanuel. Still later, Micah predicted that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Even during the 400 years of silence between Malachi and The Gospels, where things didn’t go to real well for the nation of Israel, the people held on to their hope that the Savior was coming.
Verse 27 we read: The Spirit had led him (Simeon) to the temple that day, and there he saw the child Jesus in the arms of His parents, who were fulfilling their sacred obligations. For years Simeon had been anticipating the comfort that Christ would bring. This was his Christmas day.
The prophet Isaiah calls Jesus the Comforter, and that exactly what the people were longing for; the comfort only a Messiah could bring to them. The desire to be comforted is a universal human need. We all struggle with loneliness and insecurity from time to time. If you go all the way back to Genesis you will notice that we have always had a need to be with other people. In the garden Adam, had everything he could want, a job, food, a one on one relationship with God. But there was still a need in his life to be comforted by someone with skin on them, so God gave him Eve. And for the last 6,000 years we have shared that longing to have someone who would come into our lives and give us comfort.
Following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Simeon is in the temple courts at just the right time to meet Mary and Joseph. When he looked at the baby, he knew that God’s promise had been kept. Here was Immanuel, “God With Us,” to make everything right and to wipe out rejection, fear, and loneliness.
Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying: Now, Lord and King, You can let me, Your humble servant, die in peace. You promised me that I would see with my own eyes what I’m seeing now: Your freedom, raised up in the presence of all peoples. He is the light who reveals Your message to the other nations, and He is the shining glory of Your covenant people, Israel
Simeon knew that God had not only fulfilled the promise made to him, but also the promises of the prophets to send comfort for both Jews and Gentiles. To see Jesus is to see God’s salvation. Simeon knew that God had fulfilled His promise and now there was hope for all people.
Simeon exclaims: He is the light who reveals Your message to the other nations. Jesus was Jewish, but He did not just come for the Jews. Jesus came to shine the light of God into every nation, every tribe, and every tongue. Simeon’s words open up this idea that the gospel is global in its scope.
Simeon calls Jesus the glory of Israel. In this baby, Simeon sees the fulfillment of all the hopes and fears of all the years echoed by Jewish people across the centuries. While the Jews were looking for an earthly king and an earthly kingdom, the birth of Christ brought about something much bigger. A Kingdom that cannot be contained by this world, it is greater than our knowledge, our experience, and our understanding.
Verse 33 says that: His father and mother were stunned to hear Simeon say these things. I would imagine that they were stunned a lot in the past few months. Mary and Joseph were keenly aware that there was something very special about their son. The visit by Gabriel, the virgin conception, and the visits of the angels were more than just a simple reminder that this was not normal. But, I also believe they they had no idea what was really going on. I mean how could you wrap their minds around the fact the God was fulfilling His promise of salvation and that He had chosen you to play a part in fulfilling that promise? How could you really understand that this Baby you are holding in your arms is the promised Messiah?
Simeon continues his role as a prophet as he turns to Mary and reveals what Jesus' role as the Messiah will include. Jesus is our Savior but He will not receive a hero's welcome; the Jews expected the Messiah to be a political savior, to rescue them from Roman occupation. If Jesus would have done that, He would have been crowned king of Israel and had the highest popularity rating ever. But, Simeon knew this wasn’t the case, Jesus would be and always has been very controversial and even divisive. His teachings and life cause some to trust Him with their lives and souls. And His life and teachings also served as a stumbling block to those who could not see the real Jesus.
There were crowds of people who loved Jesus, but those crowds were fickle and after teaching a hard truth many in the crowd would hate Him. Eventually, because of His love and teaching, His opponents would kill Him. That is exactly what Simeon prophesied in verse 34, Listen, this child will make many in Israel rise and fall. He will be a significant person whom many will oppose. In the end, He will lay bare the secret thoughts of many hearts. And a sword will pierce even your own soul, Mary.
This was Jesus’ destiny. His coming would not and has not brought salvation and peace to everyone. Simeon repeats the prophecy found in the writing of Isaiah. He is reaffirming that some will stumble over Christ and be crushed by Him and others will rise to new life. While Jesus offers peace and hope to everyone, not everyone is willing to accept His offer.
Simeon, as any prophet must do, speaks of the dark shadows. Here as this young couple is making plans for their new life and for their son, Simeon mentions the cross. John MacArthur writes: “Here's a side to the Christmas story that isn’t often told: Those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary's womb, were made so that nails might be driven through them. Those baby feet, pink and unable to walk, would one day walk up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant's head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that someday men might force a crown of thorns onto it. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be ripped open by a spear. Jesus was born to die.”
We are quick to talk about the sweetness of being a Christian, we love to talk about the baby in the manger, but we often forget that He grew up and left the manger. We forget that if you take the blessing of Christ, it also comes with a burden. Simeon reminds us that following Christ will always cost you something.
Simeon doesn’t greet this young family with, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Rather, he pauses, clears his throat and tells them that the people He came to save are going to hurt him and you won’t be able to do anything about it. People are going to hate him, they are going to lie about him, they’ll spread rumors about you, and they will smear his name and yours as well. And you will have to stand by helplessly and watch it happen.
Christmas is meant to be happy and joyful but it’s also a time of tremendous seriousness because it all happened exactly as Simeon had predicted. When Mary watched her son die, a sword pierced her soul. Above the cradle stands the cross. This little baby was born to die, and that’s where our anticipation gives way to hope.
While it is true that Mary, Joseph, and those who love Jesus will have some dark days in their future, those dark days cannot overshadow the truth that the Messiah had come. God kept His promise! This Child has come to save His people from their sins. The message of Christmas, the message of the Baby in the manger, is don’t quit! Don’t give in to the darkness and despair. Hold on to the one who is holding on to you. Keep watching and waiting for God to show up. And in the meantime, don’t stop doing what’s right. For Simeon there was not a greater blessing than to see the Messiah that God had sent. The promise the Lord had given him had come true.
Simeon wasn’t the only one waiting in the temple with anticipation. There was also Anna who lived in hope. Let’s pick the text up in verse 36.
Luke is my favorite Gospel; one of the reasons I love this gospel so much is how Luke treats women, slaves, and those less fortunate. In his gospel alone there are 43 references to women and he specifically mentions widows. This is amazing, when you consider the fact that in the first century, widows were often neglected and exploited. It is in this society that Luke remembers to mention Anna, a prophetess, who had moved into the temple after her husband died.
But I don’t think we know what to do with Anna. Let me explain; as I was looking through commentaries and other books trying to research Anna and I was shocked that anyone who mentioned her was fixated on verse 37. The only thing that these commentators wanted to discuss was her age. Does the text say that she was 84 years old or older? Some of them even help us with the math: she was probably married at 14, then married for 7 years, and then lived as a widow for 84 years old that would make her 105. So they debate if she was 84 or 105.
The ones who made it past her age, got stuck on whether she actually lived in the temple 24 hours a day 7 days a week, or did she just go there every day to worship God? If she lived there was she allowed to sleep in the court of women, or did she have to sleep outside the temple in the courts of the Gentiles. Did the priests feel compassion for her and share their food with her?
I think they missed the point. Luke does not introduce us to a widowed prophetess just so we could talk about her age or where she sleeps and eats. The reason that we are introduced to Anna is because of what she was waiting for. She spent her days looking and longing for the same person Simeon was, but for a different reason. Instead of looking for comfort, Anna was looking for forgiveness.
Luke tells us about Anna so we could get through all of the socks and unflattering sweaters and get to the real gift in verse 38: she began speaking out thanks to God, and she continued spreading the word about Jesus to all those who shared her hope for the rescue of Jerusalem.
Anna, the prophetess, was the first one who went out to preach and teach the good news that the Christ, the one promised for ages, had come. She carried the beautiful story of the hope or forgiveness. Her words were words of freedom. But in order to find freedom, you must first admit that you are a captive.
Anna was longing for the very thing that we long for today, freedom. Whether we acknowledge it or not, everyone is longing for God to show His love and power and to release us from the slavery of sin. When Anna saw Jesus she could not help but to join in the song that Simeon was singing and share that song with others travelers who are weary. Anna gave thanks to God and spoke about Him to everyone who was longing for redemption. Here, at last, was the One who would save His people from their sins.
Christmas is a time of anticipation and hope. My prayer for you today is that you will carry the idea of anticipation and hope all year long. (Offer a prayer)