A Christmas Story
Today we find ourselves in the last few moments before Christmas. In just a few hours, all of the pretty paper and bows will be heaped up in a corner or packed in a black trash bag waiting by the curb. Santa Clause has already started his journey around the globe bringing presents for some, and coal for others.
According to a survey released last week the most popular gifts for 2017 are Paw Patrol Sea Patroller Rescue Vehicle, WowWee’s Fingerlings, the Nintendo Switch, and Amazon Echo’s. I understand that this is a season dedicated to family, Jesus, and peace on Earth, but I want to be honest and admit that I have a tendency to get caught up in the other side of Christmas as well. Maybe you are like me and have spent an awful lot of time and money hoping someone would have the best Christmas ever. 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. Tomorrow will be my 44th Christmas day and only remember a few of them, and the memories are tied to the gifts. I remember the Christmas that Santa brought me a trampoline, the 4th Christmas I spent with Trista when I scrimped and saved so I could buy 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. If you have never seen the movie shame on you. Actually it’s on for 24 hours straight on TBS and TNT starting tonight at 7:00. If you have seen it you remember the whole plot of the movie is how Ralphie 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 gives into the idea that will be the worst Christmas ever until. (Play Video)
Christmas today is a billion-dollar industry. Every country the world over stops and celebrates Christmas. But in Jesus’ time there was no celebration. Nobody was ready for the Messiah to be born. Herod was caught off guard. The rich and powerful didn’t know it happened. The ruling powers in the world from Rome to Asia had no clue. Even the religious elites in the temple didn’t see anything significant about this baby. He was just one more baby coming through, a peasant child born to peasant parents.
People had an expectation of the Messiah, but they were probably looking among the households of the wealthy, those who could afford lambs for sacrifice. It seemed that nobody was ready for the coming of the Messiah, well almost nobody. In the Gospel of Luke, we come across two characters who make their only appearance in the second chapter of his gospel. One is a man named Simeon; the other is a woman named Anna. They don’t appear in any nativity scenes or Christmas cards, but they are significant players in the first Christmas story. Both of these individuals were waiting for something, actually, they were waiting for someone.
Simeon -- Waiting For Comfort
We don’t know much about Simeon, but Luke does tell us some pretty important things about him. We know he was just and devout, just the type of person that God would break through and whisper in their ear. I love the fact that God is so excited about what is happening that He finds someone to share this inside information. But, notice that God doesn’t choose to share this information with Herod, or the chief priest. Instead, God whispers in the ear of poor, faithful, Simeon.
I imagine that once God had let Simeon in on the secret, every day he has made the trip to the temple expecting to see the Messiah. The religious people probably think he’s an eccentric. They mock him. And yet he still believes and still shows up. Every day he scans the crowd at the temple. He looks for young couples with babies. He probably asks the Lord, “Is this the one?” and every day the Lord says, “No, Simeon, this is not the one.” But finally one day he sees a peasant family walk in with their baby and he asks, “God is this the one?” And The Holy Spirit whispers, “Yes, that’s Him.”
Remember there was nothing special, no identifying markers that would suggest Mary and Joseph were the parents of the Messiah. They don’t have golden halos above their heads, they were’t surrounded by light and had their own chorus of angels singing to announce their arrival in the temple. In fact, the prophets told that He would have no form or attractiveness, that He’d be born in obscurity in Bethlehem.
But Simeon is ready to see the child because he has been faithfully waiting in expectation for the comfort that Christ would bring. All of the Jews were waiting for the promised Messiah or Comforter. They all longed for the Messiah to come and bring His comfort to them because the desire to be comforted is a universal human need. We all struggle with loneliness, emptiness, insecurity, even desperation. In fact, the Christmas season is one of the major crisis times of the year for depression and suicide. 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.
Simeon knew that God’s promise had been kept. Here was Immanuel, God With Us, to make everything right, to provide significance by His presence, and to eliminate rejection, fear, and loneliness. Imagine how Simeon’s heart leaped within him as he approached this young couple and asks to hold the child. Then taking the child into his arms he begins to sing: God, you can now release your servant; release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes I've seen your salvation; it's now out in the open for everyone to see: A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel.
Simeon’s words contain powerful truths about the Gospel. First he says that his eyes had seen Salvation. Simeon knew salvation is not a thing or a religious term. Salvation is a Person, that Person is that little baby Jesus, who grew up to be a Man and become sin for you and me.
Simeon knew he wasn’t just a Light for the Jews. He was a Light for the entire world. Going back to God’s original purpose to be light for all nations. That’s why the Christmas story is not a Jewish story or a Gentile Story or an American story, but the story for all mankind. Jesus didn’t just come for a select group of people. Jesus came for all of mankind, all who would believe. That’s why the Christmas story isn’t just about a few Jewish people 2,000 years ago. It’s about you. Jesus came to this Earth for you and for me.
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 your 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 confirms what the angels have already said; Jesus is our Savior. But, Simeon continues and tells them that Jesus will not receive a hero's welcome. The Jews expected the Messiah to be a political savior, to rescue them from Roman occupation. But that was not why God came to this world. 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.
Christmas is meant to be happy and joyful but it’s also a time of tremendous seriousness because everything Simeon predicted happened. 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. At that very moment, an elderly woman named Anna stepped forward. Anna was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She had been married for seven years before her husband died and a widow to her current age of 84 years. She was deeply devoted to the Lord, constantly in the temple, fasting and praying. When she approached Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, 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. (The Voice)
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. 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 I noticed that anyone who mentioned her was fixated on 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?
Don’t miss 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, candles, unflattering sweaters and get to the real gift. Luke says: 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.
So often in our fellowship we just kind of gloss over what Luke says here: Anna, the prophetess is the first one to preach and teach the good news that the Christ, the one promised for ages, had come. The first one to preach the story of Christmas, the beautiful story of the hope of forgiveness, was this widow woman. 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)