My Advent reflections, as well as my general blogging, have been cut a bit short due to the birth of my son. Justus is doing so well and there is a joyful spirit in the Meade home.
We are only a few days from Christmas and as we make last minute preparations for that blessed morning, the shocking words from Simeon are worthy of our attention. Luke chapter 2 describes Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus up to Jerusalem to “present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22). That is in itself a mind-bending reality since Jesus is the Lord! We are told very little about the man Simeon, who makes his appearance in this chapter, except that he was a devout Jew upon whom the Holy Spirit rested (notice the busyness of the Holy Spirit even before Pentecost). We are also told that Simeon was given a revelation by the Holy Spirit that before his own death, he would see the Christ. That time had come.
Mary and Joseph, just like everyone else who had any prolonged interaction with Jesus, were always in a process of understanding more and more about who Jesus was and what he came to do. The pronouncement to the shepherds by the angels that Jesus was coming for “all the people” would have been primarily understood to be all the people in Israel. Although we understand the angels to be speaking of Gentile universalism, such an understanding would have been in process for those in that day, including Mary and Joseph. Simeon and the story of Jesus’ purification help shine more light on the mystery of Jesus.
As Simeon sees the boy Jesus, he takes him up in his arms and blesses God. He, like the angels, also describes the coming of Jesus as the preparation for “all peoples” (v.31). Yet, Simeon expounds further. Who are the “all people” we have been hearing about? The group Simeon first recognizes are the Gentiles. The significance and shock of this announcement would have been jaw-dropping. Notice Simeon’s words:
“that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (vv. 31-32).
The light of Jesus Christ will do something that only Israel has been the recipient of up to this point. It will bring the revelation of God and his salvation to all the people of the world. Whereas Israel was already a people who had received God’s revelation, the coming of Christ now brings glory to the nation (an important note to recognize God’s continued blessing on his chosen people). God reminds Israel that their true glory is not first discovered through a Messiah who overthrows rulers and nations, but through an infant who brings God’s salvific revelation. Thus, Mary and Joseph were no doubt pondering Jesus’ importance for the nation Israel, but now they are amazed to hear of his bringing salvation to the whole world, for anyone who will believe.
Christmas is the blessed of all holidays for many reasons. The coming of Jesus, the making of memories that last a lifetime, quality family time, and so on. And yet, it serves as a reminder that we are all without excuse. The light of the world has come and has provided revelation for all of God’s way of salvation. Yet, there is a hidden message in Christmas that is not so peaceful, not so cheerful. We do right by not dwelling on it, but we should nevertheless be aware of its existence. Simeon keeps talking. And to the horror of Mary and Joseph, he explains that this baby who is bringing revelation to the entire world will also be bringing destruction. He says, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (2:34-35). When the light comes for the whole world, it also exposes the hearts of the world. Many do not want that kind of exposure, and many will fall. Christmas, especially in this great country of ours, is the ultimate reminder of this truth. Because no time else is the reality of the light of Christ more obvious then during the time of Christmas, and yet many will refuse to believe. Their hearts have been exposed.
So we are thankful for the coming of Christ who brings light to the world. Allow his light to expose your heart for what is lacking. And then ask God to forgive your unbelief this Christmas season. After all, the joy we share is powerful enough to be a great joy for all the people. Thankfully, that includes me. Thankfully, that includes you.