Today, as we finish the week that so many of us look forward to with such great anticipation, the family gatherings, the great meals, football, gluttony, family infighting and of course, shopping for Christmas in earnest: I would like for us to reflect and compare.
Because this year, with Covid 19, we are going to have a Thanksgiving and a Christmas that are very different from any that we’ve ever experienced. For some of us, maybe most of us, this will be a difficult Christmas. Jobs up in the air, jobs lost, short hours at work, and then, there is the medical aspect. Another deadly flu to add to our already deadly flu season. I pray for each one of you as you struggle to deal with this Covid 19 virus and all in it's wake. However, though some of us may be confronting difficulties, remember, this time of year we celebrate something special. We don't celebrate Amazon, or other retail gods, nor do we celebrate the god of parties, where we can dress up and eat and drink our fill. No we celebrate an enigmatic beginning. Where a baby comes to be born in the most humble way. Yet this baby is none other than God himself, the Most High God, Creator of all things, leaving heaven and coming to a sin cursed earth. This baby is the Messiah, here to die for our eternal well being. We begin with Luke 2:25-27,
“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.”
Simeon was waiting for the “consolation of Israel”, the comfort that the Messiah would bring to his people, this being the people of Israel.
Now the Holy Spirit gave Simeon a special “insight”; so that Simeon would be able to “recognize” the Messiah when he saw him.
Now in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was present, though differently from the New Testament. In the OT, the Holy Spirit indwelling was selective and temporary. In the NT, The Holy Spirit permanently indwells in believers.
Simeon was one of those people in the OT that God had blessed with his Spirit. While he was looking forward to the Messiah and his consolation, Simeon was not alone in this anticipation. Many different people, belonging to many different factions of Israelite society, were looking for this Messiah. This was not always a happy anticipation for the Deliverer, for these were not peaceful times in Israel.
King Herod was in charge. He curried Jewish favor by restoring the temple in Jerusalem, but this was a smokescreen. Herod was not a true friend to the Jews, nor to anyone other than Herod himself. In fact, he had standing orders that when he died a number of prominent Jews were to be killed so that there would be a time of national mourning.
Judaism under Roman rule had fallen into sectarianism. This had begun after the exile of the Jews, and was now solidifying under the rule of Herod.
You had the Pharisees who were masters of the oral traditions, passed down through the rabbis over the past 400 years of silence from God, between the times of the Old and New Testaments.
Of these Pharisees, many are chosen to enter the politically elite of the time, the Sanhedrin, the highest and most powerful tribunal of the Jews. Then there were the Sadducees, closely associated with the Greek intellectual movement. Then there are the Essenes, the openly rebellious Zealots, Herodians and the Samaritans, whose hybrid religion continues from centuries past.
All of these different groups, like Simeon, were looking for this “consolation of Israel”, this Messiah.
But what most of these groups were doing was “interpreting” their perceived need of this potential Messiah. They saw the need for a strong military and political leader, hearkening back to King David, someone like Alexander the Great, only Jewish, this is what the majority of the Jewish people were hoping for. So each group was hoping for their own type of Messiah.
Now, back to Simeon, of whom the Bible and history tell us little. But I believe that Simeon had to be special.
Because he really did not have that important of a role. He is not essential to the story of the Messiah. He was expendable to the story line of Jesus. Just like the expendable crewman in the Star Trek series and movies. The guest star or new actor, getting his break, the guys that get zapped and disappear, yet have no impact on the conclusion of the show.
God, though, thought enough of Simeon to include him in the “Greatest of all Miracles”, the story of Christ.
What we do know about Simeon is what the Bible tells us. He was devout and righteous. He longed for the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah to be fulfilled.
He waited with Expectation.
Simeon was expecting something to happen.
He had heard all of the religious and political intrigue of the day, from Herod and the Pharisees to the Sadducees and the Zealots.
Not unlike us today. Have you tired of hearing the religious and political intrigue of the world today?
So, I wonder what Simeon was thinking in Luke 2:27-31,
“Moved by the Spirit, he (Simeon) went to the temple courts. 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, saying, 'Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 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 the glory to your people Israel.”'
This last verse, to the Jewish faithful, would have been confusing in the least, and very upsetting in the extreme.
Israel, understood and believed that they were God’s chosen people. Surely, the Messiah was coming to fight and conquer and rule for them.
Gentiles though, were, unclean. They ate unclean food. They did not wash according to God’s standards. They weren’t Jewish.
They were sinners.
This is where I am very impressed with Simeon. The Holy Spirit had to have revealed something special to him about the Gentiles. Because there was probably not another Jew around that would have included the Gentiles in this revelation of the Messiah. Remember the sectarianism that we spoke of earlier. Everyone was looking for a Messiah that would help their own groupspecifically, and the Jewish people in general. They all still viewed themselves as God’s chosen people.
Simeon is special to me for another reason also. Simeon got to hold this baby Messiah. This baby is not destined to be just another world leader such as Cyrus, Alexander or Caesar.
This Messiah is not called to be just another great man of God such as Abraham, Moses or David.
No, this Messiah is to be God himself in human flesh! The Lord of heaven is to become a servant of the earth. God is now revealing himself in the form of a man.
He is a man to be sure, but God as well; and he is God - the God of Creation - but man as well.
God lowers himself so that man might be elevated. He leaves heaven so that man might enter it. Until now God’s blessings have been reserved for his chosen people, but now they are to become available to all people in every generation.
He does not care about race, he does not care about our nationality, our physical appearance or our intelligence.
He simply loves us. He sent Christ and the Holy Spirit to offer hope for all people. That includes every one of us.
This year, like Simeon, I am just thankful to be included in this story. Like Simeon, God wishes to include all of us in the salvation story of his son Jesus Christ.
What part will we each play? I have no idea specifically, for myself, or anyone else. Our part can change with a moving of God's Spirit, if we notice such things (which I pray you do). But I know this, I will wait with expectation when I wait for the Lord. I will, prayerfully, continue to expect miracles to happen. And I will wait, so that whenever God has a part for me to play, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I will be ready.
Simeon, through his faith and devotion, was blessed not just with seeing the Messiah, but with touching and holding the baby Messiah in his arms.
He couldn’t have prayed for a bigger role.
So, if you are are struggling this December, you are not alone. In a way, I would think we all are. Whatever else, please remember that we are a people of hope. A hope that was born in a manger.
Merry Christmas everyone. Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. Blessings,
and Harmony UMC