This is a busy season of the year, isn’t it? As we view the majority of the people in the world around us, it is easy to possess a sort of latent condescension. THEY don’t get IT! They don’t understand the reason for the season. For them, it is just all about Santa and elves and Walmart and Amazon and UPS. Those who “get it” – like us for example – are in a truly small minority.
The faithful are always a minority. Jesus said as much when speaking of the broad road that leads to destruction and the narrow path that leads to eternal life.
Throughout the Scriptures – especially over and over with the accounts of the Old Testament and Israel – the faithful comprise “the few and far between” of humanity. Only Noah and his family remained true to God as the great deluge approached. It took God working through Moses to revive a nation in exile and deliver them to the Promised Land. Elijah felt he was all alone when dealing with the prophets of Baal. God used the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires to bring judgment upon his faithless people.
But always there was a remnant. As evangelical Christians, we likely see ourselves as among the remnant of God’s people in our generation. And as we read the Bible and project ourselves back into the context of ancient times, we are completely confident that we would have been one of the few … the faithful … the ones connected truly to God and his work in that generation.
So, if we were living in the times of the birth of Christ, surely we would be among the good characters of the incarnation story. We’d be a wise man on a camel, a shepherd in the fields, a faithful follower of John the Baptist, or even a frequenter of the Temple – a person fully anticipating the coming of God’s promised Messiah. Maybe? Maybe not?
In any event, it is always difficult to be a remnant person when all of the current is going opposite of the direction you are swimming through life. And so it was in Israel, even at the Temple in Jerusalem in the era of Herod and the Romans. Malachi and the prophets who wrote of a coming Messiah were the stuff of ancient history. The majority of the Jewish world was busy with the stuff of daily life, not the ancient promise of messianic hope.
Today we meet a couple of remnant people in Jerusalem, elderly people who retained a great hope of the coming Messiah, even as their personal sands of time where almost completely in the bottom half of the hourglass. Meet Simeon and Anna …
25 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. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Luke 2:36 – There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
It is very imaginable that Simeon and Anna were seen even by the religious element in Israel as somewhat over-the-top pious and even a bit kooky and eccentric. But in the face of decades, generations … even centuries … of unfulfilled prophecies, they remained true to God’s promise by hanging onto hope. They longed for a new day and a new era. Though they themselves would not see the complete fulfillment of it, the greatness of God’s plan for the nation and all mankind gave them a perspective on life that was bigger than self.
It is rather clear from the story that these old folks lived under God’s favor. And certainly we can state that this is a timeless truth. God’s calling upon us is to see our place within his plan of the ages. We are members of the Kingdom of Light, members of the cast of characters of a drama that began with creation in a garden and heading toward an eternal city. This is the stuff of true reality.
Yet the nature of humanity is to see the immediate cares of daily life as the consuming reality. And whereas we need to be responsible in these details, the greater picture would call us to have a heart and values system longing for that which is truly eternal.
It is easy to become today as the masses of the Jewish population were at the time of Christ’s incarnation – not necessarily involved in bad stuff, but neither terribly interested in nor expectant about God’s word and plan. We too live with multiplied centuries now having been interspersed between the promise of a second coming of Jesus and the actual fulfillment of it. It is not like we don’t believe it, but likely we don’t think about it that much or long for it.
Being like, thinking like, and valuing eternity like Simeon and Anna did is not actually crazy or eccentric. It is actually having THE BIG IDEA of it all as front and center in our minds and lives. God likes that; God approves of such a person.
< This concludes the final devotional in the First-Person Christmas series. Our next teaching series will be an eight-part study on the person of God – his attributes and the trinity etc. – the stuff that in theology we call “theology proper.” This will begin on January the 8th with associated devotionals throughout. >