I began yesterday by talking about the music of this Christmas season and how for me, as I’m sure for most of you, the songs of the holidays bring back memories of years gone by. Unlike any genre of music, I believe it is Christmas season music that has been the most creatively crafted and reworked over the ensuing decades. Traditional songs, both sacred and secular, are now recast with all sorts of new harmonies and musical styles that have more recently arisen – even to include unforeseen treatments like hip-hop, techno, or contemporary R&B.
As you can probably sense from my words, all of these arrangements bring out the music geek inside me. I’ll be listening to a creatively-arranged treatment of a classic Christmas tune, analyzing the harmonic progressions and expecting a certain direction, when, suddenly the composer throws in a twist that was totally unexpected.
The greatest of stories have such a flow. While copying the greatest story ever by going from “once upon a time” and ending with “and they lived happily ever after,” the best writing will take the reader upon a wild ride of ups and downs and twists and turns. And the nativity story is filled with such development.
Today we see the devout parents of Jesus performing the duties of their faith by observing the appropriate dedication rites and sacrifices in the temple. On any given day, there were surely dozens of other devout Jews doing the same thing. It was a place of great activity. But a couple of twists happen for Joseph and Mary in what would have been expected to be an in-and-out, quick experience.
First, they run into a pair of older saints who are divinely attuned to recognize exactly who this child and family is. Having been told in some fashion by the Lord that Simeon’s work on earth would not be done until he had seen the Messiah, it is revealed to him that this baby is indeed to be the long-awaited Christ. Anna, likely even older than Simeon (and anyone else nearby) is also aware of the significance of this moment. Together, for the purposes of Luke’s argument and gospel presentation, they are witnesses that collaborate the identity of Jesus from the very beginning.
Secondly, there is an unexpected comment in the midst of Simeon’s prophetic words. The scene is fully Jewish: Jewish people doing Jewish things in a Jewish place in fulfillment of Jewish prophecies over many centuries. And then Simeon comes out with, “… my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles…” What? What’s this gentile/nations talk doing here at this moment? Again, harking back to our earlier sermon series this fall (The Other Side of the Tracks), God has the first and the biggest heart for all of the peoples of the world. Jesus is about more than just fulfilling Israel’s prophecy. Can I hear an “amen” from my readership?
Thirdly, this prophetic utterance and incarnational fulfillment is all about the victory that God is doing in the biggest picture of big pictures. Boom! This is the solution to everything that has gone wrong! Oh yes … victory to victory from this time forward, right? Yes, that is the end of the story, but the process is going to be difficult. There will be conflicts that arise, grievous strivings … with results that will cut through the soul of the mother Mary like a sword. We still live with the battle raging.
But without doubt, the final victory is certain. Even amidst the tumult and strife, even in our own demise from the physical world, we can have peace and certainty that all ends well for eternity. And that is the ultimate peace we take from the season of peace … though hate is strong and mocks the song, the bells of Christendom peal loudly the truth that wrong shall fail and right prevail with peace on earth.
Luke 2:22-38 – When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
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.”
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.