Are we watching?

Christmas Day 2010

It’s Christmas Day in the Year of Our Lord 2010!  For the first time in many years the pressures of employment seem to be at a lull just at the time I need the wherewithal to reflect on the true meaning of this season.  Thank you, Lord!

Last night we attended the traditional “Christmas Eve Candlelight Service” at a local church.  This church no longer uses hymnals — all the lyrics are projected onto screens to either side of the stage by computer.  The slides not only show the words, but incorporate appropriate background images.  During a Christmas carol, one of the backgrounds was a painting showing a tight grouping of people — a baby, held out in his mother’s arms for the surrounding people to see, and most prominently a tall elderly man looking down at the baby over her shoulder and reaching out a hand toward the baby.  Joseph is on her other side, and beyond the elderly man are many other people, some watching and some going about their business.  In the distance is an elderly woman who appears to have just taken notice of what is happening.  The artist’s use of light and composition was masterful, and it told the story well — the story of Simeon and Anna on the occasion of the baby Jesus’ circumcision at eight days of age.

Simeon’s face is filled with delight, awe, comprehension and satisfaction.  The Bible says of him (Luke 2:25-26), “… this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”  Luke describes in detail the ensuing conversation as Simeon took the baby Jesus into his own arms, blessed God for what He had done, and warned Mary of Jesus’ controversial future and the sorrows that would accompany it.

Anna’s impulsive glance is full of sudden realization, as if she had just been tapped on the shoulder by an unseen hand.  At the age of 84 she had lived most of her adult life in the Temple, fasting and praying night and day, never leaving the Temple grounds.  Luke records that she came up to Mary and Joseph “at that very moment” (we assume the moment that Simeon was speaking with Mary), and then began telling “all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”  (Luke 2:36-38)

Notice that Anna wasn’t telling everyone — she chose her audience very carefully.  Luke’s narrative suggests that even at the time of Christ’s birth there was political controversy in Israel over this notion, and that there was a faction present in the Temple who knew the Old Testament promises to Israel and believed that the time was ripe for their fulfillment.  How sad that even at this time Israel’s leadership were not counted among them, nor would they be as Jesus fulfilled His earthly ministry some thirty years later.

Simeon was looking for the consolation of Israel and Anna was looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.  While Luke does not say so specifically, both would have known and cherished the promises recorded in the Scriptures, due to four factors — their age, their long presence in the Temple, their devotion, and their detailed knowledge of the Scriptures.  Perhaps God chose to reveal these things to them because of those factors.  Although their expectation of a Kingdom and a King on earth were different from our expectation of participation in a mighty throng of believers in Heaven at the foot of God’s very throne, their presence in Luke’s record should give us pause for consideration.  What are we looking for, if anything, in our daily lives?  Would we recognized it if suddenly appeared?  Would we be ready, or would we trip over it and go on as if nothing happened? Are we devout enough to hear the inner revelations of the Holy Spirit’s still small voice in our hearts, or to feel the tap of his hand on our shoulder?  God was so well pleased with Simeon and Anna that He imparted His secrets to them!  Does that describe our relationship to God?  Do we even know what we should be looking for?

“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be cuaght up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.  Therfore comfort one another with these words.”  (I Thessalonians 4:15-18)

I confess my whole lifestyle falls far short of that of Simeon and Anna.  I need desperately to seek daily what they sought.  May our Christmas — and all of our New Year and more – be filled with the same knowledge, understanding, devotion and urgent watchfulness that marked the lives of Simeon and Anna!  Merry Christmas!

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