Sermon series: The Songs of Christmas
- Simeon's Song, Nunc Dimittis - Luke 2
- The Angels' Song, Gloria - Luke 2
- Zechariah's Song, Benedictus - Luke 1
- Mary's Song, The Magnificat - Luke 1
If you are familiar with Luke's opening chapters, you know of the songs that were sung about the coming of Christ. Four in all, they each focus on a unique aspect of the meaning of Immanuel, that God is with us. The closing song of Luke's birth narratives is sung by a weathered and aged man named Simeon, grayed and stooped, but with a voice that, like other priests, is accustomed to singing. His is a very personal song of joy that sees ancient hopes realized. But it is also a song of dramatic transformation, foretelling the upheaval of culture, the ending of deep divisions and the stunning truth about ourselves that comes to the surface when Jesus is near.
He is not alone in his celebration, for a godly woman named Anna steps into Simeon's blessing and teaches us as well. Will you, for the next few minutes, listen to the song of an old man, who realizes he is standing at the hinge of history? Will you allow yourself to see the deep meaning of what Dec. 25 celebrates through the eyes of an old woman who was there? Let's eavesdrop on them in v. 25-35.
As we come to Christmas Eve, what is it that the Spirit of God wants to teach us?
I. Let His birth prepare you to die
Verse 26 tells us that "it had been revealed to [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah." Verse 27 continues, "Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple complex. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for Him what was customary under the law, Simeon took Him up in his arms, praised God, and said:
'Now, Master . . . '"
This "now" holds singular power. It is a declaration, an announcement that signals a dramatic change has occurred. A decisive moment has dawned that transforms everything. Picture a soldier assigned to patrol and watch for the dawn. He bides his time, scanning for the first glimmers of light through the long dark of night, his tiring body longing for the rising of the morning star. And then at last the sun climbs over the horizon, its blazing light pushing back the black of night and painting the world with a new day. This sentry's assignment is done; weary but obedient, he reports to his commanding officer and is relieved of duty. "Lord, now You can dismiss Your slave in peace, according to Your word."
So it is with Simeon, and in v. 30ff. he tells us why this birth is a "not-to-be-overlooked" moment, so decisive for him and for us. "For my eyes have seen Your salvation. You have prepared [it] in the presence of all peoples--a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory to Your people Israel."
Simeon sings of the salvation of God, a rescue operation that is amazing to behold. This tiny infant, just 40 days old, is God's Messiah, sent to secure this salvation. He is the longed-for Jewish Deliverer who comes to bring glory to Israel, but the mercy shown to Israel will over-swell the banks of one people and bring revelation to all the nations.
Isaiah reported the words of God to His Messiah Son in 49:6: "It is not enough for you to be My servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be My salvation to the ends of the earth."
God says through Isaiah that it would be a dishonor to His servant-Messiah if He did not give Him more to do than simply restore the glory of an oppressed and sinful Israel. That's too light a thing. So Christ's coming marks the beginning of hope for people everywhere.
But in all this sweeping work of God, don't miss the point that was very personal to Simeon: my eyes have seen Your salvation. What gave Simeon peace to face his death was that he himself had seen the one and only Christ, who secures salvation for us. Now he was ready to die because Jesus, our Savior is born. He believed without even knowing how it would all end; he looked at an infant and saw God's solution to our separation, trusted in what He came to do, and crossed the line of readiness to meet God.
Have you crossed that line? More important than anything this Christmas is whether you are prepared to meet God, seeing in Christ your only hope of reconciliation and peace with God.
II. Let His life prepare you to suffer
In v. 34-35, Simeon looks at Mary and says, "Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed - and a sword will pierce your own soul -that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."
"Mary this baby is going to divide this nation. He is a sign from heaven that marks the end of neutrality about God. You are either for Him or against Him; there is no middle ground. To some, His coming brings heaven; to others, hell. Jesus' birth will lift up the lowly and bring down the mighty. He will unite some and divide others. People will love Him and follow Him or hate Him and reject Him.
"And Mary, a sword will pierce your own soul also. He will reveal the secret thoughts and intentions of many hearts, and people don't like the truth to be told about them or to them. You won't like what happens to Him because of this, but it is necessary so that He may fulfill the mission that is His. Mary, get ready to suffer for Christ's sake."
Decades later, the Apostle Paul, who bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus, wrote these words: . . . Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, working side by side for the faith of the gospel, not being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is evidence of their destruction, but of your deliverance -and this is from God. For it has been given to you on Christ's behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him." (Phil. 1:27-29)
Life with Jesus is not going to be easy. His purposes brought Him to the cross. If you follow Him, His purposes will take you there too. So now let the meaning of this Christmas transform all your suffering, whether from illness or loss or lack, so that it becomes suffering for Christ's sake. Bear in a manner worthy of Him, asking for His grace to help in time of need, that the suffering might have its perfect work in you and through you to someone who is watching your life to see if there is any difference.
III. Let this be the day of your willing surrender
It is not an accident that God surrounded the coming of Christ with different generations. Why are Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon and Anna all very old? Why did God ordain that the parents of the last OT prophet (John the Baptist) be aged and the parents of the Messiah be young? And why are the two witnesses Simeon and Anna at the point of death when they see Jesus and testify of Him? Luke seems to stress their age very deliberately.
There are several answers that we are meant to see, but let me emphasize one: It is never too early or too late to be wholehearted in your devotion to the Lord, to be aflame with hope in God, or to surrender your will to the motions of the Spirit of God as He puts you in a position for be a part of God's plan.
A. To the young . . .
I say this to teenagers and young adults with all the longing and force I can muster: It is deeply wrong for you to wait until later in your life to set things right with God and give yourself to Him fully. Suppose Mary had decided to stay religious but toy with worldliness as well? Well, then we would know nothing of her today. Or what if Joseph had decided to sow his wild oats before settling down with God? His name would be absent from this Holy Book.
It is flatly foolish to bide your time with God, for such thinking is built on two flawed assumptions, the first of which is that . . .
1. "Tomorrow is mine"
How many times have I heard someone say to God, "Not now. I understand what is at stake, but I want to wait"? The Bible batters such logic to pieces. "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.' You don't even know what tomorrow will bring -what your life will be! For you are a bit of smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil." (James 4:13-16)
Understand this: it is arrogant and evil to think you have tomorrow in your back pocket and God will bypass you to find someone else whose heart is fully His.
2. "I can come to God anytime I want"
Deep down, those who stray with the intention of returning to God one day believe that they are the captain of their ship, the master of their fate. But the Bible disagrees. The Holy Spirit is like the wind, said our Savior. He blows where He wills, when He wills. We neither have the power nor the inclination to come to God repentantly apart from His wooing work. We come when He is ready, not when we are.
Which is why the Bible relentlessly calls us to respond today! "Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts!" (Heb. 3:7-8) "Encourage each other daily, while it is still called 'Today,' so that none of you is hardened by sin's deception." (Heb. 3:13) To you who think you have your life stretched out before you, I say, "Let this day be the day of your repentance, your return, your full surrender to His will and ways.
B. To the elderly . . .
I say this will all due respect and longing: It is also deeply wrong for you to throw in the towel and let your heart retire from the fervent devotion of a bygone time. Just look at Simeon and Anna. Years before, God made it clear to Simeon that he would live until he had seen the Lord's Messiah. We can only imagine how he greeted each day thereafter. "I'll have a front row seat at the Messiah's coming. I'll be part of the revolution, get a job in the new administration." But years and then decades flowed by, and nothing happened. Nothing changed.
There may have been a time when Anna, too, dreamed of a glorious life, but her husband died just "seven years after her marriage" (v. 36). Things had not turned out like Anna had planned. Now she is 84 and in the sunset of her life.
It would have been easy for this elderly widow and this aged man to conclude that their best days were behind them and whatever chance for any lasting influence has already past. It would have easy to soak in the nostalgic memories of a bygone time of youth and vigor. Instead, they persevered in their trust in God's plan and stayed faithful and responsive to the Holy Spirit. And so it was that God let them see and hear something others missed.
On November 18, 1995, the Israeli master violinist Itzhak Perlman played before the eager audience of New York's Lincoln Center. But within seconds of beginning, it was clear that the maestro was in trouble. Just as he finished the first stanza, a string on Perlman's violin snapped. To everyone's surprise, Itzhak Perlman paused for a moment, closed his eyes, and then signaled the conductor to begin again. The orchestra recommenced, and he joined them where he'd left off.
He played with passion and purity, modulating, changing, retuning and recomposing the piece on the spot to render what was lost by the broken string. When he finished, the audience exploded to its feet. They knew the feat they had just seen. Perlman raised his bow to quiet the audience and then said, not boastfully, but in a quiet, reverent tone: 'You know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.'" (From the sermon "Long Past Prime" by Daniel Meyer; online at www.preachingtoday.com)
So now on this Christmas Eve, I ask those who have witnessed the passing of the years, what music might you make have you have left? Are you still playing the string of faithfulness? Are you practicing those spiritual disciplines of "worshipping, fasting, and praying" with which you nurture a "righteous and devout" spirit? Will you be Spirit-led, going where God wants you to go? It could be that the most important music you can make in your lifetime is now, just as it was for Simeon and Anna. Whatever you have left, dare to play it for all you are worth. And you will find that wondrous chord of faith, hope, and love still stirs the heart-strings of the next generation.