In honor of our pastor’s sermon yesterday, I’m posting an old article I did years ago for an Advent booklet at a former church.
The subject is Luke 2:25-35.
The movie The Ten Commandments has a great scene, which, amazingly, involved Charlton Heston. In it, an Egyptian guard in the mud fields has stabbed an ancient Israelite for insubordination. As the old man dies, he laments about a prayer that has gone unanswered. When asked which prayer, he says, “That before God closed my eyes in death, I might behold the deliverer.” Cecil B. DeMille had the irony running as thick as the mud, because the old man’s dying words are spoken to Moses, the Once and Future Deliverer.
I think of that scene every time I read this passage. Simeon was also an old man, or so goes the prevalent thinking, and he had a similar desire, to see “the Consolation of Israel” before he died (that stunningly beautiful phrase essentially means “Messiah”). Both men were granted their desire, but one still died unhappy, a broken man. Why?
The old Israelite didn’t recognize the answer to his prayer even when it was staring him in the face. The Deliverer of Israel held him as he died, but the old man passed away believing his prayer was unanswered, maybe even unheard. He couldn’t see very well, because his eyes were clouded by his circumstances.
Simeon, on the other hand, has some very interesting things said about him in this passage. “The Holy Spirit was upon him,” it was revealed to him “by the Holy Spirit,” and he came “in the Spirit” to the temple. That’s a lot of Holy Spirit for a world with no Holy Spirit (at large) yet! It appears that Simeon was charismatic before charismatic was cool. And, Simeon recognized the “Consolation of Israel” the second he laid eyes on Him.
Simeon also wasn’t necessarily an old man. The reason we think of Simeon as old is because he tells God “now dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen Your salvation,” and surely only an old person would be ready to die at that point. Ah, but it wasn’t that Simeon wanted to die, it was simply that he was at peace with dying — he had seen all he needed to see of this life when he saw the baby Jesus in the temple. (Even DeMille couldn’t have manufactured that kind of irony: the Redeemer of the world was being redeemed, see Numbers 8:17–18 and Luke 2:22-24.)
I know a lot of Simeon’s (in fact, I married one). Their faces glow all day, even if they don’t wash it in the morning. When Jesus shows up, they recognize it immediately. And Jesus is all they need in this life.
Then there are the rest of us. We are like that old man. For us, Christmas isn’t always a joyful season, it’s “Bah, humbug” or worse. Our prayers are (seemingly) unanswered and/or unheard. Our lives are destitute, isolated, meaningless. We are still slaves stuck in the mud, and no Deliverer is in sight.
Or so we think. Can I give you some good news? “My Deliverer Is Coming” makes for a great song (an incredible song, actually), but my, and your, Deliverer is here. Of all the names for God in the Bible, my personal favorite is Immanuel — God With Us. Ours is not a God “out there,” ours is a God right here.
Some of the most extraordinary words in the Bible are found in Exodus 33:11 — “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” (emphasis mine) The most amazing thing about God isn’t that He came to earth and lived and died and lived again — He’s God, for crying out loud, He can by definition do anything. No, the most amazing thing about God is that He wants to be our friend. (For some of us, that’s moving past amazing towards miraculous.) And He’s gone to a lot of trouble to make it happen.
Are you waiting for a reason to be joyful about your first Christmas alone in a long time? Are you waiting for a best friend to share your hopes and fears and dreams with? Are you waiting for someone who knows why you are the way you are, who loves you anyway, and, more importantly, can change what needs to be changed? Are you waiting for someone who can fill the gaping hole in your neighbors’ lives, or perhaps even your own life?
And she shall call His name Immanuel. And the government will rest on His shoulders, and His name will be called Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace. He proclaims release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, sets free those who are downtrodden. To the weary He will give rest. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men.
The Wait Is Over.