For most, there is an exciting build up to Christmas day caused by the many extra activities, including: concerts, programs, baking, gift purchasing, decorating, wrapping presents and looking forward to family coming. Then finally the big day arrives with Christmas stockings, gift unwrapping, and probably a big meal. But all that leaves quite a mess to clean up and soon special guests and family leave and there is often quite a “letdown” feeling as life returns to the old norm and routine. Then there is always the “putting away” of Christmas as the tree and decorations come down and get stored away until next Christmas.
Much of the excitement of Christmas day also fades for us as the years go on, but if there are young children or grandchildren in your life, you probably still cannot help catching their enthusiasm for the special celebration of Christ’s Incarnation.
But, we can also catch the joy of Christmas from two very old people, Simeon and Anna, who had long been awaiting the coming of the Messiah. Luke records the story of the arrival of Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus in Jerusalem forty days after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. According to Mosaic Law, the mother of a male child was ceremonially unclean. On the eighth day after birth, boys were circumcised, but the mother remained unclean for 32 more days, after which she presented a burnt offering and a sin offering for her cleansing at the temple in Jerusalem (Lev. 12:4-6). She was to offer a yearling lamb and a dove or pigeon (v. 6). If poor, she could offer two doves or pigeons (v. 8). Mary’s offering indicates that she and Joseph were poor (Lk. 2:24). The dedication of a first-born son was also required by Moses Law (Lk. 2:23 cf Ex. 13:2,12-15).
As Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus arrived at the Temple courts, they met Simeon, who 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” (Lk. 2:25,26). Imagine how Simeon’s heart leapt within him. “May I hold your child?” he asks. Then in his arms he carries the tiny newborn whose arms would one day carry him and Anna from sin to salvation. When any of us holds a baby, we can’t stop staring at the baby’s beautiful little face. I’m sure that’s what Simeon was doing. And his joy was far greater than that of a child on Christmas morning! As he held the baby, Simeon delivered his own hymn of praise (called Nunc Dimittus–Latin for “now let depart”), and his first stanza gives glory to the Sovereign Lord for fulfilling His promise. Having seen God’s salvation, Simeon declared his readiness to leave this life in peace. Simeon called Jesus “A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel“ (v. 32). Salvation would come through “God’s chosen people” and be offered to all nations, to Jew and Gentile alike (cf Ro. 1:16; 11:11-27).
Mary and Joseph, of course, “were amazed at the things which were being said about Jesus” (Lk. 2:33). But Simeon’s song also included some somber notes, for Simeon turned directly to Mary and prophesied the opposition Jesus would face that would cause personal agony for Mary (v. 35).
Also present in the Temple was an elderly prophetess, Anna who since widowed when she was young, had dedicated her life to the ministry of intercession in the Temple (v. 36), She came up to Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus and “began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38). Simeon and Anna were faithful servants who followed God into their old age. Thank God for older disciples who provide a model for us to follow
There may be some “Christmas letdown” when all the presents have been opened and the wrappings are strewn about. Realities set in–gifts don’t fit, items weren’t what we’d hoped for, company will leave to return home and bills will arrive. But, along with Simeon and Anna, we have the greatest gift ever in Jesus. We can face life and even death someday because we understand the significance of that baby who triumphed over sin and death for you and for me. Now we can anticipate Jesus’ second coming like little children awaiting Christmas, hardly able to sleep the night before and with hearts leaping for joy as Simeon and Anna. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). “For the grace of God has appeared (at Christ’s first coming), bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus (His second coming); who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14).