Who’s your favorite character from the Biblical Christmas story? Obviously, we are most focused on the Baby Jesus – after all, it’s His birthday, and He truly IS the “reason for the season.” But beyond Him, which person from the narrative really stands out to you?
Some people will probably choose Mary, and I could easily agree. A teenage girl with enough faith to accept the angel’s announcement, then go through the gossip and public shaming she would have endured – it really says a lot about her character. Her betrothed, Joseph, too, was a man of Godly integrity and faithfulness, shown by his willingness to obey God.
There are many other characters in the familiar story. From the priest Zechariah, who is visited by the angel in Luke 1 and learns that he is going to be the father of a baby who will become John the Baptist, to his wife Elizabeth, who greets her cousin Mary; from the shepherds on the hills above Bethlehem, to the Wise Men bringing their gifts – there are quite a few interesting folks involved. But I want to tell you about my favorite: an old man named Simeon.
According to Luke 2:25-35, Simeon was “righteous and devout,” and he was waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises of the “consolation of Israel.” He was also apparently an elderly man, and he knew that he did not have many days left. He was ready to go, except for one thing: Luke also tells us that the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen, with his own eyes, the Messiah coming from God.
It’s hard for us to imagine how momentous this really was. The fact is, our culture is terrible at waiting. We grow up longing for Christmas morning, then by the middle of morning, the kids are playing with the boxes instead of the toys that had been inside. We barely finish counting the results of one election before the media is speculating about who’s going to run next time. We hurry and rush and frantically move from one thing to the next, but rarely do we slow down long enough to really think about what this story is really telling us.
For thousands of years, God’s chosen people had been waiting for the “Anointed One,” known in their language as “The Messiah.” He would bring justice to a world of unfairness. He would bring righteousness to a world filled with so much evil. He would bring peace to a world torn by violence. Kindness. Compassion. Goodness. Simple decency towards one another, and genuine, heartfelt worship to God. This is what Messiah would bring as part of the Kingdom of God.
And somehow, the Holy Spirit had communicated to this tired old man that he – Simeon! – would be allowed personally to see God’s promised Savior. That God’s grace would be poured out on him, to view the One that so many, for so many generations, had wanted to see but never had. So on this otherwise ordinary day, Simeon leaves his house and goes to the Temple, as he had done so many other times. But this time was different.
As Simeon works his way down the line of parents with their newborn boys, he looks from infant to infant. “Is it this one? Is he the one? No.” He keeps going until he gets to Mary and Joseph and the baby, and somehow, he knows. He somehow manages to persuade Mary to allow him to hold the precious little one, and then he prays over the infant –
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
If the birth of Jesus teaches us nothing else, it should teach us this: God is always faithful, and He always keeps His promises. It is rarely according to our timetable, and the fulfillment is often done in ways that we could never have imagined. But God is always faithful.
As we move from one holiday event to the next this year, let us hold on to this truth: God is absolutely, undeniably, and unshakably, faithful to His word, to His promises, and to us. Merry Christmas.