Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 12/31/2000
We look again today at a question we have examined from many angles over the last few weeks: What is the true meaning of Christmas? It is easy to miss. One thinks of the child's picture of the manger scene: "Who is that short fat guy in the corner?" "Oh, that's Round John Virgin." Or the version of the carol, "The Catalog's roaring, the poor baby wakes." Well, now that the pretty wrapping paper is trash, half the toys are broken, and most of the stomachs are rumbling with indigestion, we may wonder if we have done much better. Simeon understood it as well as anyone ever has, and teaches us to see Jesus as
Consolation is PARAKLESIS, related to paraclete or "comforter," one of the titles of the Holy Spirit. Why did Israel need to be consoled? Because she has had one of the saddest stories of any nation: hundreds of years in captive slavery, hundreds more in exile, returning from that only to fall under Roman subjection, scattered for millenia, persecuted in ghettoes and made scapegoats for all the world's problems, targets of the Holocaust, still unable to be secure in the borders of her ancestral Land. She has been a nation of sorrows and acquainted with grief. One can understand why the rabbis understand Isaiah's Suffering Servant as a reference to corporate Israel rather than to an individual Messiah. But Simeon believed God's promise of One coming who would wipe away all those tears and make all the sorrows and burdens of our existence worthwhile. And he saw Him in Mary's arms.
or the Lord's Messiah or, literally, the Lord's Annointed. This is a phrase familiar from the Old Testament in its more literal translation, for David refused his opportunities to kill Saul on the grounds that he would not lift up his hand against the Lord's Annointed--the very same phrase. It refers here, then, to the fact that this Baby would grow up to be King of Israel, specifically a Davidic king. All that David promised but delivered imperfectly and only for a while, this Baby would deliver perfectly and forever: justice, righteousness, well being, peace, SHALOM. But was Simeon right about this? The primary reason modern Jews reject Jesus' claim to be the Messiah is that the Messiah was supposed to bring Peace on Earth, and, well, just look around you. No peace, no Messiah; the real one obviously hasn't come yet. And if we look only at this prophecy out of context of the rest of the biblical revelation about Christ, we must admit the force of their argument. Fortunately there is enough context to help us see that the world is not yet at peace because it is still in rebellion against this King. But he has not failed of his promise: he has brought peace personally and individually to the hearts of his subjects already, a peace that passeth understanding. The others are still being given the oportunity to submit willingly to his rule before it is imposed by force. So the peace has come and is coming: personally and internally now for believers, universally and objectively later when he comes again.
What Simeon says here is really intersting, for it is not what I suspect we would have said if we were making this up. We might have seen in Jesus the one BRINGING salvation; but Simeon saw not that but the salvation itself. And while it is true that Christ brings salvation, it is more profoundly true that he constitutes it. Jn. 17: 3 says, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." Even in worshipping Christ, we treat him as a means to an end: forgiveness, a clear conscience, release from the flames of Hell, eternal life. And while he does bring those things, they are but the side effects of the real salvation, which is just HIM. Having seen Jesus, Simeon had seen it all.
Salvation is of the Jews (Rom. 9:4-5). But the coming of Christ means that the Abrahamic covenant promise of blessing to all people will now be fulfilled. This was the mystery of Eph. 3:4-6. Now, it had been revealed, but it was not understood until Christ had risen--except by Simeon. Through his insight, we may all read the Old Testament and the New and say, "Because of Jesus, this is mine!"
This is parallel with a light of revelation to the Gentiles, so it refers to national Israel. What does it mean? That what makes them special, what gives their existence and their history its significance, is their connection to Jesus: to them were given the promises, through them came the fulfillment. Though this applies to Israel, it contains a principle which applies to us: what makes us special, what gives our lives significance, is our connection to Christ as well.
What can we say of these things? The meaning of Christmas is that God has given to us the Consolation that makes all our sufferings worthwhile, a King worth following, a Savior who not only brings but is our salvation, an invitation that applies to all nations, and a guarantee of the meaningfulness of our lives if we belong to Christ.
Were the whole realm of Nature mine,
That were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine
Deserves my soul, my life my all.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams