Blue Christmas December 22, 2016
Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
Presentation of a newborn baby in the Temple was a time honoured tradition among the Jews. In many places it is carried on among Christians today too by bringing children to Church on their eighth day. It is a time of celebration and thanksgiving for a new life and for the survival of the mother through what was a dangerous time for her too. So there is much joy in the hearts of Mary and Joseph.
Then along came Simeon a deeply religious man, who like all Jews (indeed all of us), had been waiting for a Saviour. All the signs were there that things were going to turn around for the Jews and Simeon confirmed to all that Jesus is the one to do it. Jesus is going to lift the darkness of life caused by the Roman Occupation of Israel. Jesus would lift the oppression they lived under and the people would be free from the domination by others again. Mary and Joseph were perplexed, overjoyed, baffled, delighted and amazed at the old man’s prophecy – we all like good things to be said about our children, they were no exception. Then Simeon dropped a bombshell, this is not going to turn out the way Mary and Joseph had hoped. Their son is going to make things worse than they already are. And not only that He will be the cause of pain and anguish to His own mother Mary. Simeon says that “a sword will pierce [Mary’s] own soul too”. This is terrible news. Jesus is going to bring pain to all, including His mother. If you’ve ever had disturbing news about anything, your health, your relationships, your money, your job, you know what Mary was going through right then, she shared the same emotions as you. Consider that she lost her Son in the crowds of Jerusalem for three days before finding Him. A lost child brings us all to fear of the worst that could happen, we know about that here today – it still hurts. Her husband died early in life and she faced the difficulties of single-parenthood. At one point she tried to protect Jesus from the crowds who thought He was out of His mind and tried to constrain Him for His own good. She had a Son who would not listen to His Mother’s Advice, that can hurt, when you know the difficulties or danger into which your child is heading. And worst of all the danger became real as she watched Him die an agonising death on the Cross. What more could one woman, a mother, indeed anyone face ? Mary got enough tragedy for anyone – bad news and no way out.
Now look at Anna, she had had tragedy in her life too. As a young woman her husband had died, she was a widow for sixty years and more. Because of the times in which she lived that would have been devastating for her. She had had to live on charity all her life, probably lonely too, destitute and without family but she did not lose her faith in a Saviour. By the Grace of God she found a way to survive, and she did so because she had faith. Both Anna and Simeon had sensed that they were part of a bigger picture. Not that their lives were unimportant but that God has a purpose and there was and is a Saviour for us all. And we don’t have to go back as far as those two. Throughout history and up to today people have faced similar challenges and are overcoming them, partly at least because they are looking beyond themselves to the most important Being in their lives – God.
Sickness, death and misfortune are tragically a part of Life. God didn’t plan it that way but He redeems them one person at a time, if we put our trust in Him. I pray that you are that person. This world is in such a condition that nasty diseases and infections, hunger, loneliness, job loss, seem almost the norm. So when someone lives what looks like a charmed life, healthy, wealthy, full of life, we get jealous and upset at the unfairness of it all. It’s almost as if we want everyone else to suffer along with us. But do we really ? No ! For even those people who skate along the surface of life with seemingly no troubles indeed do have troubles, sometimes deep troubles. Troubles they have not faced. They too have their Crosses to bear. They perhaps are not so frank as others of us. By facing the bad things in our lives we overcome and heal them through prayer and faith. A relationship is not going to get better if we don’t reach out to the loved one who has gone astray. A sickness is not going to be healed if we don’t face it and embrace its cure. Anger and hurt are going to burn us up if we don’t let them out. And that’s part of why we are here tonight, to unburden and seek help, strength and comfort from our loving God Who comes to our aid.
It would be wonderful to be on top of the world all the time, and for those we love to be with us. What are we hoping for ? For all things to be put right, just like those ancient Jews did. It will come, but we can learn a lesson from Simeon and Anna, because it may not come in the form we had hoped but it will come. Simeon had probably prayed for a white knight or a superhero to liberate the Jews from Rome but His prayer was not answered just for him and the Jews it was answered for all people, including the Romans, and us. God’s purpose is bigger than we can conceive. Simeon’s greatest desire was not for a long life but to see his Saviour, he knew that was the most important thing in his life – now he can depart in Peace, he knows his prayer was answered. Anna wanted to just be close to God, that was where she drew her strength and comfort that was the most important thing for her. The goal in life is not to be on top, that’s not possible for everyone has their own troubles in this world. Nor is it to live the longest because we are fragile human beings and at the end of the Day we long for sleep. The purpose of life is not to be ‘someone’ but to love and to hope. Without hope, as you well know, it’s hardly worthwhile getting up in the morning. We look beyond ourselves, perhaps for the meaning of life, perhaps in concern for others worse-off, perhaps for the Saviour who will save us. If we look closely enough we will see that He has come and is with us even here tonight.
He has come, lived as one of us, suffered rejection, and has died like everyone else does, except brutally and with a higher purpose. Some of you are suffering through the things I have spoken about and it hurts. In His suffering Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me ?” We can surely say that too in great anguish but as we do remember that God does not forsake any of us, good or bad, worthy or not. The psalm prayer Jesus made was Psalm 22, it promises triumph. Read it sometime over Christmas and you will find that God redeemed Jesus, and God will redeem us. We have a loving God, we are blessed in that we don’t suffer alone. Jesus changed everything, far more than Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna or the Jews or we could have dreamt. Jesus will help us overcame life’s troubles and offers us the hope that we need to live when it seems hopeless, if we put our hope in Him.
We celebrate Christmas every year because we need to be reminded that God is greater than the struggles we face every day. There is a God for Whom we hunger and our God is our Redeemer. I ask you to be open to hope in God. Open the door that you may have shut and know that all will be well. If you have tried everything else, try Faith. Jesus said “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [whatever you need] will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). I pray that you will discover all that you need in God this Christmas. Amen.