Sunday, December 28, 2014

What Child is This?; Luke 2:22-38

This might be my favorite part of the Christmas story, although it’s not really Christmas. Jesus is just over a month old. This is his first trip to Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph are too poor to offer and substitute with 2 doves or pigeons. And as they make their sacrifice in the Temple, they meet two senior saints—Anna and Simeon. Anna is a prophet and has served in the Temple since she became a widow. Both of these senior saints knew the Scriptures and recognized the promised Messiah and gave thanks for him. As Mary and Joseph hear what is said about this child, they are amazed. They can’t help but ponder, what child is this? I want to focus a bit on what Simeon says about Messiah Jesus. Simeon answers the question, what child is this? Simeon says that Messiah is God’s salvation for all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel. First he says that this Messiah is God’s salvation prepared in the presence of all peoples. This is God’s means of salvation for all the peoples. The word for peoples is laos and refers to people in general, many individuals. The Messiah is the Way—the Way in which all peoples can be reconciled to God. Jesus knew this. Jesus would later say, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by Me.” The world would finally know that Yahweh is real and God cares about God’s people and will in fact deliver them. But Israel wasn’t destined to become a superior nation because… Simeon goes on to say that Jesus is a light of revelation to the Gentiles. The world for Gentiles is ethnos—ethnic groups. In the original covenant to Abraham, God said that God would bless Abraham and make of him a great nation so that he would be a blessing to all the nations. God intended for God’s salvation to reach to the ends of the earth. Jesus wasn’t just for the people of Israel, but a light to all the ethnic groups. As recently as a few decades ago in Japan it was surprising for the Japanese to learn that Jesus was born in the Middle East. They had only thought of Christianity as a Western religion. And while the Middle East is still far west of Japan, it was a surprising thing to learn and trips to the Holy Land by Japanese tourists became quite popular. The discovery helped them to realize that Jesus really did come for all ethnic groups, not just one. Third, Jesus is the glory of God’s people, Israel. In the beginning of this story we read that Simeon was promised he would not die until he saw Israel’s Consolation. Jesus would be the proof that everything God promised to His people would come to pass and it would come to pass in Jesus. Finally, all of Israel’s humiliation would come to an end. But just as in the Old Testament times, there would be people who would continue to resist the Word of God. Just as the prophets were resisted, disobeyed, mocked, and killed, Jesus would be treated the same way. Simeon elaborates that Jesus will cause the falling of some Jews and the rising of others. He notes that as glorious as Messiah will be, He will also be opposed because Jesus has the capability to reveal thoughts. Jesus challenges our notion of self-preservation. Because Jesus is the means by which all are saved, Jesus exposes our weaknesses. Jesus shows us that we cannot save ourselves. Jesus breaks through our disguises and reveals the truth, the ugly truth hidden in our hearts and minds. Some will be exposed and fall, but many will be exposed and rise—be resurrected—as they place their trust in the Savior. Simeon also lets Mary know that her own soul will be pierced. As thrilled and thankful Simeon is to hold Messiah in his arms, he knows that Jesus’s life will not be easy. Simeon understands the spiritual role of Messiah. For Messiah to fulfill His role would entail great suffering. The refrain, for the second verse of “What Child is This?” which we sang on Christmas Eve says, “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through. The cross be borne for me, for you. Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe the Son of Mary.” And even Mary must endure the same scrutiny of heart that we all must endure at the eyes of Jesus. Jesus treats his mother as he would anyone else. He doesn’t have any higher regard for her. Think of the wedding at Cana, or the time when Mary tried to get Jesus to return to the family and Jesus replying that the people He was with were His true family. And yet Mary continues to follow her Son. She places her trust in Him all the way to the cross. And it is there that Jesus cares for her as Son. He entrusts her to John the apostle’s care. He makes sure Mary is looked after and provided for. Babies don’t stay babies for very long. They grow up, and this baby had a destiny. Even our new mothers in this room can tell you that their babies have changed a lot since they were born. And next year, at this time, they might even be standing. It’s hard to imagine what your child might become when you are just thrilled to have a child, when you are getting used to being a first time parent and feeding and changing diapers, when you are too busy noticing the small daily changes you see in your child as facial expressions emerge and different noises become associated with meaning. It’s hard to picture what they will be like when they are in their 30’s. Mary and Joseph are amazed at what they hear. And yet they’ve heard it before. Mary heard it from an angel and from Elizabeth. Joseph, too heard it from an angel. They both heard it from the testimony of shepherds. And now from two senior saints that they probably haven’t previously met, they hear again. They marvel that so many people know already that this child is special, that this child is really the Messiah, and yet they probably can still hardly believe it themselves. As often as Mary and Joseph heard what their child would be, it still caused them to marvel. They don’t cease asking, what child is this? Jesus was a child to be marveled at. He would bring both salvation and judgment, vindication and restoration, division and unity, not only for Israel, but for the world. This child would be a light of revelation, showing all ethnic groups what God is like. Our response to this child is what makes the difference in Christ’s function. His role and nature were determined well before his birth and confirmed in his infancy. The light has been given. Salvation, consolation, and glory have been offered. What child is this? What single person could do all of that? Only God’s right arm, the Anointed One, the Christ, the promised Savior and Deliverer, who was also the Babe, the Son of Mary.

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