O Come, Emmanuel!

My favorite Christmas story actually takes place after the birth of Christ. Jesus had been circumcised and named according to Jewish law, and Joseph and Mary traveled to Jerusalem to present their firstborn at the temple. Can I set the scene for you? The story is found in Luke 2:22-35.

The temple was the center of Jewish religious life, and I picture it bustling from dawn to dusk, full of people waiting to see a priest about their skin conditions, money-changers hawking their wares, and pens of animals for sacrifice. A young woman carries her newborn while her husband handles the two doves for the sin offering required after the birth of a child. Doves are the lesser offering for those who cannot not afford a lamb. At barely over a week after the birth of her child, the young mother is tired and sore, but the law must be followed. They are faces like any other in a loud and busy crowd. We only notice them because someone else did. His name was Simeon.

Simeon lived his entire life in expectation of the Savior of Israel. He is described as righteous and devout, and some sources believe he was a rabbi. God guided Simeon to the temple that morning by the voice of the Spirit.

Imagine how many times he had been in the temple, hoping for this exact moment. How many decades of waiting have built up to this day? I picture him near the entrance to the Court of the Gentiles, shading his eyes to look at every person passing through the gates. He glimpses a young mother with her baby, and his heart leaps.

“Simeon, this child is my promised Messiah.”

In that moment, we hear the death rattle of the Old Covenant and catch our first glimpse of the New. In the Holy of Holies, a thread in the veil is loosening.

Simeon has lived his entire life looking for the salvation of his people. Modern Christians often forget Israel was looking for a political savior, not a spiritual one. The traditions of the Pharisees and teachers had long convinced the Jews that the law was the permanent way to salvation, and it stands to reason that Simeon would have been expecting a warrior-king like David who would free Israel from Rome. His old heart must have ached as he looked at the newborn and realized he would never see his people freed from their Roman oppressors.

Simeon steps forward to this little family and asks to hold the helpless infant. This is the unremarkable beginning of the God-Man. The miracles and ministry, the triumphal entry, the trial, the cross, the burial, and the resurrection are over thirty years away. He is just the baby of a poor carpenter and his young wife, born out of scandal in a stable for animals, but Simeon prophesies what He will become.

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Did anyone notice this moment? Did the rest of the crowd hear this prophecy? Every prophet, priest, and king from Genesis to Malachi was hoping they would live to see Messiah’s rescue, but Simeon holds Him in his arms. He blesses the child and his parents, and then he prophesies again to Mary, “Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will through your own soul also) so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:21-35 (ESV))
This child is so much more than a warrior-king. He will turn an entire world upside down. He will call the holiest among the Jews fools, blind guides, and “whitewashed tombs.” He will command nature, sickness, demons, and even death, and all will obey. He will shatter expectations, destroy temples, break down prejudices, and reveal sin. In Simeon’s prophecy we are reminded that this newborn baby will be a Man of Sorrows, the Lamb of God, by whose stripes we are healed. This is the hope of Advent. This is the power of the Nativity.
May our hearts be full of hope this Christmas. He is coming again, brothers and sisters. Let us look to His return and the end of fear, pain, sin, and death. Echo Simeon’s prayer over the infant Christ: “…my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” 
Merry Christmas! O come, Emmanuel!

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