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Advent 2021: Simeon's Prophecy of the Messiah

12.19.21


Christian leader and writer Russell Moore describes once overhearing a young man complaining about how much he disliked Christmas. As Moore pressed as to why this man had such an anti-Christmas mood, he found that it wasn’t about stress that often surrounds the holidays or anything like that, but rather, he couldn’t stand the music, the Christmas music that surrounds us throughout the season. And the young man explained why, saying, “Christmas [music] is boring because there’s no narrative tension.” An interesting phrase there, no narrative tension.

You see, in the eyes of this young man, the shallow lyrics of our Christmas songs couldn’t encompass the world’s heartache. That is to say, they’re too chummy, too happy go lucky, too far removed from the brokenness and pain of our world and too ignorant to even address it.


You’ve got songs like “Have a holly-jolly Christmas, it’s the best time of the year.” Yet in reality not everyone’s feeling quite so holly-jolly. Songs like “Rockin around the Christmas tree, have a happy holiday,” even though not everyone feels like dancing, all while chestnuts are roasting on an open fire. (And who’s eating chestnuts anyway? Is this a real thing I’m missing out on?)


All this to say, I think this young man has a point. Much of the music and storytelling and fanfare surrounding Christmas lacks narrative tension. But yet, not the real Christmas story, not the true biblical account of Jesus’s birth some 2,000 years ago. Rather than being the sweet, cute and sentimental story that we sometimes make it out to be, the real Christmas story is raw and real, earthy and messy, challenging and inconvenient, it’s a bright light shining in the darkness. It’s filled with the narrative tension that we feel within our soul, filled with the narrative tension that resonates with all that we see and experience in our world today.


And out of all the characters that make up the Christmas story, out of all the stories that are told in Luke’s retelling of the Christmas story, maybe no one captures this narrative tension of Christmas better than the old man we read about in our story today, a man named Simeon.


As he shares a prophetic word with Mary and Joseph, his words capture a deep narrative tension, where on one hand his initial words are some of the most sweet and precious words you’ll find in scripture, only to be followed by some of the most sobering and piercing words and two parents could ever possibly here.


His message is simple, yet striking. As he holds this baby boy, he tells Mary and Joseph, that this infant he holds in his arms will bring, and here’s the main idea,


Salvation through Suffering.


Salvation (sweet), suffering (sobering). A message bursting at the seams with narrative tension.


And this tension not only captures the Christmas story, or even the entire Jesus story, from beginning to end, but in addition our story too. A story of salvation through suffering.


However, before we get to the heart of Simeon’s words, let’s first set up the story itself and how we got here. In terms of the Advent and Christmas calendar, we’re admittedly getting ahead of ourselves chronologically here, given that Christmas morning, and the celebration of Jesus’s birth is still a week away, we’re now looking at a story in which baby Jesus has now been born.


Where we’re introduced to this man, Simeon. We’re told that he’s righteous and devout, he’s a godly man and it says that he has been looking forward to the consolation of Israel, which seems to mean he has been waiting for and anticipating that day when Israel’s Messiah would arrive, as all the prophesies and promises of the Old Testament Scriptures, scriptures that he surely knew so well, would be fulfilled. And somehow, someway, he’s been informed through the Holy Spirit, that he’s going to see this Messiah, this baby Jesus, before he dies. And what do you know .. it happens! He’s at the temple, and so too are Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus, they are there for Jesus’s purification ceremony, Jesus is about 6 weeks or so old at this point and Simeon seeing Jesus, is likely thrilled and overjoyed beyond belief, he takes baby Jesus in his arms.


Salvation (v.29-32)


And as he does he sings this beautiful, stirring, sweet and precious song,


29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation


Simeon is saying, “God, after all these years, after all I’ve been through, after all these years of waiting, I can now die in peace because I’ve seen your salvation.”


Now, those are beautiful words, and are a beautiful sentiment. And a bit of a sharp contrast to how many people today might finish the sentence, “Now, I can die in peace.” It’s the kind of thing Red Sox or Cubs fans said after their teams won the World Series after decades of heartbreak and defeat and maybe, just maybe what Montanans everywhere will be saying should the Bobcats secure their first championship since 1984 when they play in a few short weeks. “Now, I can die in peace.”


Of course, to be clear. I am kidding. I think Simeon’s point here is that only salvation found through the Lord can bring a person rest and peace in the face of death. Everything else, yes, even our favorite sports teams victories, are a cheap and lousy substitute.


Simeon, as he holds this baby boy, this newborn King, says, “Now I can die in peace because I’ve seen your salvation.”


As many of you know, one of our dear friends Inez Reynolds passed away peacefully this past Tuesday morning after suffering a major stroke the day before. I’m sure you can imagine with me – Inez in her trademark spot, back row, on the aisle – she was here worshipping with us just one week ago as they choirs sang Hallelujah together. I admired Inez’s faith in the Lord, her joyful exuberance, I heard a couple people use the word “sunshine” to describe her – that sounds about right to me. Ron Loge visited Inez and her sons on Monday night a few short hours before she passed. And he read the most fitting of scriptures. This one ☺


29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation


I love that. What was true for Simeon, was true for Inez as well, as she passed away peacefully just a few short hours later.


Later in the week, I was telling someone about Inez’s passing and I kind of went on autopilot beginning my sentence with, “It’s with a heavy heart that I share with you that Inez passed away earlier this week.” And this person lovingly corrected me half way through my sentence saying, “No, no, that’s good news, she died peacefully, she’s with the Lord now.” And that moment was kind of like smelling salts for me, where it was kind of like, “Oh yeah, that’s right, that is worth rejoicing over.” As Pastor Paul Tautges says, “The bible teaches us that God delights in the death of a believer,” for another saint is now safely home in the arms of our Lord.


For Simeon, for Inez, and for all the saints who have gone before us, they sing,


29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation


Now, I’m sure Mary and Joseph and you and I probably wish that that’s where Simeon’s song and prophesy ended, right there on that sweet and precious and promising note. But yet, no, there’s a second part to Simeon’s message, as he moves from good news to bad news, blessing to warning.


As he holds this baby boy, he tells Mary and Joseph, that this infant he holds in his arms will bring salvation, yes, but how will he do it? What will it look like? What will it entail?


Well, here were find the incredible narrative tension at the heart of the Christmas story: This baby boy will bring Salvation through Suffering.


Suffering (v.33-35)


Here again is what Simeon says, and as I read these words, imagine you are Mary and Joseph, parents of a six week old baby and imagine some saying this about your baby. Simeon says,


“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”


Holy smokes. If someone was holding my baby boy and said that about him, I would look at him and say, “Okay, I think you’ve held him long enough. I think I’ll take him back now.”


Gosh, those are words that will keep you up at night. You know, often times when we hold other people’s babies we end up saying clumsy and foolish things like, “Wow, he’s got a receding hairline just like his father or she’s got a nose just like her mother.” We often stumble and trip over our words when we hold babies. But yet you don’t get the sense from Simeon that his words here are an accident, or that he somehow misspoke. Rather, his words are precise, purposeful and incredibly prophetic.


And yet, what exactly is Simeon getting at here? What is he trying to tell Mary and Joseph about their baby boy? And what is he trying to prepare them for?


Well, at the most basic level, Simeon is letting Mary know that her baby Jesus won’t be loved and adored and worshipped by everyone. In fact, some, will oppose him, some will reject him, disown him, which will lead to their “falling,” or their demise. Not all will respond positively when Jesus claims to be God in the flesh, or claims to be Lord at a time when Caesar claimed to be, or says things like “Take up your cross and follow me”


It’s as if Simeon is giving Mary this important warning, that though Simeon comes to Jesus filled with awe and wonder, not all will. And it’s a heads up to Jesus’s parents, that though some people will love and adore him, others will absolutely hate him.


In fact, in many ways, Simeon is echoing Mary’s own song from a couple weeks ago, when she sang, “He has brought down (“falling” language) rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up (“rising” language) the humble.”


The idea is, yes, he’s going to bring and secure salvation for all people, yes he’s going to bring peace on earth, but as he does, he’s going to face intense opposition.


And maybe the most gut wrenching part of Simeon’s entire prophesy is that final sentence, “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” And though Mary doesn’t quite yet know what Simeon’s referring to here, we do: Mary will witness her own son die on the cross. Her son being hated so much that that he was put to death. And that the nails that would pierce Jesus’s hands, would pierce Mary’s soul too as she watched it all unfold. Altogether, Mary and Joseph will one day experience one of the most difficult things any parent can face: their child suffering and dying before they do.


And yeah, this is heavy stuff, I know. This morning for Sunday School our kids are studying the same story, though it omits this second half. In addition, if you and your family have been doing Advent Blocks this month, you’ll notice that tomorrow’s devotional, on this same story, omits this part too. And understandably so, it’s hard enough for adults to embrace, much less a kid.


Altogether, the two parts of Simeon’s song and prophesy tell one story chock full of narrative tension.


Jesus will bring salvation through suffering. He’ll bring peace by stirring up conflict.


Jesus died in agonizing fashion so that we could die peacefully. Or in the words of Pastor Daniel Darling, “Simeon knew that he himself could face death peacefully because he had finally met the One who would conquer death itself.”


At the heart of the Christmas story is this unbelievable narrative tension: Jesus, the Son of God, was born to die, born to die for our sins.


Application


Now, at this point, your head might be spinning a bit trying to process all of this and in addition, you might be wondering, okay, so what? Like, what’s the point? Salvation through suffering … I understand how that’s Jesus’s story, but yet what difference does that make for me and what’s the connection to my everyday life? Well, let me briefly give you two things to consider …


And in the spirit of narrative tension and Simeon’s words, I’ll give you one hard truth and one comforting truth –


Peace comes through inner and outer conflict


When Simeon burst into song, he said, “Now, I can die in peace” and in many ways it’s a continuation and application of the Angels song that we studied last week


“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace on those whom his favor rests”


Jesus brings peace. But yet, how exactly? God’s peace is not simply bestowed on us with the use of a magic wand. Rather, it comes through inner and outer conflict.


About this Jesus, Simeon says that he will “be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”


Jesus’s presence in our lives will reveal and tug at the inner conflict we feel. We want to be our own Lords and Rulers of our lives, but yet, Jesus wants that role. He wants us to follow him, not the other way around. And so in some ways the entire Christian life is a process of regular confession and repentance, where we wrestle with our own inner conflict, we relinquish our own desire for control, we confess our own sin and wrongdoing that we’d much rather sweep under the rug. And in many ways, it’s uncomfortable, it’s unsettling, it can be about as much fun as a root canal, and yet, it’s the only way to true and lasting peace and rest for our souls.


Peace comes through conflict. An inner wrestling. And so if you find yourselves lacking peace these days, maybe just maybe, we need to first embrace the inner conflict we feel by responding with repentance and confession. When we do, we’ll find peace on the other side.


As the prophet Isaiah said, he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.


In addition, the same is true with outer conflict between others. If we are at odds with someone and if we want true reconciliation to take place, we won’t secure peace by avoidance or keeping our distance, but rather by facing the conflict head on, and having the uncomfortable and difficult conversation.


Jesus’s peace comes through inner and outer conflict. That’s the first point of application, the hard truth, now here’s the second, here’s the comforting truth, and I’m borrowing this line from Pastor David Mathis, who says,


Christmas doesn’t ignore your pain


The first Christmas wasn’t sweet or cute or even sentimental – in a strange way, it’s far better than that. Instead, in all its twists and turns, Christmas shows us that we worship a God who steps into our mess, who steps into our pain and brokenness and who shines rays of light and hope into our dark and hurting world, which in the end is part of what makes it truly good news.


Simeon says to Mary, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” That little word “too” there signals to us that a sword won’t just pierce Mary’s soul, it’s going to wound Jesus too.


The Christmas story reminds us that Jesus doesn’t ignore our pain, rather he takes it on with us and for us.


I know the Christmas season can be difficult for many of us, as the holidays often shine a bright light on what we don’t have or what is missing in our lives. The empty seat at the dinner table after a loved one dies. The long standing conflict between family members that keeps family at a distance. Illness that derails your holiday plans. The Christmas season can be painful, and I get it. As many of you know, my dad passed away when I was a kid. His birthday was December 1st and the day he passed was December 28th. For those first few Christmases in particular there was this strange narrative tension of joy mixed with grief, life mixed with death. I know many of you have similar stories.


The good news, the comforting news is. Christmas doesn’t ignore your pain. Jesus doesn’t ignore your pain. Born in absolute humility, born as a helpless baby, born in a manger, born to poor, teenage parents, he would be despised and opposed, mocked and ridiculed and ultimately hung on a cross.


Friends, this Christmas and in Christmas’s past, you might be wondering, where is God in midst of the pain I feel, how could God allow such suffering in my life?


And though those are difficult questions to answer, the Christmas story reminds us that’s not indifferent to our pain, he doesn't ignore it, rather, as our bruised and battered brother, he embraced pain and suffering himself, more than we’ll ever truly know.


Christmas doesn’t ignore your pain


And I’ll finish with this … let’s go ahead and transition right into our next hymn. Go ahead and open up your hymnals to #123, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, One of the things I now love and appreciate about the Christmas songs in our hymnal is that they capture the narrative tension that we feel, that is to say, they reflect the beautiful and broken world we live in and through Jesus’s birth provide hope to sinners and sufferers like you and me. Problem is, I gave you the wrong verses to highlight this narrative tension, and so instead of v.1,2,5 as is in your bulletin, let’s sing v. 1,3,4.


It came upon the midnight clear, That glorious song of old, From angels bending near the earth, To touch their harps of gold; “Peace on the earth, good will to men, From Heav’n’s all-gracious King.” The world in solemn stillness lay, To hear the angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife

The world has suffered long;

Beneath the angel strain have rolled

Two thousand years of wrong;

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