The Christmas season is generally a happy and festive occasion. The narratives of Luke or Matthew are recounted with joy and it warms the heart to think of Joseph and Mary delighting in their newborn. There is also the multitude of angels praising God, the humble shepherds, and the regal wise-men. We celebrate because the long-awaited fulfillment of God’s ancient promise is finally here. Israel’s hope has arrived on the scene. God has come down to dwell with us and be our Saviour. The perfect kingdom of heaven is beginning to overtake the broken kingdom of this world. So many reasons to celebrate!
Celebrate is exactly what Simeon and Anna do when Jesus, as an infant, is taken up to Jerusalem by his parents. It is in the prophetic praise of Simeon that the wonderful news of Jesus’ birth is interjected with a word of warning. Simeon had lived his life with a devout faith in the unseen promise of the Messiah and the Holy Spirit had guaranteed that he would indeed live to see this Messiah. When Simeon beholds Jesus in the temple he takes the little baby in his arms and breaks out in praise. Simeon refers to Jesus as salvation, light, and glory. All good reasons to celebrate!
Yet Simeon has more prophetic pronouncements. These he speaks directly to Mary and his words are like dark clouds on the distant horizon. Jesus will be a source of stumbling and a sign of opposition. The mysteries of the soul and the deep thoughts of the human mind will be exposed in the brilliant light of the Messiah. These revelations will be too much for men to take and they will seek to snuff out the light. And so at the foot of a cross, they will look upon the One whom they have pierced. So will Mary, and Simeon reveals that her soul will be pierced as well. Any mother can understand how this would be so. The immense privilege of bearing the Christ-child comes with the weighty burden of bearing the Christ’s suffering at the hands of the very people he came to save.
Accepted and Rejected
Simeon’s words intrude on the celebratory atmosphere of Christmas and remind us of the task that lay ahead for the newborn Christ. Jesus was both glorified and humiliated; accepted and rejected. He was accepted by some as a Saviour from their sins, but he was rejected by others who wanted only a Saviour from the sins of others. He was accepted by some as the light that overcomes their darkness, but he was rejected by others who did not want their darkness uncovered. He was accepted by some as the very glory of God in the flesh, but he was rejected by others who wanted a glory without the flesh. Simeon’s prophecy reminds us that we cannot celebrate the festive joy of Christmas while rejecting the sobering reality of our sin and Jesus’ suffering for it. Many accept the heart-warming story of Christ’s birth but reject the heart-exposing teachings and heart-wrenching suffering of Christ. Some welcome Jesus as a gentle and mild baby, but deny him as supreme king. However, the whole Christ must be accepted: the infant, the teacher, the Saviour, and the King.