As December winds its way steadily towards the 25th, it can be difficult at times to remember we are actually winding our way steadily towards the day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Amidst all the hoopla and songs, the tinsel and lights, the sales and shopping centre-Santa’s, the busy catch ups with friends and family, we can sometimes let the crowds push the real significance of Christmas out of sight and mind. We begin to get caught up in the flash and sound of it all – which aren’t inherently bad, but can end up taking the place of what we should be celebrating.
I imagine something similar might have happened in the Jerusalem temple, all those years ago, when Joseph and Mary brought their little bundle of screaming joy in to “present Him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22, in accordance with the Law put down in Leviticus 12). Who knows how many children were being brought in that day, or how many people were attending the temple that day in a scrum of worshipful obedience.
But Simeon, “righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25) was able to ‘see’ what no one else in the temple could see. Amidst the crowds, amidst the noise, amidst the hustle and bustle of the Jerusalem temple, Simeon saw Jesus, the Messiah:
“Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple complex. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for Him what was customary under the law, Simeon took Him up in his arms, praised God, and said:
You can dismiss Your slave in peace,
as You promised.
For my eyes have seen Your salvation.
You have prepared it
in the presence of all peoples—
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and glory to Your people Israel.” — Luke 2:27-32
Unsurprisingly, Jesus’ “father and mother were amazed at what was being said about Him” – and also probably a little amazed that this random dude had nabbed their child. But Simeon deserved a little cuddle time with the Saviour, for he had been promised by the Holy Spirit “that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah.” (Luke 2:26) In fact, it was by the Holy Spirit’s leading upon him that he even entered the temple that day.
But look at what Simeon says; with the light of the world in his arms, praising God, Simeon does not say “For my eyes have seen Your Messiah” or “Your Son”. Simeon isn’t seeing just a little baby in his hands. Simeon sees God’s salvation. The “Holy Spirit was on [Simeon]” (Luke 2:25), and as such Simeon saw Jesus as God saw His Son – as the Salvation of the world. “Simeon does not say, however, that he has seen the Messiah but rather that his eyes have seen God’s salvation. To see Jesus is to see Salvation embodied in him—a theme prominent in Luke”.
Christmas can be a time when we think of love, joy, and peace for all mankind, for these are good thoughts to have. But they are not the true meaning of Christmas. God never promised peace for all mankind before His Son came a second time. What God did promise, however, was that He would send His Son for our sins.
“But He was pierced because of our transgressions,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on Him,
and we are healed by His wounds.
We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the Lord has punished Him
for the iniquity of us all.” — Isaiah 53:5-6
What’s more, God promised His Son for all mankind. Notice Simeon’s words: “For my eyes have seen Your salvation. You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples—a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:31-32) The word is not “people”, which might have signified only the Jews, but “peoples”. God promised His people that He would make Jesus “a light for the nations, to be My salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) We sing of this when we sing “Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” God came for all mankind, to bring peace, yes, but not peace between mankind, but peace between God and mankind.
This Christmas, let’s follow Simeon’s example. Amidst all the hubbub of Christmas, let’s seek out the real meaning of Christmas amongst the crowds. It is not necessarily the most popular choice – Simeon himself said that Jesus would “be a sign that will be opposed” (Luke 2:34) – but it is what Christmas really calls us to do. We are not just celebrating or remembering the birth of an important baby, or even the coming of ‘love and peace’, we are celebrating and remembering God’s salvation for all mankind.
Image Credit: Simeon and Jesus — Painting by Russian artist Andrey Shishkin