Christmas can be a very tough time for those who have lost loved ones. That empty chair at the Dinner table is a sad reminder of happier times and the flood of memories from Christmases past makes the day a little harder to bear. This week we attended a funeral of a friend and then this morning we got the call that a family member had just passed. So this verse is very special this Christmas Day, for there is always hope in Jesus…and though sorrow and loss come into all our lives and we sit in the darkness created by them…we have assurance that we can rise on the wings of hope into His blessed light.
“For your Maker is your husband – the Lord Almighty is His name.” (Isaiah 54:5) For over sixty years this was the Scripture the widow Anna clung to…a unbreakable covenant tie of love and loyalty when there was no one else. She was a well recognized and respected fixture at the Temple, for it says she never left but worshiped night and day. And like Simeon, she was longing to see the promised Messiah. So on that day when Mary and Joseph presented the baby Jesus in the Temple, Anna knew this wasn’t any ordinary child…for this was the fulfillment of prophecy. And she was one of the first to publicly announce that the Messiah had come.
As was the Jewish custom, Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the Temple on the 8th day in order to present Him to the Lord. Now Simeon was a very elderly Jew who had devoutly waited his entire lifetime to catch a glimpse of the Messiah. It says that the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before seeing this wondrous site. Do you think the Holy Spirit whispered to him that morning, “Today is the day, Simeon…today you will come face to face with your promised Savior!” I can only imagine Simeon’s excitement as he watched the crowds entering the Temple…”Is that Him? Is that Him?” And when the Holy Spirit nudged him, do you think he was astounded to see a tiny baby? Simeon then gently gathered Jesus in his arms and looked heavenward, tears streaming down his face, as he proclaimed, “Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, now dismiss Your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)
Due to the census, all the places for weary travelers to lodge were full. I wonder if the Inn Keeper, in a attempt to appease a desperate father-to-be and a obviously very pregnant woman, offered the barn as a way to pacify his own guilty conscious? Or was it just a after thought to get them away from the front door of the establishment? But God knew exactly where His Son was to be born…with no onlookers, no mid-wives…only lowly animals to serve as witnesses to the greatest event in history.
These three men who made the long journey from the East were not magicians, nor were they idolatry seekers. They were of noble birth, highly educated, wealthy, and influential. They had studied Hebrew Scripture and were familiar with the coming Messiah…so when this magnificent star arose in the sky, they had only to go back to Scripture to see that this star was the herald of the Messiah’s coming. Numbers 24:17 gave them this clue, “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” And no amount of intellectual, logical, or analytical thinking could deter them then from following this star…for they believed.
Shepherds were some of the most marginalized people group of Biblical times…they were relegated to an unimportant and distasteful position within Jewish society. But yet, God saw fit for them to be the first to hear about the birth of the Messiah. But why? We have only to search Old Testament Scriptures to see the clear correlation between the shepherds on that dark hillside and Jesus Christ. Probably one of the best known Psalms, the 23rd Psalm, starts out, “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.” Isaiah 40:11 talks of Jesus like this, “He tends His flock like a Shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart…” And if we look in the New Testament, Jesus Himself says, “I am the good Shepherd.” (John 10:14) And elsewhere we find, in Hebrews 13:20 Jesus is called the Great Shepherd. This scruffy group of men might not have had much notoriety before men…but before God, He chose to honor them in the same way He honored His Son…the Shepherd of all mankind.
This young virgin teen-age girl, Mary, had just been told by an angel that she would carry the Son of God by means of immaculate conception by the Holy Spirit. For most, this mind-boggling idea would have them saying no…but not Mary. Her humble devotion and obedience to God shows in her song back to Him,( Luke 1:46-55) when she sings, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is His name.” Despite what Mary knew would be her lot if she said yes…the personal suffering, heartache, embarrassment, and loneliness…she readily agreed to be the mother of Jesus the Messiah.
As it gets closer and closer to Christmas we get busier and more anxious about getting everything done. So this Scripture is giving us a heads up as to what we can do this Sunday. It’s called a Sabbath rest…a reminder of God’s creative and redemptive work, but also something that was first demonstrated by God Himself on the seventh day. The Sabbath rest is a God-given gift…to serve not enslave us…to be a blessing not a burden as we find rest in Him.
The Author of Hebrews wasn’t writing to unbelievers…He was addressing Followers of Jesus, just like you and me. He was urging them to keep their mind set on Jesus and not the peripheral distractions around them. And I think this is the perfect Scripture to consider a little more than a week out from Christmas! For at this time of the Holiday Season the “To-do” list looms large in front of us…with so many details that need to be done, and so little time to do them. It’s very easy then to lose sight of the real meaning of Christmas and just get caught up in the commercialism and hype. When the stresses of Christmas have you anxious this week…do as this verse suggests…fix your thoughts on Jesus.