Monday, December 3, 2012

The Cross and the Crown in the Cradle

I don’t often consider the story of Jesus being presented at the temple, and the words and witness of Simeon in the Gospel of Luke, when I think of the Christmas story. Can you relate? I think of Mary, and Joseph, and the precious child in a manger. I think of the wise men, and the shepherds, and the gifts of frankincense. I know that as a baby, Jesus was Lord and Savior – he came as a human but all along he was God and would “save his people from their sins” – but I don’t think of the possibility of this reality being known and present in him as an infant. Right? We know it, but we don’t often consider whether if we had the opportunity to see him as a baby we would know by looking at him. We would probably just see a baby, and even as a devout Jewish person, not believe or understand what had already been said about him. Looking at him physically wouldn’t really change the unlikelihood in our minds that this baby was the promised Messiah who would go to a cross and receive the crown of glory. Would it?

Simeon: An Often Neglected Character in the Christmas Story

Yet the testimony of Simeon shows us that it was apparent, through the Holy Spirit, that the baby Jesus was the one who would accomplish the salvation of his people; a salvation prepared in the presence of all peoples and a light of revelation to the Gentiles; a salvation that would require him to suffer on a cross and taste death, and in turn, receive the crown of glory and honor. Simeon saw that, and even declared that after seeing it, now he could die. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word” (Luke 2:22:29). God had fulfilled the promise He had made to him in His Word. It was finished! He knew now that to live was Christ, but to die would be gain, just as the apostle Paul later articulated. The cross and the crown were present with him even in the cradle.
Simeon was a man who lived in Jerusalem, and we are told was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel. That description alone should uniquely draw us to him. He was righteous and devout. As we approach Christmas, and consider our Savior, celebrate his incarnation as a baby, and anticipate the celebration of his death and resurrection later, can the same be said of us? What does it mean for us to be righteous and devout as we approach the Christmas season? Does it matter? If we are already covered in the righteousness of Christ through our faith in his substitutionary sacrifice and our repentance away from sin towards new life in him, is there something additional required in our behavior or attitude for us to see, in Jesus, who he really is, what he did, and is still yet to do?
I’m not asking whether there is something additional required of us to become saved or stay saved, during the Christmas season. There is not. Salvation is by faith alone through Christ alone. Alone! But I am wondering whether our sensitivity to the Spirit can be reduced as we approach this special season in a way that when we look at a nativity scene, or sing Christmas carols in church, or pray with our family before a meal, we miss him. We just miss him. We think of safety and family and blessings and gifts, and we acknowledge Jesus as the center, but we fail to marvel at him. We fail to marvel at his grace, and his glory and honor. Is there not something, by way of devotion, that can better prepare us to marvel at him during this season, even when we see a wooden figure in the nativity scene on our mantle? He is the image of the invisible God! By him all things were created! He is before all things, and in him all things hold together! O, that Christians would practically know how to demonstrate this reality, and not minimize it, especially in anticipation of the celebration of the incarnation of Christ.                                     

The Consolation of Israel

Simeon was also said to be waiting on the consolation of Israel. Are we waiting for the reconciliation of all things? Not waiting, as in, on our lawn or impatiently in our houses, but waiting eagerly, as in, talking about him and expressing joy and hope in him wherever we go. In Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven making peace by the blood of his cross (Col 1:19-20). As the author of the Book of Hebrews said, “we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (Heb 2:9).” How wonderful a time Christmas is to remind ourselves of the true hope in Jesus! What a great time to practically reveal the reality, that as Christians, we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved (Rom 8:23-24). In this hope!
John Calvin, in Volume XVI of his commentaries, said, “Since an expectation of this sort is commended in Simeon as an uncommon attainment, we may conclude, that there were few in that age, who actually cherished in their hearts the hope of redemption. All had on their lips the name of the Messiah, and of prosperity under the reign of David; but hardly any one was to be found, who patiently endured present afflictions, relying on the consolatory assurance, that the redemption of Christ was at hand.” May this hope and expectation not be a rare thing among Christians today, as it was in the time of Simeon! May we, as Calvin continues, “breathe out unceasing prayers for the promised redemption.”
If this hope specifically gripped us during the Christmas season (and all year, to be sure!), what a difference it would make to the cultural understanding and perception of Christians and the meaning of Christmas - as people see us marveling at the Person and Work of Jesus, with an eager hope that he really did live a perfect life once he grew up, and he really did possess the fullness of God in his person, and he really did taste suffering and death on the cross, for our sake, if we would believe, and he really did rise from the dead to give us hope, and he really is coming back to make all things new. And all of that we can see when we look at him! It is all true. And it is so amazing that now that we have seen, like Simeon, to die is gain. Family and safety and blessings and extravagant meals and gifts are wonderful and pleasurable, but they are a shadow. The substance is Christ.

A Sight to See

Hear this challenge from Calvin: “If the sight of Christ had so powerful an effect on Simeon, that he approached death with cheerfulness and composure, how much more abundant materials of lasting peace are now furnished to us, who have the opportunity of beholding our salvation altogether completed in Christ? True, Christ no longer dwells on earth, nor do we carry him in our arms; but his divine majesty shines openly and brightly in the gospel, and there do ‘we all’, as Paul says, ‘behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord,’ – not as formerly amidst the weakness of flesh, but in the glorious power of the Spirit, which he displayed in his miracles, in the sacrifice of his death, and in his resurrection. In a word, his absence from us in body is of such a nature, that we are permitted to behold him sitting at the right hand of the Father. If such a sight does not bring peace to our minds, and make us go cheerfully to death, we are highly ungrateful to God, and hold the honor, which he has bestowed upon us, in little estimation.”
May it never be! Let us see, and savor, and hope in Jesus Christ this season so that all may know the salvation that comes in him through the cross, and unites us with him in his crown of glory, all while we behold him in a cradle.
Originally posted at the College Park Blog.