Verses 31–32 contain an ominous element. Literally they read “in everybody’s face, a light for disclosure to the Gentiles and brightness for Israel.” The same light that reveals my path of salvation, that acts like a search-light for the rescue operation, which will bring me home to Jesus, is also an interrogation light in my face and the bright light of sleep-deprivation.
With a newborn, Mary must have been well-acquainted with sleep-deprivation. But Simeon warns her of worse: “a sword will pierce your soul, also.” Someday, Mary will stand at the foot of the cross and watch her first-born die a criminal’s death, finally being thrust through with a sword.
Her son’s death—frankly, all of the sacrificial death in this story—will cause some to fall. Jesus’ assertion that we need his death to save our lives will so offend others that they’ll have to speak out against it. Yet his sacrifice will be powerful enough to raise all who receive it from death to life.
Having seen resurrection in this little boy, Simeon declares himself ready for death. He knows that the Jews he leaves behind will break themselves against Jesus, exposing their deepest hopes and fears. Some will confront Jesus and then abandon him, disappointed that God’s provision did not meet their expectations. But others will encounter Jesus and recognize their Redeemer, the one who will breathe life into their tired traditions or blow them away entirely.
Anna was already living like she’d encountered new life. Instead of consuming herself with bitterness over her husband’s untimely death, she turns her need toward God in trust. Luke tells us that God transformed her from a widow to a prophet. She immediately recognized Jesus as the redemption, not just of her own situation, but of all Jerusalem. She wasted not a minute telling everyone who sought the same.
What do you seek this Advent season? What hopes will you notice in yourself as you place a candy-cane in your niece’s stocking? What disappointment when someone else changes your plans to attend a Christmas Eve service? What fears will be exposed as your kids spend Christmas with your ex? What will happen in your heart if all your kids decide to go to their in-laws’ on Christmas day? Or if, after 46 years of marriage and fresh trees, your husband brings home a fake tree? Or you spend the season in assisted living and a stranger puts up the fake tree and covers it in tacky decorations? Or your new minister replaces the perfectly good Advent wreath with five fish-bowls and floating candles?
And here’s a tricky one: what if your expectations are met? You find the perfect gift for everyone. You feel warm and well-fed and content. Can you embrace Jesus’ desire to redeem that, too?
When they presented Jesus to God at the Temple and bought him back, Jesus’ parents understood nothing more than that God had once rescued their ancestors from Egypt and so they would rescue their first-born son. Their tradition meant that God was their savior. They didn’t know it yet, but in paying those five shekels, Jesus’ parents had redeemed their Redeemer.What are you waiting for this Christmas? How do you long to be consoled? What part of your life needs to be redeemed? How will you participate in God’s redemption of your expectations?