Merry Christmas to each one of you as we celebrate Christmas. The wonder of Christmas fills my heart with joy and peace. But today, as we explore the story of the dear old saints, Anna and Simeon in the temple Ð who greeted the baby Jesus when Mary and Joseph brought Him for circumcision according to the covenant of Abraham Ð we want to realize that this baby embodies the fulfillment of God’s promises to us. He is the child of hope for the world, a child of hope for all eternity.
Many people speak of hope like a wish. I think of the couple who have three little children. Their financial budget is extended, and every month they hope they will have no surprise expenses or repairs. Or the mother and father whose hearts hurt because their adult daughter has now rejected the God whom they love and they fear her life choices will break her life apart even as their hearts break. Will she ever come back to faith in the God who loves her? They pray so. They hope so. Or the employee who is close to retirement after 30+ years of faithful service and hopes he won’t lose his job as the company downsizes. Or the family whose dad is battling a terminal illness like a champion, and the whole family prays and hopes he will be healed. Or the family whose dad struggles as he drowns in a sea of alcoholism. They hope dad will face the truth that his life is unmanageable and seek help. Or the couple who have for years hoped to become pregnant. The child would be born as a product of their love and the beginning of a family. That is their dream. That is their hope.
Hope is essential to all of us as humans. Hal Lindsay, a Christian writer, once said, “We can live forty days without food, three days without water, eight minutes without air, but not one second without hope.”
Through the years, I have come to greatly value the older saints who are a part of God’s church. These men and women give strength to Christ’s body, the Church, because of their faith. They are Keepers of Hope. Their wisdom gives insight into what really matters in life. Their faithfulness drafts us to continue following Jesus. Their strong faith is committed for the long haul. They teach us how to hope and how to obey God in a way that blesses others. In a world filled with so many hope killers, these dear saints gives us strength.
Maybe the persistent, unchanging circumstances of life oppress us. Maybe my own failure or the failure of others negatively affect me and imprison me in a way I can’t escape. Maybe my dreams, year after year, go unfulfilled and hope dissipates with the passage of time. Maybe the ridicule of a world that doesn’t share our view that there is an all-powerful God able to do miraculous things in love for His people kills our hope. Maybe we place hope in the wrong place. Human beings can hope in technology or a hedonistic lifestyle or the accumulation of wealth or a position of power.
We need hope. Hope is critical.
Several years ago, an experiment was done on endurance. It was conducted at the University of California Ð Berkeley involving Norwegian field rats. The rats were placed in the tub of water where they were forced to swim until they grew exhausted and finally drowned. During the first experiment, the researchers discovered that on average these field rats were capable of swimming for seven hours before they drowned.
A second experiment was conducted exactly like the first, but with one exception: when a rat was getting too exhausted to swim any longer, a researcher would remove the rat from the tub of water for just a few seconds, then put the rat back into the water to continue swimming. These rats were able to swim for 20 hours before perishing. The researchers concluded the rats in the second group were able to swim much longer than the first group because they had hope. They had experienced a rescue, and what kept them going was the hope that they would be rescued again.
Human beings are no different. Without hope, we can drown in the difficulties of life. But with hope, we can discover our reason for living. Hope keeps us going. It’s been said, “As oxygen is to the lungs, so hope is to the human heart.”
Simeon and Anna met Jesus in the Temple. Joseph and Mary brought Jesus for circumcision in accordance with the covenant the Lord had made with Abraham that Jesus would be raised as a child of faith among God’s people. Anna and Simeon, in their rhythms of grace, rhythms of faith, teach us how to keep hope alive, how to live with joyful expectation that God will keep His promises.
Anna was an older woman, a widow. Though grief at a young age can turn some hearts bitter, Anna had become softer, kinder, and even more hopeful through the years. Tragedy can kill faith, but Anna’s faith was more deeply rooted than ever before. Sorrow can lead some to see God as an aloof tyrant, but Anna, in her faith, viewed God as her tenderhearted Father. It says that she never left the Temple, worshiping, fasting, and praying, day and night.
Some older people I know have the experiences of life grind away at their hope till it’s gone. They become pessimistic, grumpy, resigned to life’s difficulties, even despairing. Not so Anna. In her worship of God and in her awareness of His promises and the Word, she rejoiced when she encountered the baby Jesus because she knew she had met her Redeemer. She became the first preacher of Christ in the city of the great King.
Simeon also, in the rhythms of his graceful life, knew how to keep hope alive. He was righteous. He lived his faith in the Lord with integrity. I might say Simeon walked the talk. He lived in obedience to God’s Word because he loved God. He was devout, and his heart was loyal and committed.
As he regularly worshiped the Lord in the Temple, hearing the Word of God’s promises, he caught a view of history between God and His people, where God regularly saved and delivered them, forgave their faults, and redeemed them. Maybe best of all, to keep his hope alive, he was reminded of all the promises that God had given to us. Hope lived in constant expectation that God was active and alive in all of life to fulfill His promises to His people. Scriptures say that the Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ, the Messiah. This was the anointed Deliverer who would usher in the power and reign of God’s love to save the world.
Imagine when Simeon saw the baby Jesus. Did the Holy Spirit whisper to him, This is the Child? Did the glory of divine light radiate from the face of the baby Jesus? Somehow Simeon knew this is the One. Mary and Joseph must been very surprised when Simeon came up and took the child out of their arms. And, in holding the child, did Simeon realize that the child held the hopes for his future and ours? “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight,” in the lyric of the hymn, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.”
So Simeon praised God in the words that have become called the Nunc Dimitus, the basis of many Christian hymns, “Now Lord, I can depart in peace. I am your servant. My own eyes have seen your salvation. This child is the light of the Gentiles and the glory of his people Israel.”
Although Jesus had come for circumcision in the covenant of God’s people, Simeon saw the child and prophetically knew that the child’s light of salvation would be for all people of every race, every culture, and every language. Jesus is the hope of all the world. Still today, He is your hope for life abundant, for forgiving grace, for new beginnings, for freedom from the fear of death. Jesus, the baby, born for you, is the hope of the world.
Simeon also spoke to Mary and Joseph about Jesus’ destiny. He said, “This child will be for the falling and rising of many.” Hearts will be revealed as they encounter Jesus. There is no neutral response to Jesus Christ. Either you see Him as your Savior born to embrace you in love or you dismiss Him as irrelevant to your life. No neutral response.
Simeon foresaw that the child’s destiny was to experience suffering. Perhaps he even understood that the Savior of God was going to go to the cross. So he said to Mary, “A sword will pierce your heart.” The child going to the cross was the method of God to give us hope that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
I remember meeting a man named John early in my ministry. He was in his mid-70s, and a bachelor farmer. John was in the hospital after being diagnosed with leukemia. As we visited, he shared stories of farming, life experiences, hobbies, friends in his life. But we also shared the hope of Jesus Christ. After a while, I asked John, “John, have you ever prayed that Jesus would forgive you? Have you ever thanked God for the gift of eternal life? Have you ever invited Jesus to live within your heart?”
“No,” he said.
I said, “John, Would you like to today?”
“Yes.” So in that very a moment, I heard John thank God for giving Jesus as the Savior of the world and as his Savior. He asked Jesus for forgiveness. He thanked Jesus for coming into his heart, and he thanked God for the gift of eternal life. Although he was still facing a difficult illness, his face radiated with the joy and hope that God was his Savior.
For you and I today too, we hold that baby Jesus as our hope. We hold Him in faith and rejoice when our eyes also see God’s salvation. May your joy be full and may your hope permeate every part of your being as you celebrate Christmas