And Simeon came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him into his arms, and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, 

   according to your word; 

for my eyes have seen your salvation, 

   that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 

a light for revelation to the Gentiles, 

   and for glory to your people Israel.”

   Luke 2: 27- 32

 There is a form of anticipation that runs deep in all of Creation. Even nature seems to desire a return to its original design where God’s perfection was normal. This same need is found in people; in some of us it is buried far below the surface, and in some God’s Spirit reaches in and awakens a need that takes over life. Simeon had been looking for an answer to a need that he couldn’t truly understand; yet, he continued to wait, hope, and believe. Now, on an ordinary day, in the company of simple people, and in the form of a helpless child was God’s answer to generations of longing, separation, and death.

Simeon was in the presence of the Savior, and he could now stop his vigil, announce the arrival of the king to His earthly palace, and leave this life for the eternal one to follow. The Lord had revealed to Simeon truths that were far greater than his own understanding, for he knew that Christ was here for Gentiles and for Jews. The child had been born to bring all people back into relationship with their God and to make real the potential for restoration of all of humanity to the state of unity as one spiritual family that God had originally intended. Through this man, Jesus, the Spirit of God could come to dwell in people, and our true humanity was returned.

 In the singular event of the birth of Jesus to a young woman who lived in the middle of nowhere, God reached out to my heart, and He reaches out into the lives of everyone on this earth with His desire to have us come to Him in acceptance of His love gift of grace. The light of Christ can penetrate even the darkest places in the most hardened of hearts, and the glory of His presence transforms the desperation of a life lost into the joyous realization of potential brought to new life. Christ is the end and the beginning of all of our life quests for meaning, worth, and value. Christ is the resolution and the compelling force in the story of life that we each are called to live.  

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Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king,

Behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Matthew 2: 1, 2

These wise men were known as such because of their knowledge and skill. They were probably Persians, men who were from Babylon or near by to there. Today they would most likely be Iranian. This was a group of unknown number who were scientists in that rather broader sense of that term in those times. They used pragmatic understanding of this world and of the universe mixed with mystical revelation and even divination in order to both understand what was in our world and to predict what was to come about in the future. They were important people in a time when information was hard to come by and in which prediction might equate to survival. These spiritually oriented scientists were almost certainly polytheistic in their understanding of god; yet, it was quite likely that they were acutely aware of the God of the Jews from the years when devout Hebrew men such as Daniel had lived among their ancestors.

Now, at this point in time they have seen a sign that tells them that one of history’s greatest moments has come, and they respond by traveling a great distance in order to worship this new born king, Jesus. They join in with Jewish shepherds and with angels who have become visible and audible in our environment. It is likely that there were others who came to the side of Mary, joseph, and their little one as well, for God’s call to people to come and worship His Son, the One who was foretold and who was to bring salvation to all of the world, presented to many as a strong desire or even as a need to be at the side of the Messiah. These were imperfect people. Some knew God and others did not. All were living out their lives to the best of their abilities to do so, but all had, in fact, fallen short of the righteousness that God demands of us. These wise men from the east, the shepherds who left their flocks to come to Bethlehem, and all of the other people who sought to see this miracle from Heaven in the shape and form of a human baby were just like each of us and everyone in the world. They and we are sinners who are lost and separated from God without this Savior who was born to Mary on that day so long ago.

God calls to us just as He did to those wise men. He says that our past is of little to no importance now, for now there is born unto us a Savior, a Redeemer, a Lord who loves our hearts, minds, and our souls in a manner that knows no bounds and recognizes no obstacles to pouring out His grace and love onto each and every one of us. Our beliefs and their practice, our faith or lack of it, and our personal histories do not matter when it comes to drawing near to Christ. These wise Persians and those grimy shepherds were called to come. I believe that even Herod, with all of his evil and troubling deeds and thoughts, was granted the opportunity to come and worship when the travelers from the east visited him in his palace. God is calling to each of us now; we are to come and worship the King, the Lord of Creation, the Savior of our souls and the Redeemer of our days. If we know Christ, we are to come and know Him more fully, yield more completely to His will, follow His righteous way with greater focus and intensity, and as we come to Him, we can bring a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a stranger with us to see first-hand the presence of the One who saves. The call that went out to the wise men is still ringing out. It is carried on the bells of Christmas Day, and they sing forth God’s appeal to all people everywhere, “Come and worship, Christ the King!”  

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.

Luke 2: 7

 

Generally we make a very big deal out of the birth of a baby. This is the right thing to do. The entire process of producing new human life carries in and with it a real element of the miraculous. Also, God cares greatly about life, and each and every one of them is a gift granted from the Lord’s hand of creation. So, we tell our world about the birth, and we make careful note of all of the details surrounding it. The single fact that we take the most care with is the date of the baby’s birth. This is the one specific day that we affix to each person and celebrate throughout that person’s life.

 

Yet, with the most significant birth ever, and the most widely remembered baby in history, we do not actually know the date of His birth. Over time people have ascribed various dates to the birth of Jesus. Now most of us have settled on December 25th for the day of our celebrations. Still, through the work of science, especially astronomy and historical anthropology, it is thought that this date in late December is off by several months. You see the date doesn’t matter. The birthday celebration for Jesus really doesn’t either. Certainly the gift giving and hosting of elaborate meals are equally inconsequential. God does not tell us to worship His Son by these sorts of activities and events in and of themselves.

 

What the Lord does desire is that we recognize Jesus as God and accept Him as Lord over out lives. God is delighted when we celebrate the birth of Jesus by turning our hearts to Him and by following Christ into a life of grace, love, justice, and reconciliation. This is the sort of party that can and should take place on any day and on every day of our lives. As with Jesus and His birthday celebration, the setting and the decorations are of far lesser value than is the splendor of the glory of God that fills the lives of followers of Christ. Here is where we find the true birthday party for the Risen King. Yet, as we gather with our family and friends, hold our festive meals, and exchange gifts, this is the perfect time and the joyous place to make clear to all the great gift of new life that the baby whose birth we are celebrating has given to us.

Merry Christmas!