Simple Pursuit

“When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You, ‘Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.’” Psalm 27:8 (NASB)

We find Simeon and Anna at the temple in Jerusalem. These two elderly people claim a simple, profound pursuit: They have followed the Lord all their lives. The Bible calls Simeon “righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). Anna has served, prayed, and fasted in the Temple since her husband died years and years ago (Luke 2:36-7). She, like Simeon, looks for the coming Messiah. 

And they find him, or, to be more precise, Jesus finds them. Joseph and Mary bring the infant to Jerusalem to present Jesus to God and to offer a sacrifice. Simeon takes Jesus into his arms and bursts into prophecy (Luke 2:29-32, 34-35), in a fashion similar to Elizabeth’s and Mary’s praise songs a chapter earlier (Luke 1:41-55). 

When Anna approaches the baby Jesus, the same thing happens. She speaks the truth and gives thanks to God. She can’t keep quiet; she speaks of Jesus to “all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). 

Simeon and Anna might not have expected to ever see the Messiah with their own eyes, but they hoped to. Anna and Simeon sought him with all their hearts, and God arrived on the temple steps. He introduced himself to Anna and Simeon in such a strange, glorious, and beautiful way: He let them hold his Son, the Savior of the world, in their arms and speak of his great name to all the people gathered there.

The Second Exodus

“So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. […] So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.” Matthew 2:14 and 21 (NASB)

If we start the Christmas story in the New Testament, we miss the rich complexity of the story God has been telling since the beginning of things. Sally Lloyd-Jones puts the situation in perfect perspective in The Jesus Storybook Bible. She writes:

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.  

To read the Bible as a story—God’s Story—is to see how God has been drawing people ever nearer to himself. It’s also to see how no solution but Jesus will solve our sin-and-death problem. We can’t keep the commandments God has given us; we run after other things or turn God’s words into a list of dos and don’ts. 

We cannot save ourselves, but God can. And he does. He foreshadows the coming rescue with the Israelites’ exodus in the Old Testament and accomplishes it in the New Testament. He gives us Jesus, “the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together.” God provides the sacrificial lamb and leads us out of slavery so that we may freely love and worship him.

A Righteous Man

“Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. […] And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man…” Matthew 1:16 & 19a (NASB)

We don’t know a lot about Joseph, but we do know him to be a righteous man. He, unlike some of his forbearers, follows the example of Boaz. He worships God, and he treats people with justice and kindness. 

However, his righteousness arises out of something other than works—no matter how creditable those works may be. His righteousness is born of faith. His life foreshadows what Paul says in Romans 4, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). 

Joseph, then, anticipates the coming of the Messiah, so much so that he never questions the dreams that fill his nights. An angel tells him to not send Mary away; he obeys. When the angel says to flee Bethlehem, he listens even though it means fleeing to Egypt. Joseph goes wherever God calls him, and such faith… such faith causes us to marvel and to desire to follow in his footsteps.

God With Us

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners.”
Isaiah 61:1 (NASB)

When Jesus begins his ministry, he announces it with little fanfare. The dove obviously descended, and the wedding party enjoyed some lovely wine, but Jesus doesn’t rush into the temple or Caesar’s court. He starts at home, in an out-of-the-way synagogue (Luke 4:16-30). 

His entire life, with the exception of the crucifixion, follows the same pattern. He’s born in relative anonymity; the witnesses to his birth aren’t the Sadducees and Pharisees but some unnamed shepherds. He grows up in Nazareth, most likely learning carpentry from Joseph. He attends the holy days in Jerusalem. 

Jesus lives quietly, healing the broken body and the broken heart. He offers freedom to the captives—the demon-possessed man in the graveyard; the Samaritan woman at the well; Peter, after his denial. Jesus binds our wounds and comforts our fears. For when he came as a baby, he didn’t come to sit in judgment. He came to be Immanuel, God with us, the perfect sacrifice who would set us free from sin and death, forever (Hebrews 2:14-18).

Peace and Goodwill

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”John 14:27 (NASB)

In Makoto Fujimura’s Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture, he defines peace as “not simply an absence of war but a thriving of our lives.” His thought aligns with Jesus’ offering of peace; the gift Jesus gives has nothing to do with an absence of conflict but a sense of surety and wholeness in the midst of it.

We sometimes forget that idea, the same as Jesus’ disciples did. They expected Jesus to create peace with a show of force. Jesus didn’t. He brought peace to individual hearts and homes as he went about healing and teaching. Jesus gave order to the everyday chaos of life.

It is the peace he still gives. His peace steadies us as we work in the fields or an office, as we encounter personal or public suffering. We receive Jesus’ peace and, in receiving it, we discover Paul’s secret to contentment (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul didn’t experience peace because of something he did but because of whom he trusted: Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who gives us an abiding peace that keeps us whole even as things come together or shatter apart.

The Angels Rejoice

“And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’” Luke 2:13-4 (NASB)

Angels fill the Christmas story. One appears to Mary. Another meets with Zacharias in the temple. Joseph sees an angel of the Lord in his dreams. Even the wise men presumably see an angel; at the very least, they hear the voice of God in a dream.

Angels are everywhere, and yet they seem most fully present when they appear to the shepherds. One angel arrives, urging the shepherds to not be afraid. A multitude—a countless host—then joins the angel in a celebration of Jesus’ birth.

And it is a celebration. The angels aren’t mere messengers; the passage in Luke says they praise God. They, like the shepherds and wise men, glorify God for what is taking place: God is here, among men. 

The angels sing out in response. They can’t help it. The angels must rejoice. They have to shout God’s triumph. And we get to join them this Advent season. We sing, “Let angels shout the triumph, as mortals raise their voice. Behold, the Son of heav’n and earth, the King of Kings is born.”

An Old, New Thing

“But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.’” Luke 2:13-4 (NASB)

God is unchangeable, and yet, he surprises us all the time. We think he works one way; he proves us wrong. We believe him to be more of one quality than another—as an example, we think him to be more loving or more vengeful than he is—and he reveals he encompasses both qualities equally.

Zacharias joins us in our misconceptions, suspicions, and uncertainty. He, a priest in the service of God, knew God’s actions intimately. He would have heard the stories, studied them, and spoken God’s word to the people. He, of all people, should have remembered how God worked in Abraham and Sarah’s lives. 

Zacharias, however, questions the angel’s announcement. “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years” (Luke 1:18). He is surprised by God’s action, despite the blessing of a child coming to Abraham and Sarah years and years before. Zacharias questions the promise, and yet—God fulfills the promise in spite of him. 

That fact should comfort and assure us. God answers our prayers despite our misunderstandings, doubts, and fears. He accomplishes his purposes because he is God, and we, fortunately, are not.

Eternity and Evergreens

“He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity into their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NASB)

People honor Advent in a variety of ways. Some fast and pray for a period of time, as they do during Lent. Others use an Advent calendar to mark the days and remember the gift of a babe in a manger. In some churches, Advent takes yet another form: decorations. People set out evergreen trees, lights, and the Advent wreath with its symbolic candles.

The wreath, though, stands alongside the candles as a symbol. Like the trees, the wreath is evergreen. It also is a circle. The symbolism quickly becomes apparent—the wreath stands as a testament to eternity.But perhaps the Advent wreath points to more than God’s eternal nature. It could simultaneously remind us of the life we receive through God’s Son, Jesus. In Christ, we partake of everlasting life (John 4:1-26). We become eternally evergreen.

A Wonderful Name

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6 (NASB)

A song lyric says, “What a wonderful name it is, nothing compares to this. What a wonderful name it is, the name of Jesus.” The song puts words to the feelings and thoughts of our hearts. The more we get to know Jesus, the more we marvel at his wonderful, beautiful, powerful name.

But long before the song appeared in modern worship sets, Isaiah set words to the wonderful name of Jesus. He, prompted by God, hails Jesus as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace. The names aren’t ones that just popped into Isaiah’s head; God placed them in Isaiah’s mind to declare how wonderful and glorious the name of Jesus is.

Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. He knows what he’s doing, and we can trust him to guide us through everything, good and bad. He also is the Mighty God. He is all-powerful and holds the whole world within his hands. Jesus is the Eternal Father. He never begins and never ends; he is. He is the Prince of Peace. He gives us shalom, a peace that delivers wholeness or completeness. In Jesus, we receive all these names of God, and we—we fall down and worship as Isaiah and the shepherds and the wise men did. We remember Jesus’ wonderful name, and what a wonderful name it is.

Prepare the Way

“Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea.” Matthew 3:1 (NASB)

John the Baptist comes from a long line of prophets who “make ready the way of the Lord” (Matthew 3:3). He joins the ranks of Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. He often sounds like Malachi and Micah in his denunciation of the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

John calls them a “brood of vipers” and urges them to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8). The words suggest the religious and political leaders have not listened to the prophets of prior years. Rather, they have continued to rob God (Malachi 3:8-12) and to act unjustly, unkindly, and proudly (Micah 6:8).

John has no patience for them, but he shouldn’t be expected to. As a prophet, his role is to call people to repentance and make ready the way of the Lord. Sometimes, that role calls for blatant confrontation—shining a glaring spotlight on the ugly, putrid darkness that fills people’s hearts. 

And yet, we know John and the other prophets acted with patience and kindness. Elijah and Elisha, for instance, both aid the starving and destitute. The prophets respond to people as individuals, the same as Jesus does. Their words and actions change in response to the situation and the person’s heart. We are called to do the same. Jesus has come, but he will come again. Until that time, we act as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), calling people to repentance and making ready the way of the Lord.