Little People and Christmas
In James Boice’s book entitled “The Christ of Christmas” he has a chapter on those he refers to as “the little people of Christmas.” He defines these “little people” as the ones who appear to be the “least important” people in the story. He distinguishes them from those who seem to be the prominent ones in the history of that time such as the political leaders, King Herod and Caesar Augustus, and the religious leaders, the chief priests and teachers of the law. He also contrasts these “little people” with those who get the most attention in the story of Christmas, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi. Who are these “little people” and what can we learn from them?
He identifies them as the two individuals who appear in Luke 2 when the infant Jesus is presented to God in the temple in Jerusalem just eight days after his birth. The two people are Simeon and Anna. We will conclude our Advent/Christmas sermons this month without reference to either of them so I thought it might be good to use them to provide the lesson of this newsletter thus extending our lessons on those who didn’t miss Christmas.
Now to be sure neither one of these two individuals were present in Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. But their failure to be at the birth was due to circumstances beyond their control. And as they are described by Luke they were probably the most prepared, the most expectant, the most eager of all the Christmas characters.
So what prevented them from being personally present at the stable? The answer is a simple one: age. Simeon is described as an old man whose life expectancy hinged on one promise from God, “that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). Anna was also well advanced in years. She is described as “very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four” (Luke 2:36-37). The NIV footnote has an alternate reading that translates this as “a widow for eighty-four years.” She was certainly a senior-citizen either way and if the footnote wording is correct than she would have been over a hundred years old. Age affects one’s health and mobility so that even the short trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem would have been extremely difficult for these two individuals.
Yet they are the most prepared for welcoming Christ to their world. Of Simeon it says that he “was righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25). Anna was continually in “the temple…worshipping night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37). Without question their hearts were right before God.
And both of them were in waiting. Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25) and Anna was “looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Those are interesting words, consolation and redemption. “Consolation” is a word perhaps best defined in this context as comfort. Simeon was anxiously awaiting the fulfillment of the promise of Isaiah: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for” (Isaiah 40:1-2). The word “redemption” means to buy something back, to ransom what has been lost. There will be a cost involved in this as every Old Testament sacrifice gave clarity. Both Simeon and Anna were aware of what was needed for their own and the world’s salvation. A Messiah is needed, and only he can pay this price. Simeon speaks these words which Anna also continued to share with all who would listen. “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32).
You and I are included in this message. Our salvation, our forgiveness and right standing before God is totally dependent upon our reception of the Christmas Christ who is the Lord and Savior of the world. Have we accepted him? Are we telling the world about him? Are we now awaiting his second coming? Are we people like Simeon and Anna?
I am ending this little meditation with a poem by Ann Weems. I include it not to make those who are unable to get out to Sunday Worship feel guilty, but rather to celebrate both the children and the seniors among us, those who often can feel neglected and overlooked, the “little people.” May your hearts be open and ready to receive Jesus as you “worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
See you in Worship.
Against Our Better Judgment
We told her she couldn’t go;
she was too young
to stay up that late.
She told us that
Baby Jesus would be there
and he was younger than she.
We told him he couldn’t go;
he was too old
to brave the cold night air.
He told us he’d rather greet heaven
from the Christmas Eve service
than be found slumped by the TV.
So we bundled them up
against the extreme cold
against their own defenselessness
against our better judgment
and they went out with joy.
My payer is that those of us who think
that we’re in charge of the world and the church
will remember that the stable was filled
with such as these:
those who could not be kept
(Ann Weems, Kneeling in Bethlehem, Westminster, 1987)