A Christmas Story for 2012

It’s so incredible to consider that before the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry there had not been an inspired word from the Lord for more than 400 years.  It was as if the heavens were shut down.  This is a Christian credo that some may dispute but it is marked by the end of Malachi’s prophetic ministry at the end of the Old Testament and John’s pronouncement to prepare for the Kingdom. If this was indeed the case [as it was] then those devout people held close their interest and desire for the fulfillment of the psalmist’s bold promise that his sceptre [kingdom] would last forever.

This is the backdrop where we find the two stirring characters that comprise one of my favorite Christmas stories.  Simeon was in the temple at the time Mary and Joseph had come to offer their firstborn’s purification offering.  Luke describes him as righteous and devout, and the holy spirit was upon him which is formidable considering that before the Acts 2 Day of Pentecost, there were only a few people upon whom the Holy Spirit rested.  

It is very important to recognize that Israel was under siege at this time by the conquering Roman Empire.   The event resembled when the then ‘Soviet Union’ invaded Czechoslovakia (8/20/1968).  A nation that cannot possibly be beaten has forcefully entered your country and you remain hostage in your own land.   The notion of being under siege is completely foreign to twenty-first century Americans.  The notion of a prophesy foretelling a heroic king who would come and throw out the invaders was more than they could even hope for; something only Jehovah could deliver.  

Simeon was eagerly anticipating this Messiah who would bring Israel out of the state of siege.  Isn’t it just like God to give you an answer to prayer even if that answer is beyond your wildest dreams and imagination?!!  He was led to the temple at the time Joseph brought his offering and was able to see the child as the Spirit revealed that this was indeed the anointed one.   He prophesized over the child providing a glimpse to the unknowing parents who Jesus would become.  

As Simeon was talking, our second character came and overheard the prophesy.  Anna a widow of some sixty years, who Luke says “never left the temple” but stayed there (in the outer courts)  worshipping day and night was a true worshipper who was devoted to fasting and prayer. Both Anna and Simeon were given the unmerited favor to see their hopes realized. 

This is a truth of Christmas illustrated.  Hope when there is (or was) no hope, is the reality that God wants us to recognize. And even when all seems lost, if it takes 400 years, he is still working and will fulfill his promises.

[painting by Simon Vouet 1640-41]

I love this painting by Antonio Ciseri [approx. 1891]

John 19:1 So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged [Him.] 2 And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put [it] on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. 3 Then they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck Him with their hands. 4 Pilate then went out again, and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.” 5 Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And [Pilate] said to them, “Behold the Man!” 6 Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify [Him,] crucify [Him!”] Pilate said to them, “You take Him and crucify [Him,] for I find no fault in Him.”

For this cause we pray . . . (Part 2)

Colossians 1:9-11
The Apostle Paul’s prayer to the church at Colosse included his interest in providing support for all that they needed to have to be empowered for ministry. It doesn’t appear that he had visited Colosse when he wrote the epistle since he tells Philemon of his hope to visit it upon being freed from prison [see Philemon 1:22]. Some speculate that Epaphras was the founder of the Colossian church [see Colossians 1:7, 4:12].
Paul’s petition in Colossians 1:9-11 can be broken into five phrases that provide insight into what the Holy Spirit wants to inspire into the entire body of believers so that we may be perfect and entire, wanting for nothing [James 1:4].
The Apostle’s prayer in the text is as follows:
[9] “For this reason we also, from the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to

  1. ask that you be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
  2. that you walk worthy of the Lord, in all pleasing
  3. being fruitful in every good work
         The world is suffering under the weight of an incredible burden brought on by the faltering economy [deceitfulness of riches], the stalled job market, the uptick in productivity brought on by companies forcing too few workers do work that would normally require many more. As a result, we are rushed, sleepless, exhausted and working in every spare moment. The consequence of this is that it carries over into our spiritual lives.    Galatians 5:22  states  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, . . . ”  so then we can logically infer that being fruitful in a good work would produce a measure of these.  How unfortunate it is that so many members of the body end up spending precious time doing things that produce none of these!  How much time is wasted on tasks and activities that are church-based but not Kingdom-based?   We do a lot of church work that is not the work of the church.
               We are not saved by our works, (see Ephesians 2:7-9) so the work we do must be commissioned by the Lord as we strive to follow his lead.  Cain tried to work his way into the kingdom by his work and it bore no fruit, to the contrary it brought forth so much envy of his brother Abel that he murdered him.  Look for the fruit of your work and let go of activity that seems stagnant.  There’s no wrong in serving where we can, but finding our purpose is of paramount importance.  It grounds us as we settle into our place in the body of Christ, doing what we were made to do.
     4. and increasing in the knowledge of God
Paul prays that we increase in the knowledge of God; there is only one way that that occurs – He reveals himself through his word.  We get ourselves in position to hear from Him and to fellowship with Him as we study the word and pray.   Jesus made a similar invitation when he said “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me . . . (Matt. 11:29) He is inviting us to fellowship and get to know him.  He literally says that following him is not difficult and he will let us rest from our struggles and toil.
     5. strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness
This clause is such a delightful surprise!  I continue to revel in the fact that our might didn’t come in a physical package in the way that Samson’s did.   We are set to receive the might that Jesus showed in his passion on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  Notice that he prays for us to be strengthened with ALL MIGHT, not just a bit and not just according to what we might come up with, but according to His power.
To what end?  To all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.   Ride in tight traffic with that!!  Confront your disbelieving relatives with that!  Take that to your workplace and start a revolution!!
We are in for spiritual warfare, frustration, loss, pain, and disappointment.  Our attitude is that one tool and relief that will make the difference in how we wear Christ and how the world sees Him in us.   Second Corinthians 4:8 “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”
 It is not on you!! We pray this prayer of Paul’s and place our faith in the fact that God can and will make it so for us in this present hour! Believe it!