Dear brothers and sisters,
a child is born, received with love by a loving mother and a responsible father. Not necessarily the most common picture, but a happy one. And when the time comes, the child takes his place under the law and experiences His first social meetings. Well done, observers may clap and commend. The bystanders are told about the adorable baby and how well He has done during His first outing. Then, the happy family returns back to their comfy home and the child is growing and becoming strong…
A happy, adorable and warm story of the “winter holidays”, right? We have even the cute doves and young pigeons in the story, forget the disturbing fact that the mentioned lovely birds were prescribed offerings for poor people. Even a noble story since the old man is told to be “righteous and devout”. What a great picture with which we can pat our shoulders and say: “We are so well and the world is so beautiful.” Just put this happy Christmas mood in a Christmas card that is printed in large numbers and send it to anybody.
If only…if only our sinful nature did not tend or want to leave out or skip the few places of the Scripture text that are not so cuddly and joyful: Verse 22nd reads “….required by the Law…”, and verse 25th reads: “He was waiting for the consolation of Israel…”, further verse 38th reads: “…to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” and finally verse 35th utters these brutal words: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Obviously, we are not pure and cuddly angels if the Scripture testifies that we are “….required by the Law…”. The very fact that there is a Law inevitably means that we need to be shown the good and any evil concerning our conduct needs to be curbed, thus we see our corruption in the mirror of the law and our broken and restless hearts cry for help.
Even while having the law and striving the best for its keeping, the old Simeon was longing for the consolation and the people were looking forward to the redemption. Clearly, something was lacking and when we read about the pain of sword piercing Mary´s soul, we are far from the happy and cuddly Christmas picture that we want to put in millions of pre-printed post cards. On the contrary, we see a broken world full of trouble and pain that must have the law so that the evil is curbed, the good pointed to and a world that is in agony waiting or longing for help, for the consolation, for the redemption. We see a world that is so corrupted and hopeless that an old man saw that his salvation cannot come from this worldly pit or from the law that crushes his consciousness and condemns the evil that fills the world and the passions of the human heart.
So, we see a different world than the snowy and cuddly Christmas days filled with warm homes, good food, friends and presents. We see a world that we do not want to see, especially now. We see a world that is broken, painful and desperate.
Let me detour from the Scripture text a bit to three personal recollections of the same brokenness of the world, memories that do not fit into the box of the cuddly and happy holidays. The personal aspect is not important much, rather, my Christmas experiences illustrate the aching world that is crying for help.
The first recollection is a bit before or a bit after the fall of the Iron Curtain. I was a little boy and we were shopping in the freezing Christmas Prague with my parents. We were walking in the downtown, running for our presents as were all the other people. We were passing by a shopping window of one of the department stores and I saw a picture that always comes to my mind on these Christmas days and I always feel the same brokenness and pity. There was an old babička (granny) sitting on a small stool, in ripped clothes, shivering and barely speaking through her old and cracked lips. She was selling balls from an old paper on a rubber band. A desperate attempt of hers to sell a toy and make some money. I felt the shame. We were running for presents and going back to our comfy home and she, in her age, was shivering in cold and was sitting there hopelessly. I do not remember whether I asked my mum to stop and buy one of the paper toys. But what I remember is that that Christmas was not the same and I come to the picture of the old babička (granny) selling the paper toys every Christmas and I feel the same pity and brokenness.
The other Christmas that I remember as not so happy and I am aware that I was only one of many millions paining in those days, was in 2008. I was in Amsterdam, alone in the dorm room, alone in the whole dorm corridor, maybe alone in the whole dorm building. I had no job and had only 2 EUR for food per day to stay and continue my studies. It was pretty cold winter for the Netherlands with some ice and snow and I was wandering the windy and empty streets of Amsterdam texting my mum who was dealing with one of our family members being tore up by passions. Not peaceful Christmas at all. What a broken life and world those days! The only joy those days was to go to the local Lidl for some potatoes and the cheapest pork meat, to cook me dinner and to go to the local church to attend a mass that was partially in Latin so I could understand at least something.
And the third experience that reminded me of the brokenness of the world that is waiting for the consolation and looking for the redemption happened last Sunday on my way to the church service. At my tram stop in Košíře, I met my neighbor, a lady in her sixties whom I meet occasionally. Always, she talks to me. This time, she reminded me that she will pay me back the 50 CZK that I had loaned her and in the same sentence she asked me whether I could loan her another 100 CZK. I put my hand in my jacket pocket and took out some coins that I had ready for my breakfast. We boarded the same tram. On the tram, she asked me whether I know about any job that she could apply for. And then, she said: “You know, sometime, I wish that I would not wake up in the morning, it would be better that way.” It said everything. She is one of the millions of people for whom this Christmas is not happy and cuddly time. For her, the world is broken, she sees no hope or point in living on her unhappy or messed up life.
The old and poor babička (granny) in freezing Christmas Prague, I, in cold Amsterdam during a lonely Chrismas, and my sad and miserable neighbor, we and millions of broken and desperate people at Christmas days are not expecting any help from themselves for they are wretches in an aching and stinky pit of the world.
Together with Simeon, we, wretched and paining people, are waiting for the consolation and looking forward to the redemption. Only when the old Simeon who did not expect anything from the corrupted world saw baby Jesus could he joyfully shout: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace…for my eyes have seen your salvation…” (Luke 2:29, 30). In this crying, defenseless and meek baby comes our only consolation and redemption. All three of my Christmas experiences point to grace who came as the Light to this dark world. (John 1). The law condemns sin, and suffering comes through sin, but grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9) for this aching world. The old Simeon testified that seeing the salvation now come in Jesus, he could now depart in peace. Moreover, Simeon testifies that this child is “….a light for revelation to the Gentiles….” (Luke 2:32), that is, for you and me, for all the mankind; this child is the fulfillment of all our hopes and longings for rescue. The grace of this child is sufficient for you and me. This child fulfilled the law and ransomed us with His shed blood and pierced side. And Simeon goes on: This child is the stumbling block, the scandal that will be opposed, pierced with a thorn crown, with nails and with a spear, this child will experience so much pain for you and for me that His own mother´s heart will feel His pain. This child´s suffering on the bloody cross will reveal thoughts of many hearts and upon His cross some will fall and the one “…who is not offended by…” (Matthew 11:6, Luke 7:23) Him will be raised on the last day.
So, brothers and sisters, at Christmas we must hear the grace of this child at whom the old Simeon found his consolation and redemption: “And though this world, with devils filled…” (Mighty Fortress is Our God) this meek child has won the battle for you and for me. When pierced on the cross from whence this child will hang the evil one sneers. But “One little word shall fell” the evil one, and to you and to me the meek child, the slain Lamb who is the Lord of lords, to whom “…all authority in heaven and on earth has been given…” (Matthew 28:18), extends these words of grace from His throne of the cross: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. (John 14:27).
Oh, come, Lord Jesus, come Immanuel and ransom us!