Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
December 28, 2014
We must not lose hope
Christmas has many meanings across the world. It is celebrated in many different ways. Yet in every culture “gifts” are involved in the celebration of Christmas.
Adults enjoy exchanging gifts and children eagerly anticipate gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. We like to think this custom springs from the belief that Jesus, the baby born in Bethlehem, was God’s great gift to the world.
In my childhood the words “Christmas” and “gift” were linked together. When friends met on Christmas morning, each tried to be the first to say the words, “Christmas gift”! The idea was that if you cried “Christmas gift” first, the other person owed you a gift. It was all done in fun, with no gifts actually demanded or expected.
When we were children hope was terribly important. We hoped that Santa would bring us the things we wanted for Christmas. Within reason our parents helped Santa to satisfy our hope (if they could afford it.) Many of us can remember more than one wonderful Christmas when the bicycle or doll we hoped for was under the tree. We counted down the days until Christmas anticipating the joy Christmas would bring. In our childish hearts hope was alive!
The English poet Alexander Pope once wrote words that have become a common expression today – “Hope springs eternal.” So in the worst of circumstances there arises within our hearts the hope that “this too shall pass.” We all seem to know that when hope dies, the game is over.
The Bible calls God the “God of hope.” And he is. Christmas is about hope. The birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of an enduring hope that a Messiah would be born.
Though Christmas is past I want to call attention to a lovely story nestled in the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel. We could call this story a drama titled “Hope.” There are two acts and two main characters – a man named Simeon and a woman named Anna. Joseph, Mary and Jesus are also in the drama.
Simeon may have been an old man though Luke never describes him as such. We know little about him but what we do know is exciting – he was a man in whom hope was alive. A Jew, Simeon was a righteous man and devout in his faith. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and he was confident that he would see the Messiah before he died.
Why did Simeon anticipate seeing the Messiah? He believed the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. We are not told when Simeon received this revelation. Luke simply tells us that Simeon had been waiting to see the Messiah with his own eyes.
How did Simeon know to be in the temple when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus there to present him to the Lord? The Holy Spirit guided Simeon to go into the temple. Because he obeyed the Holy Spirit, Simeon was in the right place at the right time for his hope to be realized.
Evidently the Holy Spirit whispered in Simeon’s heart, when he saw the baby Jesus, “This is the One you have been waiting to see.” Immediately Simeon took Jesus in his arms and offered praise to God. His words of praise are called Simeon’s song.
What a beautiful scene that must have been. It is a scene that is imitated each time an infant is baptized in church. There is a joyous moment when the pastor takes the baby in his arms and offers praise to God for the child, often lifting the baby up in full view of the congregation, to the delight of all.
Imagine how stunning this must have been to Joseph and Mary. A man takes the baby from Mary’s arms and begins shouting: “Lord, now I can die in peace! I have seen the Messiah as you promised me I would. I have seen the Savior of the world! This child is the Light that will shine upon all nations, and he will bring glory to Israel!”
Simeon’s words of praise were not heard by many, but they were heard by the two people who needed most to hear them – Joseph and Mary. What he said both amazed and troubled them. Simeon’s announcement confirmed for Joseph and Mary that God had great plans for their son. If they had forgotten what the angel told them before Jesus’ birth, Simeon’s praise was a startling reminder that the Messiah was growing up in their humble home.
Troubling of course were the words Simeon said to Mary. This is what he said: “A sword shall pierce your soul, for this child shall be rejected by many in Israel, and this to their undoing. But he will be the greatest joy to many others. And the deepest thoughts of many hearts shall be revealed.” We know that Mary liked to ponder things in her heart, so it must have been most painful to ponder what Simeon had said. Years later her soul was pierced as she witnessed the cruel beating and crucifixion of her own son.
Anna steps forward in act two of our little drama. If Simeon was a righteous man, Anna (or Hannah) was an even more righteous woman. She was a prophet, or prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. An 84-year-old widow, Anna was so devout that she stayed in the temple day and night praying and fasting. Luke does not tell us what Anna said, only that when Simeon was done, she began praising God and speaking about Jesus to all who were “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Thus does Luke present both a man and a woman in whom hope was alive. On this historic day in the temple Simeon and Anna shared their hope. They saw in Jesus God’s salvation, not only for the Jews but for Gentiles also. By including women in his gospel, Luke underlines that Jesus came for all people, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the lowly, females and males.
We may respond to this brief drama in the gospel by asking how we sharing our hope with others. We are today’s people of hope. We are today’s Simeon and Anna. We are the people on whom God is counting to “praise Jesus” as the world’s only hope of salvation. We are the people who have hope that Christ will return some day to judge the world.
We can share hope by refusing to build fences around ourselves and offer our love and friendship to all people, especially people of other races. We can refuse to be carriers of despair and hopelessness. Pagans spread that well enough without the help of Christians. We can speak a good word for faith, love and hope when others say that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. No matter what we must not lose hope.
We can build bridges of friendship with people of other cultures and other countries. We can share openly that anyone who is a friend of Jesus is a friend of ours. In so doing we will follow the example of John Wesley who said, “If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand.”
Our world, so torn by violence and hatred, desperately needs people in whom hope is alive. Hope, after all, is contagious and sooner or later it will rub off on those with whom we rub shoulders. + + +