John invites us to look through the bewildered yet beholding eyes of Simeon as he greets His long-awaited Messiah.View Transcript
– Merry Christmas from the Stumbo home. May you know the presence of the Christ in your home as you honor Him this Christmas. Love is Here—that’s the theme of this year’s Christmas Offering. You know how important it is for the Christian and Missionary Alliance to stay fully engaged in taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the peoples who’ve not yet had the chance to hear His loving name, and our Great Commission Fund is our means of sending our workers and advancing that name. For whatever reason, giving to the GCF was strong last year but has lagged in recent months. So, would you receive this as my invitation, my request to you, as an individual and as a local church, to engage in this year’s Christmas Offering, “Love is Here.” I’ve been reflecting on Luke’s Advent account. The seasoned saint Simeon has stood out to me. Simeon is always pictured as an old man, right?
Actually, Dr. Luke doesn’t say anything about Simeon’s age. We merely assume this based on the Scripture that says, “The Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he saw the Messiah.” And then when he does encounter the Christ Child, he prays, “You now dismiss your servant in peace.” In other words, “I can die peacefully because You fulfilled what You promised me.” Well, was he 40 or 90? Did he live another day or another decade? We don’t know. Regardless of his age, Luke tells us that Simeon was a resident of Jerusalem, righteous and devout, waiting with expectancy for God’s coming to Israel and that the Holy Spirit was upon him. In fact, three times in three consecutive sentences, Luke references Simeon’s relationship with the Holy Spirit. He knew what it was to be taught by the Spirit and led by the Spirit.
Simeon, a man whose life was marked by devotion, righteousness, and faith and knew what it was to be led by the Spirit. Let me read from the text starting with Luke 2:27: “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God saying, ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For 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.’ The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.” It’s remarkable that in the bustle of Jerusalem, Simeon identifies the parents of the Christ Child. It’s remarkable that he acknowledges that the Christ came not just for the people of Israel but for the Gentiles as well. It feels significant that he sees this as a pinnacle moment of his life. He had a one-item bucket list so to speak, and it is now fulfilled. But for me, as I reflect on the text, what comes next is perhaps the most remarkable. Imagine being Simeon; you’ve walked with God and heard His promise; the Lord’s Christ was coming, and you were assured that you would get to see Him. Wouldn’t you spend your days wondering in what form the Christ would appear? What will it be like? What will He look like? Was Simeon surprised to discover that the infinite had come as an infant?
Regardless of what he expected, he embraces the Spirit’s word, “This is the One,” and he embraces the child, God’s holy Son. I picture him lifting the child to heaven as he lifts his prayer there as well. Joseph and Mary marvel of what they’re witnessing and hearing, and then comes the fascinating moment. This is conjecture; I’m putting myself in Simeon’s sandals, but I have to wonder what it was like for him to pass the long awaited One, the singular desire of his heart, the One for whom the world awaited but did not yet recognize.
What was it like for Simeon to hand back the God-Son into the rough hands of a carpenter and the inexperienced hands of the first-time mother? Did something in his mind question the plan of God just for a moment? “Really, God? This child to these people? Your high-ness into these lowly hands? Your majesty carried in their humility?” I’m guessing that Joseph and Mary weren’t the only ones marveling at that moment. I expect that Simeon had wonderment as well. Now roll the story ahead three decades- the child is now the adult rabbi at the Last Supper with His disciples. With His hands, He lifts the cup and bread to heaven and lifts His prayer as well. Then He assures His disciples that another gift was coming from heaven. He doesn’t use the same words as the Spirit gave to Simeon, but in essence, Jesus assures His disciples that they would not die until they experienced another arrival: the Holy Spirit. Even more remarkable than the holy Christ Child being placed in the hands of the inexperienced young parents that first Christmas is the fact that the Spirit, who is holy, would be granted to us today. Who are we, in ourselves, to receive the gift of heaven?
Nobody—completely undeserving and unfit. But by the atoning grace and redeeming salvation provided by our loving Christ, we become vessels, temples of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we need to confess that we’ve taken too lightly the miracle of the Spirit’s indwelling presence. Perhaps this Christmas, we would more eagerly welcome His ongoing gift to us. Perhaps you would add your agreement to my prayer: “Spirit of the living God, help me not take You for granted. Forgive me for neglecting You, ignoring You, and disobeying You. I welcome Your work, Your word, and Your ways; in my mind, will, and emotions, body, soul, and spirit, I yield myself again to You.” In 2019, we received invitations to do seat conferences in more than a half dozen locations across the country. This was a moment for us to go from region to region and present the deeper life and mission message of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and you’re aware that all those got canceled because of the pandemic. We had prepared, at that time, a video that gives a testimony of the work of the Spirit of God in my wife’s heart. Joanna’s not one for the stage or microphone, but she allowed her story to be captured a few years ago, and we’ve saved it for this moment to share with you now. Receive this:
– I was raised in a Christian home and asked Jesus to be my Savior at a very young age, and I know He was my Savior; I was His. I understood very little of His grace and love. I tended to absorb the fear of the Lord and the need to obey, and that often usually overshadowed His grace and His love for me. When I married John, I was young. He was already a pastor. I really struggled in the role as a pastor’s wife. I don’t like the spotlight. I don’t like to be in charge or lead things. I’m very much behind the scenes, and I felt people’s expectations or at least what I perceived their expectations to be. I felt like I was always letting people down, disappointing someone with what I couldn’t do, but mostly, disappointing Jesus because I couldn’t be what I felt like I should be. So, this went on for years, but it finally came to a head when John got a new role and I was not going to be a pastor’s wife. I totally assumed that I would be free from the expectations that I had felt for years and years. But it actually turned out that the expectations on me were even more intense, and I needed to be more in the spotlight. And I was devastated. I was frustrated. I was tired.
Either I did good and I was a good Christian on the days that I made sure I read my Bible and prayed, or I failed that day because I hadn’t done that, and I was at the end of myself and my strength. So, I told God, one day in my bedroom, I said, “I’m done. I’m done reading my Bible and praying until I hunger and thirst for you.” The verse in the Psalms that says, “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul pants for you,” always kind of troubled me because I didn’t feel that like the psalmist, and I knew it was just duty and responsibility in the Word. And I wanted to hunger. I wanted to feel that. So, I told God I was done. And fortunately, within a matter of days, I was hungry for the Word again, and I was hungry for God, but I wanted something different than the way it had been. I was able to attend some weekly worship services where I could be completely anonymous. I didn’t know what I was seeking, what I was hungry for, but I craved something.
I wasn’t sure what I was hungry for there, but I knew that I needed to go. And I remember a lot of the songs spoke of more love and more power, and I knew I didn’t have that. I didn’t have any love outside of myself, and I certainly didn’t have any supernatural power. I had nothing beyond myself, and it wasn’t much. And finally, one night, the voice of God spoke to my soul, and He said, “You don’t trust my love for you. That’s why you don’t want to embrace my Spirit fully. I don’t want to give you my Spirit to make you look foolish or to embarrass you. I want to give you my Spirit for love and for power that you don’t have.” And in that evening, something changed greatly in my soul. God met me, and I felt like a source of fresh living water was opened in my soul that I had never experienced before and has never, never left me. He completely and miraculously set me free that night.
I began to crave the Word to hear. I wanted to hear from the Father that loved me and wanted only good for me. I still don’t like to lead or be in the limelight. I don’t feel like He changed the way He gifted me, but as I learned to be secure in His love for me, I realized He had made me how He had made me for a reason. It’s so natural for me now to go to that place. Some days I know I need to hear from that Father, and it drives me to His Word. I long to hear; does He have something for me today? And when I live in that, I am free. There’s freedom; there’s joy like I had never experienced before in my life.