Recently, I read about Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of…
a storm that caught a vessel off a rocky coast and threatened to drive it and its passengers to destruction. In the midst of the terror, one daring man, contrary to orders, went to the deck, made a dangerous passage to the pilot house and saw the steerman, at his post holding the wheel unwaveringly, and inch by inch, turning the ship out, once more, to sea. The pilot saw the watcher and smiled. Then, the daring passenger went below and gave out a note of cheer: "I have seen the face of the pilot, and he smiled. All is well."[i]
When life gets tough, sometimes you just want to look into the pilot’s face. You just want to see him smile. You just want comfort and consolation, and to know that all is well. In Luke 2, we meet an old man named Simeon, who is waiting for the consolation of Israel. This word “consolation” is also translated as “comfort” and “encouragement.” Basically, he wants God to show them some love. Israel has been like a ship in a storm for so long, that Simeon wants to know that for his people, all will be well.
Israel was a nation that was birthed in pain. Four hundred years of slavery in Egypt threatened to dash them on the rocks even before they got established. Then there had been the time of wandering, the instability of a time when they were simply a loose confederation of tribes, and finally a unified monarchy under Saul, David, and Solomon. But pretty soon, things fell apart. The kingdom was divided. Civil war and unrest made the nation vulnerable so that they were easily conquered by empires. In the history of the Jewish people, very rarely did they have peace or self-rule. The Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans oppressed them. Simeon just wanted to look in the pilot’s face and see him smile. He just wanted comfort, and consolation from the God of Israel. He wanted to know that God’s people were special, that they were loved, and that God was looking out for them. Sometimes that’s all you want, isn’t it? But sometimes love surprises us.
The Bible says that Simeon is led by the Spirit to the Temple, where he encounters Mary, Joseph, and the newborn Jesus. The Holy Spirit gives him a word of prophecy in which he declares the love of God in two astonishing ways.
The first surprise is the scope of God’s love. This man who had been looking for the consolation of his oppressed nation prophesies instead about a comfort that God wants to give to everybody. “For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a Light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”[ii] So salvation and revelation aren’t just for the Jewish people—they are for the Gentiles, too. That means all people—even the oppressors. What amazing love God shows the world!
The second surprise is the cost of God’s love. Simeon meets the holy family in the context of sacrifice. They have come to the Temple to dedicate their child in a ritual that involves the offering of two young birds, one as a burnt offering and one as an offering to atone for sin. It’s in the context of blood and sacrifice that Simeon sings of salvation. Grace is free—it’s never earned. But it certainly is costly. It was upon the cross that Jesus bore the worst cruelty that humankind could dream up. Yet it was from the cross, while enduring our torment, that Jesus pronounced atonement with the words, “Father, forgive them!”[iii] Without Jesus’ shed blood we would never know the extent to which God’s love is willing to go. A college professor of mine, Rabbi Spiro, used to say, “God loves us, even to the point of self-sacrifice.” God demonstrates this great love in the person of Jesus. This costly gift would be a sword that would pierce Mary’s soul, yet it would bring salvation to the world.
In John 3:16-17 (NIV), Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” God loves you so much that He never wants to condemn you, but always to save you. That’s why Jesus came, to give God’s saving love to the world as the ultimate Christmas gift. Simeon knew that this love was costly, and would involve sacrifice. Simeon sang that this love would include not just some segment of “special people,” but that Jesus came as the Light of the Gentiles—the Light of world. I pray that you’ll know the love of God through Jesus, and I pray that you’ll share that light.
[i] http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/c/comfort.htm. December 18, 2015.
[ii] Luke 2:30-32 (NASB)
[iii] Luke 23:34 (NASB)