Oh goodness. Of all the idiotic ways to try to make Christmas “relevant” …
I know what you’re thinking: “Unger has lost it, and his meds have final fried his frontal lobe.”
Well, I don’t think that’s quite the scenario, but now that I have your attention let’s look at Luke 2:22-35!
In Luke 2:22-35, there is the pericope of Jesus being brought to the temple as a baby. Luke 2:22-24 sets up the account with Mary and Joseph, being the upstanding observant Jews that they were, bringing their son to be purified and presented to the Lord as was required by the law of Moses. They had to sacrifice two turtledoves (isn’t that in a Christmas song somewhere?) and were diligent in fulfilling their duties, seeing that Joseph was an upright man.
When they got to the temple, they encountered a man named Simeon. He was a righteous and devout Jewish man who was awaiting the “consolation of Israel”, seeing that God had revealed to him that he would not “not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ”; the Lord’s anointed one (Luke 2:25-26). When Simeon came into the temple, filled with the Spirit, he saw Jesus, picked him up (Luke 2:27) and prophetically delivered a short, three couplet poem (Luke 2:28):
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; (Luke 2:29)
for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, (Luke 2:30-31)
a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32)
Looking at the couplets, one sees some very interesting stuff prophetically coming out of Simeon’s mouth:
In the first couplet, Simeon talks about the Lord releasing him (to see death) in peace, according to the Lord’s word. It’s interesting how Simeon talks about being “released” to die, which gives a little understanding of how Simeon recognizes that the Lord is the one who brings life and death. A person doesn’t die until the Lord decides that it’s time for life to “release” them.
It’s also interesting how Simeon knew that he would “not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26) because the Lord had directly told him so. The “word” that the Lord had given him wasn’t a general word (logos), but rather a personal propositional statement (rhema) directly given to him by means of the Spirit. God was keeping his promise in exactly the way that God had personally said he would…and God never breaks his promises. Ever.
In the second couplet, Simeon explains why the first couplet is so. Before Simeon’s eyes were allowed to see death, his eyes had to see the “consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25) and that’s exactly what they did. It’s interesting that Simeon refers to Jesus as the “your salvation”, meaning God’s means of salvation for Israel. He talks about Jesus in somewhat sub-personal terms here, not because he doesn’t realize that Jesus is a person but rather because he sees Jesus for what he will do. In a sense, Jesus is the means to the end of bringing salvation to Israel, but in another sense, he is the salvation of Israel. He is that salvation incarnated. Jesus is the means and the end at the same time.
It’s also interesting how the Spirit speaking through Simeon words the next phrase. The choice of words is subtle, yet incredibly profound. The verb “see” (orao) comes up repeatedly in the previous verses. Simeon was promised that he would “see” (orao) the Lord’s salvation (Luke 2:26) and Simeon did see (orao) him (Luke 2:30). Then, Simeon says that the Lord’s salvation had been prepared in the presence (pros + orao), or before the eyes of, all people. Not only has Simeon got to see it, but everyone gets to see it. God’s promise keeping to Simeon (among many, many other people to whom God made messianic promises) is on full display in Jesus, before the eyes of the whole world.
In the third couplet there is language that describes this “salvation” that had been prepared before the eyes of everyone. Who is this little child that Simeon holds? The Spirit speaking through Simeon says two amazing things.
- This child is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles”. Quite literally, Simeon says that Jesus is a light (“light” in the sense that he made something “see-able”) for/into apocalupsis, a term that means to unveil or disclose something. When we see the Greek term apocalupsis, it comes into English as apocalypse. Christmas is a time when God unveiled himself to the Gentiles by shining a spotlight on himself in the form of the child, Jesus Christ. The beginning of Christ’s incarnation was a time of apocalypse, and God’s plan of salvation (and God himself) was revealed before the unknowing eyes of the entire world. Little did they know, but never should we forget.
- This child is a light “for glory to your people Israel.” Jesus didn’t just reveal God himself to the Gentiles, but Jesus also shone a spotlight on God’s glory for Israel, his people. Christ was God’s glory, on public and rather ostentatious display for a limited time, in Israel. Jesus was God’s personal effort at radiating forth his own perfections, in the sight of his own people, in a very purposeful and unprecedented way.
With all of that being said, it’s no surprise that Mary and Joseph were struck with amazement at what was said about their little son (2:33). They knew Jesus was special, but up until now in Luke’s gospel they were only told that Jesus was the promised Davidic king (Luke 1:31) who would be conceived directly by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35) and would fulfill the promises to Abraham (Luke 1:54-55 & all three points are again repeated in Luke 1:68-74). These three couplets spoken through Simeon by the Spirit were so much for Mary and Joseph to grasp that they were simply struck with wonder, unsure as to what exactly Simeon’s prophecy meant. Such high and lofty language and such overtly extravagant talk was just a little much for the humble little couple to swallow…but that’s sort of the point, right?
Christ is God’s salvation, put forth before everyone’s eyes, to illumine God’s self-revelation and glory. That’s a big part of what Christmas is about, and good reason to be bold about talking about those things this holiday season.
Quite literally, discussing God and his glory is the reason for the season.
The prophet Luke said it, not me.
Merry Christmas and let er’ rip.