The Classic Christmas: Expecting consolation and redemption

At Christmastime children are overwhelmed with expectation. The soundtrack for the childhood Christmases of many was the Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas record. The Chipmunks hit was “Christmas don’t be late”. One of the lines in the song is, “we’ve been good, but we can’t last, hurry Christmas hurry fast” and another line is, “we can hardly stand the wait please Christmas don’t be late.” This song strikes a chord with every child as they see the pile of gifts grow under the tree and door after door open on the Advent calendar.

One of the elements of celebrating the classic Christmas, is enjoying the expectation that’s cultivated during this season. A major part of our celebrating is looking forward to what is to come at Christmastime. We look back on Jesus’ first coming which causes us to look forward to his second coming and both of these work change in our hearts now, today. Jesus is the one who was, who is, and who is to come and this is communicated at Christmastime. So as exciting as it is to create that atmosphere of expectation and anticipation in our observance of the holiday, that same attitude should infuse our faith all the time. If we aren’t filled with an expectation and an anticipation as we wait for the Lord to move in our lives and in this world, then we aren’t properly understanding the Scriptures.

When Jesus instructed his disciples to pray “your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as in heaven,” this was a lesson in expectation. Not only can God move in our midst, but he will. Not only can God establish his rule on earth fully and completely, but he will. Not only is he transforming our hearts and lives into people who will live forever, it’s a work he will complete resulting in eternal life. This expectation is seen in the Scriptures and in the Christmas story.

In Luke 2:22-24, Mary and Joseph were careful to obey they law in regards to this son that God had given them. The law required a lamb to be sacrificed when the first son came. There was a provision in Leviticus 5 that allowed the sacrifice of pigeons or turtle-doves if a family was too poor to have a lamb. As an aside, this is evidence that Mary and Joseph were of humble means. Jesus wasn’t only born in a stable because there was no room at the inn, they couldn’t afford anything more. But going back, verse 23 is a quotation from Exodus 13:2. Now, why would the exodus story be reference here? Exodus 12 is the story of the tenth plague and the Lord delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt by the blood of lambs. Exodus 13 begins the journey to the promised land where God says he will lead them and not leave them. And in Exodus 13, God says that as part of this redemption, any time the first male is born, whether to a mom and dad, or to livestock, that male is to be set apart for God. The firstborn male belongs to God, so this is the observance that Mary and Joseph were participating in. The fact that they take Jesus to the Temple for their “purification” as it says in verse 22, is a demonstration of their faith in God and that God delivers his people and leads his people. The firstborn belonged to God, so they had to take the firstborn to the Tabernacle in Exodus, or the Temple in Jesus’ case. Exodus 13 says that families had to pay a sacrifice to purchase their sons back from God. This new birth and purchasing back with a sacrificial lamb was to be a symbol of how God had redeemed Israel from slavery. Whenever a family had their first son, they would sacrifice a lamb. This was to point to God’s redemption of Israel from slavery. The firstborn animals were given to the temple, but the firstborn sons had a lamb substituted for them. The lamb was killed to purchase them back, just like what happened in Egypt.

This is the gospel in the Old Testament. Jesus is the firstborn son given as a sacrifice. He is the firstborn and the Lamb that redeems us from slavery. The firstborn is given by the Father so that we all might be redeemed from slavery and exile. So these couple of verses here in the middle of the Christmas story aren’t only to show that Mary and Joseph obeyed the Law. This points to who this firstborn son is. He is the one who will be given as a sacrifice to release us from slavery to sin and death.

This ceremony was observed by Mary and Joseph, and when they arrive in the Temple, there are people there worshiping. We see one of them in Luke 2:25-35. He was an old guy named Simeon. The defining statement about Simeon was that he was waiting for the consolation of Israel. This idea of Consolation, carries the Exodus story forward again. Consolation can mean comfort, help, or encouragement depending on the context. In this time period many people were waiting for God’s Messiah to come and restore Israel as a political and military force. In Jewish thought, this Messiah was called by many names, but one was the Consolation of Israel. Israel had endured oppression and been ruled over for centuries and the expectation of the Messiah coming was growing and growing. This Messiah would be the one who would bring comfort in the midst of the oppression of this Exile and slavery under the Romans. During this time, many false-messiahs did come and attempted rebellion only to be crushed. So, for someone like Simeon to be expecting the Messiah in this time period, wasn’t the same as the people saying that the world is going to end on December 21st. It was different from that. This Messiah, or the one who would bring consolation to Israel, would restore Israel and overthrow the Romans. Consolation in this sense relates to what was lost or broken. Although Israel was a broken people, the Messiah would bring consolation and restore it.

This echoes back to the Exodus story on how God brought Israel out of Egypt as a great nation. The Messiah would make Israel even greater than before. Israel entered Egypt as a family but emerged as a nation. It was expected that the Messiah’s work would restore Israel in similar fashion. Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died. In his long life, it’s likely that he saw or heard about more than one false-messiah. He wasn’t promised that he would live to see the results the Messiah would bring for Israel, but he would see him. So he went to the Temple which would be the proper place to meet the true Messiah, and there he waited with faith and hope, and he expected to see the Messiah as the years and decades passed. But, God keeps his promise to Simeon.

We don’t know how he knew, but when he saw Jesus, he knew he was the Messiah. He didn’t need to see the water turned to wine, the healing, the triumph over demons, the betrayal, the crucifixion or the resurrection. He knew what God was going to do. God was going to bring Consolation to his people through the this baby. Verses 29-32 are a song of Blessing that Simeon sings. He sang a song about Jesus being Israel’s consolation. This baby he is holding is the conquering Messiah who will be the light to the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel. He knew that God had brought light and Glory in this Baby. God had not abandoned his people in their suffering, but he brings consolation by joining with them in their suffering. He did it in Exodus bringing them out of Egypt and this Gospel is showing us he is doing it again in Jesus.

As this scene is unfolding in the Temple, a woman in her mid-80’s walks into the Temple just in time to see this. Her name was Anna and we read about her in Luke 2:36-38. She was a prophetess. Her life was devoted to worship in the Temple. She came to the Temple at the same time Simeon was holding Jesus and also realizes that this baby is the Long Expected Messiah. So, she begins to tell the other people in the Temple. It says she spoke of him to “all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” With Simeon, we talked about the Messiah bringing consolation and with Anna we see the Messiah is also going to bring redemption. Consolation relates to what is lost and broken. Jesus consoles by bringing restoration. Redemption relates to rescue from danger, release from slavery, or ransom from indebtedness. Again the story of the Exodus is echoed in Luke 2. People expected the Messiah to release Israel from Roman oppression and bring redemption. This baby will pay the ransom of Israel, Jesus will bring redemption to Israel. But it won’t just be for Israel, but as a light to the Gentiles as well. Jesus doesn’t free Israel from the Romans, but he frees humanity from sin’s oppression.  He brings a redemption that causes release from the captivity of death to eternal life. He pays the penalty that sin would have exacted from us and gives us resurrection instead. Because of Jesus, God offers us consolation for our past and redemption for our future. He forgives us of our past and he gives us freedom for our future. He pardons our sin and he seals our salvation.

Simeon and Anna lived in faith and hope for decades before seeing God fulfill the expectations that he placed within them by allowing them to see Jesus. Jesus the Messiah who is Israel’s consolation and redemption is also ours. Our attempts to find meaning and fulfillment in the pleasure, or power, or possessions of this world leave us empty and unsatisfied. They leave us longing for the consolation and redemption only found in Jesus. Our suffering, heartache, and brokenness fuel this same longing. When tragedy comes, we want it undone. We want it to come untrue. When the realization of that impossibility overwhelms us, we cry out wondering how God lets these things happen. Answer elude us all, but even if we had answers, it wouldn’t be enough. We want justice and restoration. And when we consider how even the best of lives eventually intersect with tragedy and death, we don’t know why God allows our world to operate this way.

What does all of this mean? Why do people go into theaters and schools and shoot people? It’s illogical, senseless, but most specifically, it is evil.

Where is God in all of this? He is infinitely strong so he will bring justice and he is infinitely good, so he has reasons which reason cannot comprehend. But most importantly, he has not abandoned us. One thing this does NOT mean is that God does not care. God identifies with those who suffer. He joins himself with Israel, with Mary and Joseph, with Simeon, with Anna, with people in Newtown, CT, and with us. He doesn’t merely watch us suffer, he steps into our suffering and he conquers it. He submits to death and then overwhelms it. God knows what it’s like to lose his son in a senseless act of violence, in a display of sinfulness and evil. And it is because of this that like Simeon and Anna, we await the Messiah who will bring us Consolation and redemption. His Kingdom will come and his will, will be done on earth as in heaven. He will reign in righteousness and justice, love will be his law, and we will be his people and he will be our God. Let today be the day you trust in Jesus for your consolation and redemption.

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