Looking for the King

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Luke 2:25-26

During Christmastime, it’s not unusual to hear from all corners references to that ancient pair of travelers, Mary and Joseph, and their trek to Bethlehem. Songs about the birth of Jesus or the heavenly chorus which was performed for shepherd are occasionally played even on secular stations, and I’ve heard tell that some broadcasters will air A Charlie Brown Christmas complete with Linus’s recital of 2:8-14.

The story isn’t new to Christians. It isn’t even new to some who do not know the Lord. But how many continue reading in Luke past the point of the shepherds and their rejoicing? There’s more to the coming of the King than His undignified birth amidst the stench of a stable.

Forty days after His birth, the young couple would make a journey to Jerusalem because Mary’s time of purification according to Levitical law was at hand.  On this exciting day, we are told, they brought a sacrifice “according to what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.'”  (Luke 2:24)

A quick glance back to Leviticus 12:6-8 will reveal that the sacrifice of a pair of birds was a provision for those who could not afford to offer both a lamb and a bird for the ritual purification after childbirth. 

And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”

Leviticus 12:8, see also 12:2-4, 6-7

The idea of Jesus’s humble beginnings is not new, of course, but it bears fresh meditation as we approach the day of celebration. Most of us are familiar with the fact that His first bed was not one of down and silk in a palace, but scratchy straw in a place meant to feed animals. But it strikes me even deeper that Mary and Joseph brought two birds for the sacrifice, unable to even afford a lamb for the ritual purification of the mother of the Lamb of God.  

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God…

Luke 2:25-28

Despite the lowly circumstances of His earthly parents and the complete lack of any of the trappings of royalty, two people at the temple that day recognized Him. A man named Simeon who’d received a promise that he wouldn’t die before he saw the Messiah, and an old widow named Anna.

A few years ago as I re-read this story, one fact really captured my attention as I read: Anna was at the temple that day, as she was every day, worshiping God.

… [Anna] did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:37-38

 Somehow I doubt that Simeon and Anna were the only folks in the temple that day, yet they are the only ones mentioned who recognized the Messiah.

In our modern ways of worship, I sometimes fear we have allowed musical selections or environments or programs or gear or technology or a myriad other useful and even wonderful tools to drown out the simple, unassuming message of our King.

Perhaps this is more apparent at Christmastime. During the season when we are purportedly celebrating His birth, don’t we often find ourselves more caught up in the details of hymn selections and service times, or of parties and decor instead of being caught up with love and adoration of the One we are supposed to be celebrating? I confess that I sometimes do.

Don’t get me wrong – I love worship services both classic and modern and hymns both old and new. I also enjoy the entire Christmas season. But every year, I have to ask myself if I am still seeking the King in the midst of the festivities and activities. 

Anna worshiped. Simeon waited. Both recognized their King and rejoiced. What am I doing today?

I sincerely hope that I will not be found sitting in a place of worship going through the motions of devotion and somehow overlooking Him in the midst of it all! I hope that I, like Simeon and Anna, will recognize the Messiah in my days no matter how quietly and unassumingly He presents Himself.

Gracious God, forgive me for so often being concerned with the “hows” of worshiping You and neglecting actual worship. During this Advent season and forever after, help me to be alert to Your presence, looking attentively for you, eagerly anticipating Your appearance in my days as both Simeon and Anna did. May I never miss You whether You come heralded by trumpets or as subtly as a gentle whisper, amen.

Obedient

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him…” Matthew 1:18-21, 24a

To me, Joseph is the unsung hero of the Nativity story. The more I reflect on the Biblical passages describing those events, the more I find my thoughts turning to this man who is mentioned in the Scriptures only a handful of times.

But I do think those references deserve our attention.

Joseph’s obedience to God was nothing short of incredible. Think about this: if not for his total compliance with God, many of the events surrounding the birth of Christ would have taken a much different direction, although doubtlessly God would have accomplished His plans anyway.

After all, it was Joseph who complied with the Lord’s command to wed Mary despite  indisputable evidence indicating she was not the chaste young woman he had expected to take as his bride. However, he chose to believe the unbelievable and he took her in, caring for her and for the Child. If ever there was a couple well matched in faith that God can do the impossible, it was these two!

Still, I often wonder what the personal ramifications of his decision were… Was he ridiculed? Pitied? Scorned? Whatever his lot, he trusted God enough to accept the consequences willingly.

After the birth of Jesus, Joseph was visited once more in a dream by a heavenly messenger and told to flee to Egypt. Undoubtedly, this was no small feat with an infant in the days before electric lighting and minivans, yet he did not hesitate but woke his young family immediately and left by night.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt.

(Matthew 2:13-14)

Imagine waking an infant and nursing mother, hurriedly packing and preparing for a journey in the dark of night with only an oil lamp to see by–if even that!

Once again, the command to Joseph seemed preposterous in light of the circumstances, but his unhesitating obedience spared his family the horror of witnessing the paranoid Herod’s ruthlessly executed infanticide (I am presuming, of course, God would have spared His Anointed in some other way had Joseph been a little lax in his obedience, but thankfully we will never know).

Beyond that, the Bible records two other dream messages to Joseph: one telling him it was safe to go back to Israel and another serving as a warning which caused him to settle his family in Nazareth. For each heavenly message, Joseph was simply and quietly obedient.

The ramifications of Joseph’s cooperation with God were tremendous, as each act of obedience served to provide for the life and welfare of the Lord Christ in His childhood – yet it is rare that Joseph’s name is mentioned at this time of year except as the husband of Mary.

Personally, I am amazed at the faith shown by his adherence to the will of God despite compelling reasons to do otherwise.

These ruminations on the life of Joseph began one year as I reflected on my own heart. The Spirit of God made me painfully aware of areas in which my obedience was somewhat lacking. I spent far too much time feeling discouraged, often allowing my attention to drift away from contemplation of my King.

In contrast to Joseph (who I am sure would have vastly preferred an uncomplicated betrothal or to even stay in bed that night in Bethlehem rather than beginning a nighttime trek toward Egypt) I found myself at times delaying obedience. At other times, I would choose a path that seemed (to me) more logical.

As this year draws to a close, once again I find myself humbled and repentant.  It is my prayer that the new year will see a far more obedient – and less discourageable – me. I pray to become in all ways, completely submissive to the will of God – even when it does not make sense.

Once I am gone from this world, I would love it to be said of me as it could be said of Joseph: “We don’t know much about her, but what we do know is that she lived in prompt obedience to the Lord.” 

 Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.