“Nunc dimittis,” the old man said. “Now dismiss me…my eyes have seen your salvation, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:30-32 NIV) After 400 years of painful “silence” from God, suddenly something marvelous was happening. The first Christmas came. Jesus was born. And as the old man, Simeon said, nothing else mattered because God was coming into the world in Jesus as He promised He would. Today in our crazy world full of mask mandates, supply line shortages, and increasing hostilities between people, etc., can we make Christmas meaningful again? Like Simeon, can we find the presence of Jesus so powerfully before us so that all else fades and we feel totally satisfied in Him?
In the next few weeks, I want to share four biblical stories related to Christmas as well as other stories that I hope will raise our hearts and our hopes that God IS here. He IS in charge. The light of the world cannot be dimmed. Christmas will come in all its radiance for those who put their focus on Him.
Finding that elusive Christmas spirit
I know personally that some years it is hard to “feel like Christmas.” My father died at Christmas time about a decade ago. I have written of it before but it seems a good story to tell again in these present challenging times.
Back and forth I flew to California to be with my mother, sisters, and him. Driving from motels to the hospital or his assisted living facility, I would listen to Christmas songs. One of them so blessed me because it resonated with my lonely struggle. I wanted to feel and experience the joy of Christmas, the peace on earth promise of the season, but my father was suffering and slipping away. I needed to profoundly be with him in his passage. Losing him hurt. Oh, but I wanted Christmas healing too. Therefore, this song became a sort of anthem for me then:
Perhaps you know it and love it too, as it’s popular at Christmas time. In the song, the singer, Faith Hill, laments that “everything is changing, rearranging,” and “why can’t I find you Christmas?” She says, “I’m not the same one, see what the time’s done, is that why you have let me go?”
But the beautiful conclusion of the song is that “if there is love in your heart and your mind, you will feel like Christmas all the time.” And Faith Hill, with rejoicing, concludes, “I feel you Christmas. I know I’ve found you. You never fade away. The joy of Christmas stays here inside us, fills each and every heart with love.”
Christ’s birth gives lasting meaning
I love that sentiment. Christmas, divine love coming down in the world has happened and no matter what heartaches we go through or how dark the world seems, the truth remains. The Redeemer of the world has been born in Bethlehem. The Light of the World has come. And that fact reshapes everything else.
As John’s gospel declares, “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:9, 14 NIV)
The Conditions in Simeon’s Time
Returning to the story of Simeon, between the time of the return of the Jewish people from exile to Israel and the birth of Jesus, there was a long period of time. The last prophetic book in the Old Testament of the Bible as we have it is Malachi. For 400 years after that until the writing of the gospels, God “seemed to be silent.”
This period is called the intertestamental time (the time between the last writing of the Old Testament and the first writing of the New). A lot is known about this time from sources other than the Bible. It was a violent period with much change in many parts of life. The Jewish people underwent the horrible oppression of the Seleucids and then the Romans conquering them.
The Holy Spirit revealed Jesus
But, in the midst of all of this, one elderly man, Simeon, held on to a hope. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would see the long hoped for Messiah before he died. And as it says in Galatians, “when the fullness of time had come, Christ was born.”
Simeon met Jesus in the Temple
Following the religious customs of their Jewish faith, Mary and Joseph, the parents of Jesus, brought Him to the Temple to present him to God. The book of Luke explains it this way: “as it written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord.'”
The old man, Simeon, “moved by the Spirit…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 into his arms and praised God. He sang over Jesus what became known in the tradition of the Church as the Nunc Dimittis, Latin words for “now I can go.”
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32
Often this beautiful song-prayer is sung during Evening Prayer services. But what it says – what Simeon was saying was, “God, this act of coming into the world as its Savior Messiah overrides everything. You have fulfilled your promise to save us, not only Israel, but all the world. This is more than enough to give me total joy and peace. I need nothing more.
Finding our joy and peace at Christmas
There are many wonderful articles on the internet about “12 steps,” “25 ways,” “5 simple tips,” etc. to find meaning and joy in Christmas again. “Backwoods Mama” has a great article called, “12 Ways to Make Christmas More Meaningful for Your Family.” You can find it here.
My intention is not to write practical tips for finding joy and fun again, though I love those kinds of articles. They’re very helpful.
Our difficult circumstances can hide Christmas
But, we’re at a time where people are losing jobs because they won’t take a shot. We’re seeing pictures of cargo ships sitting off the west coast of the US and seeing empty store shelves. Fuel prices are shooting up, while our national fuel supply is being purposefully shut down. Our leaders, in the US, (and you may be a reader from another country undergoing your own struggles or the same or a different sort) seem inept and unable to tell us the truth. I know parents are wondering if they will be able to get the food supplies and presents they long to share with their families for the upcoming holiday season.
So, I want to say something deeper to you about finding lasting joy at every Christmas that continues day after day long after the holiday season is over. That joy is in realizing Christ has come and that history shifted that morning he was born in Bethlehem. Now it moves toward the grand finale, the wonderful finish of God. We need not fear or let our hearts be heavy about anything. “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5 NIV) It never will.
Christmas meaning is found in Jesus
In that Christmas season, a decade ago, when all seemed so wrapped up in death; as hospice care came to my father, I had an experience that shifted my heart’s focus.
One afternoon I sat with my father as the rays of fading sunlight still danced past the curtain separating him from his roommate. A volunteer musician was softly playing some music to that other man as I sat in the chair at the foot of my father’s bed. He was not really conscious at this point.
My own private Christmas concert
The musician finished and came walking through with her guitar. She looked at me and said, “May I play some songs for you?” I said, “Yes, I would love that.” Family members are so in need at this point too.
She sat down and began to play some well-known Christian hymns. In that moment, something rose up in me. “Yes, my father is dying. But Jesus lives and He is here. He is in this strange and uncomfortable Christmas. Jesus is in this very room. He lives and so shall I and so shall my father. I can still celebrate!” God broke in to my situation.
How a missionary rediscovered Christmas
I just shared a podcast that included a story of Geoffrey T. Bull, a missionary to Tibet. In that podcast, I spoke about Geoffrey’s recall of scripture as the major way he survived captivity by the Chinese Communists.
But, there is actually another story that he told about how he “found Christmas” even in that captivity following the Communist takeover in 1949.
When Geoffrey was seized, he was driven day and night over frozen mountains, until he “despaired of life.” Finally the day came when “he staggered into a small village where he was given an upstairs room, swept clean and warmed by a small charcoal brazier.”
Geoffrey saw Jesus in bleak surroundings
After he was fed, Geoffrey was ordered to feed the horses. It was dark and cold. He said “his boots squished in the manure and straw in the stable floor and the fetid smell of animals was nauseating.” Geoffrey was cold, lonely, ill, and in grave danger. He began to feel sorry for himself. But that changed as his view of his situation changed. Here are his words:
“Then as I continued to grope my way in the darkness, it suddenly flashed into my mind. What’s today? I thought for a moment. In traveling the days had become a little muddled in my mind. Suddenly it came to me. ‘It’s Christmas Eve.’ I stood suddenly still in that Oriental manger. To think that my Savior was born in a place like this. To think that He came all the way from heaven to some wretched eastern stable, and what is more to think that He came for me.”
“How men beautify the cross and the crib, as if to hide the fact that at birth we resigned Him to the stench of beasts and at death exposed Him to the shame of rogues.”
“I returned to the warm, clean room which I enjoyed even as a prisoner, bowed to thankfulness and worship.” (Geoffrey T. Bull, When Iron Gates Yield, (Chicago: Moody Press, n.d.), 158-159)
May Christmas blessing find you
I pray that no matter what you are facing this year, no matter how dismal the world around you might appear, may God break in for you, as He did for Simeon, for Geoffrey, and for me. And may you feel that “Silent night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright” feeling that is supernatural, divine, full of grace, and searching for you. Grace and peace, precious friend, in Jesus’ name.
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