Christmas on Location: The Temple Courts

The week or two after Christmas is always interesting. Some are relieved, while others are already excited for next Christmas! But all of us have to “go back to normal.” So it was also with the shepherds, who had to return to their fields after seeing the messiah. But they didn’t return unchanged — they praised God for what he had revealed to them!

Like the shepherds, we can return to our normal routines with praise and thanksgiving on our lips. Because the Christmas event is reminder that God is with us at all times, in all places, even the most ordinary! So we are invited, even beckoned, to seek God in our everyday, because with him we will find the purpose for our lives.

Luke is a master storyteller, and the first two chapters of his gospel sketch the outline for the rest of the story. This week, we looked at the final part of his outline — Jesus presented in the temple courts.

As we’ve journeyed through Christmas “on location” this year, you can note that the story begins and ends in the same place — Jerusalem, in the temple of the Lord. Luke is careful to also note that Mary and Joseph obey all the Jewish laws concerning childbirth (2:39). This setting concretizes who Jesus is and will become. But Jesus’ role as messiah will achieve victory for God’s people in a way that no one could see coming. No one, that is, except for Simeon.

One of the first, stunning features of Simeon’s song is that God intends the messiah for “all nations” as a light” to the Gentiles.” The Jewish people had every reason to believe that the messiah — a purely Jewish concept — was for their national benefit over against Rome or any other surrounding nation (note that the Greek for “Gentile” is ethnos from which we derive the word “ethnic.”) But Simeon’s prophecy here, which echoes much earlier prophecies even in our Old Testament canon, would still have been a reversal of the idea of messiah at the time.

Second, there is the troubling notion that Christ would cause the “falling” and not just rising of many in Israel, and that he would be spoken against. But mostly, that because of him, a “sword would pierce” his own mother’s heart. Not exactly what you want to hear on your firstborn’s big day at church.

Of course, the benefit of hindsight and the New Testament scriptures that follow help us understand that this falling, strife, and soul-piercing would be at least in part because of the upside-down method by which the messiah would win Israel’s victory — not by conquering suffering, but by joining it, and ultimately taking it onto himself.

Christmas on Location means that the arrival of the messiah (Greek, “Christ”) transforms the everyday lives of the entire world. It means that each of us can find the part that we are invited to play in the ongoing story of Christmas. It means that the Christmas story can be your story, too.

For reflection:
– When is the last time you actively inquired about the purpose of your life?
– Have you ever considered that you are being called to live out a specific role in God’s ongoing work (i.e. the story God is telling)?
– Do you believe that anyone, by God’s grace, can be part of God’s ongoing work (story) in the world? What assumptions does that statement challenge?
– How does it make you feel to consider that God is calling you to be part of his ongoing work (story) in the world? Is it scary? Exciting? Both? Other?

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