Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 4 2020 - Luke 2:1-35 – A light to the nations

When Jesus was born, Luke tells us, there was no space for Mary and Joseph in the main part of the house where they had come to stay in Bethlehem; they had to sleep with the animals and make do with a manger as a cot for their new-born son. The news of Jesus birth was announced to shepherds, men treated as outcasts by the religious leaders of their society because of their inability to keep Jewish regulations such as the Sabbath. These were the first to come and see this remarkable child. From the first moments of his life Jesus identified with the poor and with outcasts. They often saw something of God's glory in him when the religious authorities rejected him.

Mary's baby boy was circumcised a week after his birth, in accordance with Jewish law and was called Jesus, the name given him by God and revealed through angels. He is the one through whom God will act to save his people. Later, the child is taken to the temple to be consecrated to the Lord.

Yesterday we looked at Zechariah's song in which he spoke of the mercy of God displayed in the coming Saviour in terms of the rising sun shining from heaven on those living in darkness (Luke 1:78-79). Today, we focus on a similar theme from the song of Simeon.

Simeon was a godly man who longed for the day when God would return to dwell in glory among his people; "He was waiting for the consolation of Israel" (2:25). God had revealed to him that he would not die before he saw the promised Messiah. Prompted by the Spirit of God, Simeon went up to the temple at the very time that Joseph and Mary had come to present Mary's firstborn to the Lord. Simeon took the young child in his arms and praised God:

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. (2:29-32)

God had called Israel to be a light to the nations (Gentiles). Israel had failed to live up to its calling. Rather, God's name was being blasphemed among the nations because of the conduct of his people (see Romans 2:24, quoting Isaiah 52:5; cf. Romans 2:19). Simeon longs for the day when the light of God's revelation will shine out from Israel into the entire world. And now he holds in his arms the one through whom this will be accomplished. This child will succeed where Israel has failed. He will take upon himself the calling of Israel; he will be the glory of Israel. He will be the light of the world; the one through whom the whole world will come to see and to know the living God. In him, God has visited his people Israel and is accomplishing his purpose that through the descendants of Abraham all nations on earth will be blessed.

Jesus took upon himself the calling of Israel – to be a light to the nations. But this was a costly calling. Simeon tells Mary, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too" (2:34-35). His ministry will be one of judgment and of salvation. Many will oppose him and by their attitude to him, the character of their own hearts will be revealed. He will suffer a fate which will tear apart the heart of his mother Mary.

Simeon and Anna see beyond the sweet Christmas baby to the reality of the Christ who has come to suffer judgment and bring salvation. Jesus calls us to follow him; to carry on the costly work of bringing the light of God's salvation to a resistant world.

"Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, day by day." (Prayer of Richard, Bishop of Winchester, 1197-1253)

Peter Misselbrook