Sermon: Walking in the footsteps: Herod & Simeon
Here’s my all-age talk from our children’s nativity service. We kicked off with this video by Dan Stevers:
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In the Bible we see the contrast of two very different responses, to that of baby Jesus – that of Simeon and Herod.
Herod the Great ruled at Jesus’ birth – king from 40-4BCE. He wasn’t a particularly nice guy: he had killed his wife, his brother-in-law, his mother and some of his sons as he feared they would try to take power from him. Even more horrendous, he planned kill 3,000 people to make them mourn when he dies!
When he heard about Jesus he felt threatened, he possibly saw Jesus as the Messiah, the future King of the Jews. There are parallels with dictators such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Robert Mugabe – if people didn’t agree with him he killed them. In Bethlehem he killed all the boys under the age of 2 – given Bethlehem’s size it is estimated that he murdered 15-30 toddlers that day.
It is a historical fact that after a reign of some thirty-three or so years marked by violence and intrigue, Herod the Great died of cancer at Jericho. The child Jesus, however, escaped to Egypt and lived.
In every century there have been Herod’s who, recognising the Son of God as a threat, have sought to murder him in his cradle. There was Herod’s grandson, Herod Agrippa 1, who tried to persecute the early church. He killed James, the brother of John. He imprisoned Peter, intending to execute him also. But in the end he was eaten up with worms and died. Herod died; Jesus lived.
In the first three centuries a succession of ‘Herod’s’ sat on various world thrones, devising all sorts of schemes to kill off the church. Nero, for instance, ordered Christians to be killed. Yet in the end this ‘Herod’ died and Jesus lived.
And so the story has gone on. Adolf Hitler was in many ways a reincarnation of Herod. He threw many a faithful German Christian into his concentration camps. In the end ‘Herod’ died, but Jesus lives.
Not all Herod’s employ the crude and violent methods of Herod the Great. Some seek to smother Jesus by creating a climate of cynicism and ridicule, and in this way destroy the Christian church. We sometimes feel overpowered by the ‘Herod’s’ present within the media, who seek to create doubt and confusion within the minds of many faithful Christians.
But as we’ve seen time and time again, human beings can’t stop God’s plans: Jesus is still alive today.
Waiting for Christmas
Children have a hard time waiting for Christmas. Here are some actual letters that were written to Santa:
Dear Santa Claus,
When you come to my house there will be cookies for you. But if you are real hungry you can use our phone and order a pizza to go.
I want a Puppy. I want a playhouse. Thank you. I’ve been good most of the time. Sometimes I’m wild.
Dear Santa, (From a 4-year-old)
I’ll take anything because I haven’t been that good.
Christmas is often associated with waiting.
What Are You Waiting For?
Let me ask you some questions. What are you waiting for this Christmas? Are you longing for anything? What are you expecting to receive? Are you looking forward to anything special this Christmas?
In the Gospel of Luke, we find a man in the final acts of the Christmas drama who doesn’t appear in any nativity scenes and yet was critical to the first Christmas.
Simeon was waiting for something, actually someone. Luke uses a Greek word of anticipation that identifies him as waiting with expectation for the coming of the Messiah, or Savior. We’re introduced to Simeon in Luke 2:25. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon Him.”
Things weren’t going real well for the nation of Israel. They hadn’t heard from God for many years and were under Roman rule. But verse 26 shows us that Simeon had good reason for his hope and anticipation: “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”
Simeon’s expectation focused on the comfort that Christ would bring. Among Jews of Simeon’s day one of the popular titles of Messiah was Comforter, they were longing for the Messiah to come and bring His comfort to them. It strikes me that the desire to be comforted is a universal human need. We all struggle with loneliness, emptiness, insecurity, even desperation. In fact, the Christmas season is one of the major crisis times of the year for depression and suicide.
The Holy Spirit prompted Simeon to go to the temple courts at just the right time on just the right day that Joseph and Mary were bringing their infant to the Temple. When Simeon looked at the baby Jesus, now about 6 weeks old, he knew that God’s promise had been kept. Here was Immanuel, “God With Us,” to make everything right and to eliminate rejection, fear, and loneliness.
Verse 28 of Luke 2 says that Simeon reached down and took Jesus out of Mary’s arms and began to praise God. Let me pause here to make a comment. Parents, how would you feel if some old man came up to you, took your baby in his arms and started singing out loud? I’m sure this was a bit unsettling for Joseph and Mary. But Simeon didn’t look all that dangerous. As he broke out into praise, he acknowledged that God had not only fulfilled the individual promise to him, but also the promises of the prophets to send the Anointed One to comfort both Jews and Gentiles.
Jesus Provides What We Need
Friends, when Jesus came, He provided the very things that Simeon and Anna were waiting for – God’s comfort and His forgiveness. Let me ask you a question. What are you waiting for this Christmas? Whatever it is, Jesus can give it to you.
Can any of you identify with Simeon this morning? Some of you are really hurting right now. You feel lonely, empty, afraid, and maxed out. Do you need some comfort? Some consoling? Do you need a fresh sense of God’s presence? If so, you can find what you’re looking for in Jesus. He came to console us right where we’re at.
There are three action steps from this passage that will help you experience God’s comfort this Christmas.
Become a Marveler
Become a marveler. When Joseph and Mary tried to process everything that was happening, verse 33 says that they marveled at what was said about Jesus. According to the dictionary, to become a marveler is to be filled with wonder, astonishment, and surprise.
Are you a marveler this Christmas? Or, are you too caught up in the busyness and stress of the season? Has Christmas become too predictable, too familiar? Have you heard the Christmas story so much that it no longer astonishes you? We hear just enough of the story each year to inoculate us against the real thing, so that we never really catch true Christmas fever.
Here’s an idea that may help you recapture the marvel of Christmas. Pick one of the Christmas characters and put yourself in their sandals. Imagine what it must have been like to witness the Christmas story first hand.
Become a Mover
Take a look at verse 27: “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.” Simeon was a mover, when the Holy Spirit prompted him he didn’t sit still. I wonder what would have happened if he had not responded? Actually, every one of the Christmas characters responded to the Spirit’s leading with the exception of Herod.
Friends, when God prompts you to do something, then you need to do it. Don’t procrastinate when God prompts you to do something – you may miss out on a miracle this Christmas.
I’m struck by what Simeon told Mary in verse 34. It must have taken her breath away. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be spoken against…” That’s not really a joyful Christmas greeting, is it? Simeon is not saying, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” Rather, he pauses, clears his throat and tells her that Christmas will never be merry and the New Year will never be happy until people get moving and surrender their lives to Christ.
Here’s the truth. Christmas splits people into 2 camps. Since Jesus has entered the world, He has divided the human race. You can’t stay neutral about Jesus. You are either for Him or against Him. You’re moving closer to Him, or further away. You either have the Son or you don’t.
Become a Messenger
Interestingly, as we work at becoming marvelers, we can’t help but become movers. That leads us to the final action step from this passage: become a messenger. Notice verse 38 again: “…she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Do you have family and friends who’ve been caught up in preparations for Christmas? Look at it this way maybe their anticipation and longings really represent an inner search for comfort and forgiveness those things that only the Messiah can provide. God wants each one of us to become messengers of the Christmas story.
Let me wrap this up. As you and I become marvelers, the wonder of Christmas will astonish us. Then, as we become movers, our needs for comfort and forgiveness will be met. And, as we take our role as messengers seriously, we’ll be in position to introduce others to the Christ of Christmas — so that they in turn can find what they have been waiting for.
Friends, in a nutshell, Christmas is a marvelous, moving, message! How can we not find what we’ve been looking for? And, how can we keep quiet about it? Once you have the Son, you have everything.
Whoever Takes the Son Illustration
Many years ago, there was a very wealthy man who shared a passion for art collecting with his son. They had priceless works by Picasso and Van Gogh adorning the walls of their family estate.
As winter approached, war engulfed the nation, and the young man left to serve his country. After only a few short weeks, his father received a telegram. His son had died. Distraught and lonely, the old man faced the upcoming Christmas holidays with anguish and sadness. The joy of the season had vanished with the death of his son.
On Christmas morning, a knock on the door awakened the depressed old man. As he walked to the door, the masterpieces of art on the walls only reminded him that his son was not coming home. As he opened the door he was greeted by a soldier with a large package in his hands who said, “I was a friend of your son. I was the one he was rescuing when he died. May I come in for a few moments? I have something to show you.”
The soldier mentioned that he was an artist and then gave the old man the package. The paper gave way to reveal a portrait of the man’s son. Though the world would never consider it the work of a genius, the painting featured the young man’s face in striking detail. Overcome with emotion, the man hung the portrait over the fireplace, pushing aside millions of dollars worth of art. His task completed, the old man sat in his chair and spent Christmas gazing at the gift he had been given.
The painting of his son soon became his most prized possession, far eclipsing any interest in the pieces of art for which museums around the world clamored.
The following spring, the old man died. The art world waited with anticipation for the upcoming auction. According to the will of the old man, all the art works would be auctioned on Christmas Day, the day he had received the greatest gift.
The day soon arrived and art collectors from around the world gathered to bid on some of the world’s most spectacular paintings. Dreams would be fulfilled that day.
The auction began with a painting that was not on anyone’s museum list. It was the painting of the man’s son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid, but the room was silent. “Who will open the bidding with $100?” No one spoke. Finally someone said, “Who cares about that painting. It’s just a picture of his son. Let’s move on to the good stuff.”
The auctioneer responded, “No, we have to sell this one first. Now, who will take the son?” Finally, a neighbor of the old man offered $10 dollars. “That’s all I have. I knew the boy, so I’d like to have it.”
The auctioneer said, “Going once, going twice…gone.” The gavel fell.
Cheers filled the room and someone exclaimed, “Now we can bid on the real treasures!”
The auctioneer looked at the room filled with people and announced that the auction was over. Everyone was stunned. Someone spoke up and said, “What do you mean, it’s over? We didn’t come here for a painting of someone’s son. There are millions of dollars worth of art here! What’s going on?”
The auctioneer replied, “It’s very simple. According to the will of the Father, whoever takes the son…gets it all.”
Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? The message is the same this Christmas. Because of the Father’s love…whoever takes the Son gets it all.
Will you take Him this Christmas?
You’re invited to a birthday party this week. It’s the birthday of Jesus. It’s His party but He wants to give you a present. He wants to give you the gift of Himself. Will you take Him?