18 score and six days ago, Daniel Day Lewis became Abraham Lincoln for Steven Spielberg’s epic movie about the sixteenth President. Obviously I have never heard the real President Lincoln speak before, but watching DDL relate to Civil War life felt amazing real and true to life.
Watching any movie about President Lincoln is an interesting experience for someone who knows how his life ended. You watch his successes, and you are sad his life is cut short, preventing even more triumphs. You watch his enemies, and you wonder if they will ultimately contribute to his demise.
Reading the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus has similar effect. Knowing Jesus is crucified near the end of the story, we take the opposition He faces early in His life VERY seriously.
As I read Luke 2:22-35, however, I am also reminded that my experience of knowing that the cross cast a shadow over Jesus’ entire life was not unique to my 21st century perspective. The reality is that Joseph and Mary were familiar with Jesus’ fate from very early in His life. Listen to these words of Luke 2:22-35:
And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 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 and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.” And His father and His mother marveled at what was said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
According to Jewish Law, the mother of a male child was considered unclean for about 40 days after the birth of the baby. At the end of this time, the family would present an offering to God for cleansing. A wealthy family would present a lamb and a poorer family would present two turtle doves (no mention of a partridge in a pear tree). Mary and Joseph’s offering of birds indicates their meager financial means.
When they showed up at the Temple, a man named Simeon is there and is prompted by the Spirit of God that Jesus is the Messiah. Simeon picks up the infant Jesus and confirms His identity as the Christ. This would have merely been a CONFIRMATION to Mary and Joseph about their child. However, as Simeon continued to talk, the Holy Spirit speaks forth an important CLARIFICATION about the content of Jesus’ life that would have shaken His earthly parents.
It is totally possible that Mary and Joseph assumed (as many in Israel did at that time) that the victory Messiah would win would be largely political. However, just 40 days into His earthly life, Simeon informs His parents that Jesus life would experience significant conflict, and that Mary, especially, would experience sorrow in her soul regarding how Jesus would be treated.
Simeon’s prophecy would have given Mary and Joseph full knowledge of the difficult future Jesus would have. Knowing this, I wonder how they felt watching their child grow up. They had to wait with great anticipation wondering how Jesus could experience both such a triumph AND such sorrow.
History would reveal that the Messiah’s mission would be layered. His first coming would win an epic SPIRITUAL victory, with His death on the cross (that no doubt was soul piercing for Mary to witness) securing forgiveness and eternal life for God’s people. Jesus also promised a second coming when the full extent of His epic PHYSICAL/POLITICAL triumph would be revealed.
As we celebrate Christmas, we are blessed by the events that brought sorrow to Mary, but spiritual life to all who embrace Christ by faith. We cannot reflect on the life of Jesus without pondering His death on the cross and its significance to our lives — making payment for the penalty of all our sins.
At Christmas, we also can celebrate the promised future when Christ will return and complete His Messianic destiny . . . ruling the earth from David’s throne in a Kingdom that knows no end, free from sin’s destructive forces.
When Simeon saw Jesus in the Temple, He saw both the joy and the pain that Messiah would face. When we look at the manger, do we see the same thing?