Tis the Season. Every two-year-old knows what’s up—the naughty and nice suffer different fates.
It’s always been so. At the very first Christmas the nicest received the best gifts. Remember how the angel Gabriel, who stands in the Presence of God, comes to a virgin and tells her that God has seen her goodness. Gabriel says it not once but twice, repeatedly telling Mary that God thinks she’s really nice.
“Greetings,” Gabriel says to Mary. “You who are highly favored!” (Luke 1:28)
She’s frightened and Gabriel says it again.
“Mary, you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:31)
That’s when she discovers her blessing, the greatest gift of all time—Mary will give birth to the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)
Mary was very nice.
Of the nearly three billion Christians in the world, all know of Mary and the Christmas story. But how many remember the old man of Christmas? No, not Santa Claus. The story of Santa is nowhere in Scripture—Santa probably came from a wealthy 4th century man named Nicholas who gave gifts to the poor.
Scripture’s old man in the Christmas story is someone entirely different. No red suit, reindeer, or presents. His name is Simeon.
Eight days after the birth of Jesus and long before the Wise Men arrive, Mary and Joseph take their newborn to the temple in Jerusalem. They have two reasons—he’s their first baby and he’s a male. Under God’s law given to Moses in the desert some 1500 years earlier, every such baby must be presented to God with a sacrifice. (Exodus 13:2, 12, 15; Numbers 3:13)
As I just said, it’s the angel Gabriel who speaks to Mary. Gabriel also speaks to Zechariah, a righteous man, telling Zechariah that his prayers have been answered—Zechariah becomes the father of John the Baptist, six months before Christmas. And it’s an angel who tells Joseph in a dream to take Mary as his wife. (Luke 1:28, 11-20; Matthew 1:20)
But now the Holy Spirit takes over the Christmas story. It’s common for the Spirit to intervene in the lives of God’s people. You’ve seen His Presence. You’ve said, “That was the Holy Spirit!”
The Holy Spirit is different with Simeon. Scripture tells us four things:
First, Simeon is special. “The Holy Spirit was on him.” (Luke 2:25)
Second, the Spirit has given Simeon a revelation. “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” (Luke 2:26)
Third, on this 8th day the Holy Spirit comes to Simeon and tells Simeon to go to the temple courts. (Luke 2:27)
Perhaps Simeon doesn’t know why, the Bible doesn’t tell us. What we do know is that Simeon eyes Mary and Joseph and apparently asks to hold their newborn. Simeon takes Baby Jesus into his arms and praises God:
“Sovereign Lord,” Simeon says, “as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation…” (Luke 2:28-30)
But the Holy Sprit isn’t done—Simeon sees the future. He blesses the parents and tells them what Jesus will do with His life. Then Simeon gives Mary the saddest of prophecies: “A sword will pierce your own soul.” (Luke 2:33-35)
Who was this old man? We only know that Simeon was righteous and devout. (Luke 2:25)
Why was he chosen? Why did the Holy Spirit rest on him? Why was Simeon given the revelation that he would see the Messiah? Why was he led to the temple, guided to Mary and Joseph, and told the prophecy of Jesus’ life?
Here’s a hint. When the angels are in the fields with the shepherds, they praise God, saying:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8-14)
They don’t say, “Peace to all.” They say, “Peace…on whom his favor rests.”
Why Simeon? Why Mary? Why Zechariah? Why did each receive such amazing gifts at the first Christmas?
Ask a two-year-old—the naughty and nice suffer different fates.
Those who love the Lord and seek to please Him receive God’s greatest blessings.
Copyright © 2019 R.A. Mathews The Rev. Mathews is a faith columnist, attorney, and the author of “Reaching to God.” Write to her at Letters@RAMathews.com