Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

December 30, 2012


Hope is a precious gift that we can keep on giving


Christmas is celebrated in many different ways. Yet in every culture “gifts” are involved in Christmas. Adults joyously exchange gifts and children eagerly anticipate gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. Perhaps this custom sprang from realizing that the baby born in Bethlehem was God’s great gift to the world.

          In my childhood the words “Christmas” and “gift” were linked together. When friends met on Christmas morning each tried to be the first to say the words, “Christmas gift”! The idea was that if you cried “Christmas gift” first, the other person owed you a gift. It was all done in fun with no gifts actually demanded or expected.

          When we were children hope was terribly important. We had hope that Santa would bring us the things we wanted for Christmas. Within reason, our parents helped Santa to satisfy our hope (if they could afford it.) Many of us can remember a wonderful Christmas when the bicycle or doll we hoped for was under the tree. We counted down the days until Christmas with growing anticipation of the joy Christmas would bring. In our childish hearts hope was alive!

          The right kind of hope is a precious gift. We cannot not buy it or wrap it.  It comes from the heart.  It is not a desire for material gifts but for something eternal, something that will last when all the Wal-Mart trinkets are forgotten.  Hope is a marvelous gift that each of us can keep on giving to each other far beyond Christmas.

For the past eight years my grandson Josh has read in our Christmas Sunday worship the first 20 verses of the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It is Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. Were Josh to read on in that chapter he would offer listeners an amazing story of hope realized by a man named Simeon. It is a story worth reading for it inspires hope.

          Simeon was probably an old man though Luke never describes him as such. We know little about him but we do know this - he was a man in whom hope was alive. Simeon, a Jew, was a righteous man and devoted to God. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and with the hope that he would see the Messiah before he died.

          Why did Simeon anticipate seeing the Messiah? He claimed that the Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. We are not told when Simeon received this revelation. We have no idea how long he had been waiting for this moment. Luke simply tells us that Simeon had been waiting, or looking forward, to see the Messiah with his own eyes.  

          How did Simeon know to be in the temple when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus there to present him to the Lord? He said the Spirit guided him there. Because he obeyed the Holy Spirit, Simeon was in the right place at the right time for his hope to be realized.

          Evidently the Spirit whispered in Simeon’s heart, when he saw the baby Jesus, “This is the One you have been waiting to see.” Immediately Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. His words of praise are called Simeon’s song.

What a moment that must have been. We can easily imagine it for it is a scene imitated each time an infant is baptized in church. There is a joyous moment when the pastor takes the baby in his arms and offers praise to God for the child, often lifting the baby up in full view of the congregation, to the delight of all.

Imagine how stunning this must have been to Joseph and Mary. A man takes the baby from Mary’s arms and begins shouting: “Lord, now I can die in peace! I have seen the Messiah as you promised me I would. I have seen the Savior of the world! This child is the Light that will shine upon all nations, and he will bring glory to Israel!”

Simeon’s words of praise were not heard by many, but they were heard by the two people who needed most to hear them – Joseph and Mary. What he said both amazed and troubled them. Simeon’s announcement surely confirmed for Joseph and Mary that God had great plans for their son. Perhaps they had forgotten what the angel had told them before Jesus’ birth. Simeon’s praise was a startling reminder that the Messiah would grow up in their humble home.

Troubling of course were the words Simeon said to Mary. This is what he said as offered by The Living New Testament: “A sword shall pierce your soul, for this child shall be rejected by many in Israel, and this to their undoing. But he will be the greatest joy to many others. And the deepest thoughts of many hearts shall be revealed.”

We know that Mary liked to ponder things in her heart so it must have been most painful to ponder what Simeon had said. Years later her soul was indeed pierced as she witnessed the cruel beating and crucifixion of her own son.

Luke adds the hope of a woman to Simeon’s hope. Her name was Anna and she was also in the temple that day. An 84-year-old widow, Anna was a prophetess and so devout that she stayed in the temple day and night praying and fasting. Luke does not tell us what Anna said, only that when Simeon was done she began praising God and speaking about Jesus.

Thus does Luke present both a man and a woman in whom hope was alive. On this historic day Simeon and Anna shared their hope. They saw in Jesus God’s salvation not only for the Jews but for Gentiles as well.  By giving women a prominent role in his gospel Luke underlines the truth that Jesus came for all people – the rich and the poor, the powerful and the lowly, females and males.

As we ponder the hope of Simeon and Anna we should consider how we are doing in offering others the gift of hope. We can be today’s people of hope. We can do this by refusing to build fences around ourselves and by offering love and friendship to all people, especially people of other races. We can refuse to be carriers of despair, anger, bigotry and fear.

We can be intentional in building bridges of friendship with people of other cultures and other countries. We can share openly that anyone who is a friend of Jesus is a friend of ours. In so doing we will be following the example of John Wesley who said, “If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand.”

In our homes, our churches, our communities, our world, we can be loving people in whom hope is alive. This coming year we can give others the precious gift of hope. Hope, after all, is contagious, and sooner or later it will make a difference in the hearts of those to whom we offer it. And the world will be a better place to live.  + + +