Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
December 28, 2014
not lose hope
Christmas has many meanings
across the world. It is celebrated in many different ways. Yet in every culture
“gifts” are involved in the celebration of Christmas.
Adults enjoy exchanging
gifts and children eagerly anticipate gifts under the tree on Christmas
morning. We like to think this custom springs from the belief that Jesus, the
baby born in Bethlehem, was God’s great gift to the world.
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.
we were children hope was
terribly important. We hoped 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 more than one wonderful Christmas
when the bicycle or doll we hoped for was under the tree. We counted down the
days until Christmas anticipating the joy Christmas would bring. In our
childish hearts hope was alive!
English poet Alexander Pope once wrote words that have become a common
expression today – “Hope springs eternal.” So in the worst of circumstances
there arises within our hearts the hope that “this too shall pass.” We all seem
to know that when hope dies, the game is over.
The Bible calls God the “God of hope.” And he
is. Christmas is about hope. The birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of an
enduring hope that a Messiah would be born.
Though Christmas is past I want to call
attention to a lovely story nestled in the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel. We
could call this story a drama titled “Hope.” There are two acts and two main
characters – a man named Simeon and a woman named Anna. Joseph, Mary and Jesus
are also in the drama.
may have been an old man though Luke never describes him as such. We know little
about him but what we do know is exciting – he was a man in whom hope was alive. A Jew, Simeon was
a righteous man and devout in his faith. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and
he was confident that he would see the Messiah before he died.
did Simeon anticipate seeing the Messiah? He believed the Holy 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. Luke simply tells us that
Simeon had been waiting to see the Messiah with his own eyes.
did Simeon know to be in the temple when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus there to
present him to the Lord? The Holy Spirit guided Simeon to go into the temple.
Because he obeyed the Holy Spirit, Simeon was in the right place at the right
time for his hope to be realized.
the Holy 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 offered praise to God. His words of praise are called Simeon’s song.
What a beautiful scene that
must have been. It is a scene that is 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
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 confirmed for Joseph and Mary that God had great plans
for their son. If they had forgotten what the angel told them before Jesus’
birth, Simeon’s praise was a startling reminder that the Messiah was growing up
in their humble home.
Troubling of course were
the words Simeon said to Mary. This is what he said: “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 pierced as she witnessed the cruel beating
and crucifixion of her own son.
Anna steps forward in act
two of our little drama. If Simeon was a righteous man, Anna (or Hannah) was an
even more righteous woman. She was a prophet, or prophetess, the daughter of
Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. An 84-year-old widow, Anna was 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 to all who were “looking for the redemption
Thus does Luke present both
a man and a woman in whom hope was alive. On this historic day in the temple
Simeon and Anna shared their hope. They saw in Jesus God’s salvation, not only
for the Jews but for Gentiles also. By including women in his gospel, Luke
underlines that Jesus came for all people, the rich and the poor, the powerful
and the lowly, females and males.
We may respond to this
brief drama in the gospel by asking how we sharing our hope with others. We are
today’s people of hope. We are today’s Simeon and Anna. We are the people on
whom God is counting to “praise Jesus” as the world’s only hope of salvation.
We are the people who have hope that Christ will return some day to judge the
We can share hope by
refusing to build fences around ourselves and offer our love and friendship to
all people, especially people of other races. We can refuse to be carriers of
despair and hopelessness. Pagans spread that well enough without the help of
Christians. We can speak a good word for faith, love and hope when others say
that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. No matter what we must not
We can build 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 follow the example of John Wesley who said, “If your heart is as my heart,
then give me your hand.”
Our world, so torn by
violence and hatred, desperately needs people in whom hope is alive. Hope,
after all, is contagious and sooner or later it will rub off on those with whom
we rub shoulders. + + +