“. . . concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” Mark 13:32-37
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 ”Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14
“Hallelujah, Hallelujah!” The arrival of this child, this phenomenal Promise to the world had come under cover of darkness, only known to a select few. God in human flesh awaking in cold, dank conditions barely acceptable for human survival yet thriving and driven to live, He pierced the night with His cries, a wondrous sound! “I’m here world, all is well! I have come for you!” Even Mary and Joseph didn’t fully understand the path this child would take and who He would eventually become for the sake of redemption.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. Luke 2
On the distant nightscape, the anxious parents could see shapes of people coming toward them. They were moving quickly, and now, some were breaking into a run crying “This is it, this is the place beneath the star!”
There is fear and wonder in their faces as now they hesitantly approach and gradually finding their voices, begin to share their amazing stories of the fierce angel surrounded by light and speaking in a booming voice that shook the earth, declaring this child to be the Savior. Mary’s own fear and wonder grew as the realization of who had been given to her and Joseph was starting to sink in. She could feel the electricity and conviction of which each shepherd spoke as they related their own version of this once-in-a-lifetime event. The angel of the Lord had told the shepherds about the newborn babe and not to be afraid but that great joy was coming through this child. The youngest shepherd boys then began to clamor closer to the couple and child, excitedly declaring the best part of what they had seen and experienced: “Angels, more angels – feathers and wings everywhere – light as day and singing, they were singing.” “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace. . .” were the words they remembered. One by one they filed by to look into the face of this baby King that lay in his mother’s arms gurgling and hungry for the next feeding, as strategic witnesses to an astronomical earth-heaven event.
“17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
Mary selfishly wondered why her and Joseph had not seen this amazing spectacle the shepherds described. She had gone through the miracle of birth in pain and fear and discomfort on a bed of straw outside in the cold and no angels appeared, no song of praise was sung by countless angels. As she looked into the infant face, she began to realize the monumental responsibility of bearing a child that belonged to the world. Not just her and Joseph but everyone, everywhere. The words of the shepherds resonated with the words her angel, Gabriel had said to her, “Mary, do not be afraid. You have found favor with God. 31 See! You are to become a mother and have a Son. You are to give Him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great. He will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the place where His early father David sat. 33 He will be King over the family of Jacob forever and His nation will have no end.” Luke 2:30-33
Those words were becoming very real to her now. There would be others in the world who would be witnesses to the coming of this child of hers. No longer just her baby, but one that she would have to share and unclear to her in that moment, one she would have to sacrifice for a broken world. Everything was changing now, rushing headlong and taking on a feeling of proportions for which she could only trust Yahweh.
A quote from “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” by Alfred Edersheim helps us understand the need for Mary’s human bond with this child without full knowledge of His divinity : “Upon all His history seemed to lie such wondrous light, that she (Mary) could only see the path behind, so far as she had trodden it; while upon that on which she was to move, was such dazzling brightness, that she could scarce look upon the present, and dared not gaze towards the future. . . Might we not rather have expected, that the Virgin-Mother from the inception of this Child’s life would have understood, that He was truly the Son of God? . . .Christ could not in any true sense, have been subject to His parents, if they had fully understood that He was divine; nor could He, in that case, have been watched as He grew in ‘wisdom and in favor with God and men’. Such knowledge would have broken the bond of His humanity to ours, by severing that which bound Him as a child to His mother. We could not have become His brethren, had He not been truly the Virgin’s Son. The mystery of the Incarnation would have been needless and fruitless, had His humanity not been subject to its right and ordinary conditions. And, applying the same principle more widely, we can thus, in some measure, understand why the mystery of His divinity had to be kept while He was on earth. Had it been otherwise, the thought of His Divinity would have proved so all-absorbing, as to render impossible that of His humanity, with all its lessons. The Son of God Most High, whom they worshipped, could never have been the loving man with whom they could hold such close converse. The bond which bound the Master to his disciples – the son of man to humanity – would have been dissolved; His teaching as a man, the incarnation, and the tabernacling among men, in place of the former Old Testament revelation from heaven, would have become wholly impossible. In short, . . . the distinctive New Testament element in our salvation would have been taken away. At the beginning of His life He would have anticipated the lessons of the end – nay, not those of His death only, but of His Resurrection and Ascension, and of the coming of the Holy Ghost. In all this we have only been taking the subjective, not the objective, view of the question; considered the earthward, not the heavenward, aspect of His life.“ Edersheim
Mary’s spiritual knowledge was meant to grow incrementally, day by day, grace upon grace as did that of her special son. His humanity was paramount to the day to day unfolding of coming events. It was important that Christ be raised in Jewish tenets from the Old Testament by Jewish parents in order for Him to fulfill the law. ”Thus it was, that every event connected with the Messianic manifestation of Jesus would come to the Virgin-Mother as a fresh discovery and a new surprise. Each event, as it took place, stood isolated in her mind; not as part of a whole which she would anticipate, nor as only one link in a chain; but as something quite by itself. She knew the beginning, and she knew the end; but she knew not the path which led from the one to the other; and each step in it was a new revelation.” Edersheim
As Jewish parents, the first obligation was to fulfill all the requirements of the Law, as regarding Mary and her child. The first of these was Mary’s Purification then the child’s circumcision, representing voluntary subjection to the conditions of the law, and acceptance of the obligations but also of the privileges, of the Covenant between God and Abraham and his seed. There could not be special treatment without losing the balance that was being sought in Jesus’ human experience.
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons.” Luke 2:21-24
On the eighth day, Joseph and Mary made the trip from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Mary would pass through the Gate of the Women as she entered the Temple and then into The Court of the Women. It was part of Jewish law that Mary was to go through purification rites before she could resume worship in the temple.
It would occur on the eighth day at the same time of the naming of this child, His circumcision and His consecration as first-born male of the family. It was at this time that two more witnesses would become known. Since this birth, Mary was required to make a sin offering so the priests could make atonement for her. The sacrificial offering for the purification rite of the mother was for the sin offering attached to the beginning of life and a burnt offering that marked the restoration of communion with God.
The Law of Moses was given to represent everything the Messiah would do absolutely to the nth degree to fulfill it. Because Jesus was born to a poor family from a rural village on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, Mary could only afford doves or pigeons for the offering, not a lamb that was a first option. At this time, the name “Jesus” was given. Christ did these things, not because he was with sin but in order to provide an example for others–an example of obedience to the Mosaic Law with regard to circumcision and Passover, and an example of obedience to the Christian Law in the case of baptism.
Also, there was the issue of a firstborn son who must be redeemed. This is because the angel of death passed over the homes of the Hebrews with the blood of the door posts and spared the first born sons. They were then the property of the Lord and given for his service. The redemption price was to buy the son back into the family. Exodus 13:2, 12-13: “Sanctify unto me every firstborn that openeth the womb among the children of Israel, as well of men as of beasts: for they are all mine. Thou shalt set apart all that openeth the womb for the Lord, and all that is first brought forth of thy cattle: whatsoever thou shalt have of the male sex, thou shalt consecrate to the Lord. The firstborn of an ass thou shalt change for a sheep: and if thou do not redeem it, thou shalt kill it. And every firstborn of men thou shalt redeem with a price.”
Numbers 18:15-16 “Whatsoever is firstborn of all flesh, which they offer to the Lord, whether it be of men, or of beasts, shall belong to thee: only for the firstborn of man thou shalt take a price, and every beast that is unclean thou shalt cause to be redeemed, And the redemption of it shall be after one month, for five sicles of silver, by the weight of the sanctuary. A sicle hath twenty obols.”
Mary would pass by trumpet-shaped chests and go to the third chest where she would be told by the superintending priest stationed by the Trumpet that day’s price of two turtle doves. It could be as little as two pennies. She deposited the coins and waited. At a certain appointed time during the day, the trumpet sound declared that the incense would soon be kindled on the Golden Altar for those who were to be purified. The purification-service would not last long and the women who had shared in the rite were now Levitically clean.
“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 on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.” Luke 2
The next witness was Simeon, a temple priest. His longing to be able to see the Messiah in his lifetime was recognized by God and a promise was made and this day was kept. As verse 26 states, 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 would be bringing their infant to the Temple. This is what ensued because Simeon responded:
“When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’ The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’” Luke 2
“With this infant in his arms, it was as if he stood on the mountain-height of prophetic vision, and watched the golden beams of sunrise far away over the isles of the Gentiles, and then gathering their full flow over his own beloved land and people. . . It was to be a stone of decision; a foundation and cornerstone
(Isa 8:14) for fall or for uprising; a sign spoken against; the sword of deep personal sorrow would pierce the Mother’s heart.” Edersheim
Like John the Baptist, Simeon served as a bridge between God’s Old Covenant with the people of Israel and the New Covenant He wanted to establish through Jesus Christ.
Anna was the next witness. She had dedicated her life to fasting and praying in the Temple. Referred to as a prophet, the Scriptures state that she never left the temple but worshipped day and night. She was not your average worshipper. Her dedication like the priest Simeon, was grounded in “waiting” for the Savior of Isaiah that God had promised. She wasn’t doing this for recognition as someone who was dedicated as did the Pharisees, she had a deep longing for the redemption to come that could only be quenched fully engaged in the life of the Temple.
36 “There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Dedicated Jews like Anna were impressed by the Spirit that the Passover laws that everyone was required to keep under the law of Moses were not enough to free her nation from sin. The Passover was only a shadow of what God would ultimately provide to be fulfilled by the coming Messiah for redemption. She treasured the words of Isaiah: “and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:5-6
When Anna saw Jesus, she gave thanks to God and spoke of Him to all who were waiting for redemption. Here, at last, was the One who would save His people from their sins. Both Simeon and Anna were waiting for someone with great anticipation, alert to His appearance and ready to welcome Him.
The witnesses have spoken and bore their testimonies that God has kept his promise and that the Messiah has come and fulfilled the law. The prophets who prophesied of His coming have all been exonerated, their words fulfilled.
Isaiah 53:3-7 “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”
Zechariah 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Pastor Dion in his sermon “The Wait For Christmas tells us: “Both Simeon and Anna were movers. When the Holy Spirit prompted them to move, they didn’t sit still. I wonder what would have happened if they had not responded? Actually, every one of the Christmas characters responded to the Spirit’s leading with the exception of Herod:
Mary was ready to move when she said to the angel, “May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 2:38)
Joseph demonstrated that he was a mover when he woke up from his dream and “…did what the angel of the Lord had commanded and took Mary home as his wife.” (Matthew 1:24)
The Shepherds were movers as well when they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened…” (Luke 2:15)
. . . the wise men saw the star and moved out of their comfort zone to find the King of Christmas.
Friend, when God prompts you to do something, then you need to do it. It might mean salvation for some of you. It might mean full surrender for others of you. Or, maybe the Spirit wants you to be more involved in serving people. Do you sense Him asking you to do something tonight? Are you a mover? Are you willing to move? Don’t procrastinate when God prompts you to do something — you may miss out on a miracle this Christmas.” Pastor Dion
Keeping the Vigil
We are called to a life of exhilarating anticipation. Keeping watch, staying awake, keeping on guard and being alert at all times! Living the Christ in our lives through our anticipation of His Return, is having the Kingdom here on earth because it is resident in each of us. We are still surrounded by brokenness and sin but the light Jesus Christ gives us is enough and more for now as we wait for His Return.
“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!” Mark 13:32-33
“. . . for you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” I Thess. 5:2
The Holy Spirit is the Consoler, theTeacher that Jesus left with us when He ascended back to His Father in Heaven. We are not alone and we are not without direction and blessings. In the midst of chaos, miracles are still happening all around us wherever His Watchers are engaged in well-doing and well-being. We are filled with joy as we pass the Light on by teaching this generation to keep watch, stay awake, keep on guard and be alert at all times, because we know not when He will return. There is so much happening beyond our view. The Big Picture that only God sees concerns the direction and eventual outcome of the whole of creation which includes each of us personally.
The measured rhythm of our lives is still one moment at a time in communion with Christ through the living Holy Spirit leading us to continue on. Wherever there is a need that we can fill in a spirit of love, of faith and of joy, we should want to be sent to that person or place, regardless who it is or where it is. We can’t give in to despair, impatience or misjudgment about God’s timing. Like God, we should want as many as possible to come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ in this life.
2 Peter 3:1-12
“Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. 2 I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. 3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?
Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
As I prepared to write this Christmas chapter, I was thinking “Come, Lord Jesus!” as a hope for Him to come quickly and save us in these perilous times, but through the work of the Spirit, I see it differently. However long it takes for the “falling away” that is mentioned in II Thessalonians 2:3: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;” is in God’s time not ours.
The times couldn’t be more profound than they are right now for the love of Christ to be a stark contrast to the chaotic conditions we have everywhere, in every community and every family. Bringing to every challenge, a loving, hopeful heart that sees only the positive midst the negative is a power for miraculous change beyond anything we can imagine. How much of the chaos that we see right now in the world could be changed by loving people filled with the Spirit of Jesus Christ? What if for now, we are God’s Plan A for change? How would that change your perspective? Your actions? Your heart?
As Christ said in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
We must keep the vigil! Pass it on to the next generation in the only real form that has any transforming impact – love. The early Saints believed that Christ was returning in their lifetime. Simeon and Anna were near their time of death before God’s perfect timing was realized, even so, no matter how long it will take, all 0f his promises will be kept.
Like the shepherds, Anna and Simeon, we know this Child. We have seen and felt Him being born in us and those with whom we share the Good News with or without words. He has given us new eyes and we are filled with renewed hope and anticipation as we light a Christmas Candle in the window this year keeping the vigil for His splendid return.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” I John 3:2
Have a glorious Christmas holiday and a new vision of possibilities for 2018!