Halloween is done, the time change has occurred and the first, light snow of winter is falling outside my kitchen window. This all means it’s time to turn our attention to Christmas! The season of joy, giving, holidays, family and the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Have you ever reflected on the tension between the joy of Christ’s birth described in images of newborn serenity and the nervous ripple effect of God’s intervention in history?
In Luke 2, we read the wonderful story of God’s intervention in history with the angelic proclamation that the Messiah is born (v. 11) and God’s kingdom is being ushered into human reality following 400 years without prophecy. This is truly a too-good-to-be-true kind of story.
But some see reality for what it really is. One of those people is Simeon. Joseph and Mary take the infant Jesus to the temple to fulfill their parental obligations under the law. Here, they meet Simeon, a man “who was righteous and devout” (v. 25). Simeon is eagerly waiting for God to send the deliverer, the Messiah of Israel. Filled with Holy Spirit, Simeon recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and praises 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” (Luke 2:29–32).
Great news! How proud and likely somewhat confused Joseph and Mary are that God’s first act after 400 years of silence is the birth of Jesus! Simeon has been waiting in faith, watching for God’s handiwork among the people of Israel. He is God’s messenger to Joseph and particularly to Mary. Simeon’s role shifts from worshipper to prophet in verses 34–35:
“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.”
Great news! A king is born: a messiah who will bring salvation to his people and to the entire world! I love that story! Who wouldn’t?
In same breath that Simeon delivers the good, he also delivers news that breaks a mother’s heart and gives us a glimpse of what is to come – the falling and rising of many, a sign that will be spoken against, the revealing of the motives of the human heart and the pain of a mother’s pierced soul.
Not quite the warm fuzzy of a sanitized manger and sweet sleeping baby. The path to God’s salvation would not be an easy one for Mary, for Jesus, for Israel or for us. The warmth of a cuddly infant celebrated with gifts and song often minimizes the pain and challenges of the salvation story.
Jesus consistently taught that the only way to the kingdom of God was to follow him. Following Jesus reveals the true condition and motives of human hearts as people then and now try remake the Messiah into their image of a saviour king.
Author and pastor Warren Wiersbe refers to Jesus, the one who would cause the rising and falling of many, as the cornerstone, the salvation stone and the touchstone. We stumble over Jesus as the cornerstone, we find new life in Jesus as the salvation stone and the motives of our hearts are revealed in Jesus as the touchstone.
Fast forward 2,000 years and people still stumble over Jesus as the cornerstone. We continually try to remake Jesus in our image, as his gospel becomes a greater affront to the political correctness and self-actualizing nature of society. It is only as we are “broken” on the cornerstone that the reality of Christ’s redeeming work becomes our reality. When we try to remake Jesus into our idea of a saviour, we simply validate our path of least resistance to our human preferred future.
Jesus does not accommodate the people’s idea of a messiah in his day, nor does he do so in our day. It is only as we fall and rise with Christ that we find the hope and joy of Christmas to our personal and corporate experience.
Those who are “broken” on the cornerstone find life in Christ that is celebrated just as Jesus’ birth is celebrated. Then Jesus becomes our touchstone to live out the full reality of his birth, life, death and resurrection.
—Willy Reimer is executive director of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. He lives in Calgary.