Have you ever wondered about slices of life from the past? Not just the details of the people who lived in different times and different worlds, but how they viewed their world, how their place in the arc of history caused them to ponder their purpose or if there was a grander scheme to it all?
Did they wonder, like we do today, why their lives seemed so mundane or if they were missing out on a more exciting existence, feeling trapped in their own ordinary and rather unexceptional moments in world history? Did they fear their future or live unencumbered by worry or doubt?
They were real souls who struggled and dreamed and worried and labored and loved, day in and day out, and yet they’ve now passed from this world and so have all who would have remembered them. Imagine with me for a moment what these souls were like—it’s the least we can do, as we are really no different than they. Maybe
- The wife of a Chinese merchant, a contemporary of Abraham, right now guessing when her husband will return from his journey;
- The hunter who barely escapes an attack by a wild boar on his way home to his children and sick mother, right now moving through the brush being a little more attuned to the sounds around him;
- The indentured servant waking early on a cold emerald island, another monotonous day of scrubbing and hauling water, pausing to ponder if she should take time to mend her stockings.
Do you see yourself in any of these scenarios? These were people who lived with little more than an awareness of now, of today, getting through the next 24-hour cycle. How easy it is to forget that, no matter how real and substantial and unforgettable and important and dynamic the NOW that we live in seems to us, it is actually fleeting—a vapor. How human-like it is—or should I say, mortal-like?—to see our lives through tunnel vision, to fall into a way of thinking that diminishes God to being nothing more than an otherworldly clockmaker setting his pocket watch at the beginning of earthly time and resting until the ticking slows and ceases.
But how quickly we also neglect the mastery and power and creative intent of our God to use every single event, every single moment of every life of every person who has ever lived to bring about his specific purpose in redemption for man and glory for himself.
If you’re familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia, you know that the Pevensie children tumbled into C.S. Lewis’s fantastical world of Narnia through a wardrobe. A common, ordinary wardrobe, of all things! And while they explored the land and learned about the not-tame-but-very-good Aslan and fought the battle for the Cair Paravel and ruled as kings and queens for fifteen years ((Narnian time), barely a few moments of Earth time had passed back in the Professor’s house. A not so common or ordinary wardrobe, after all!
Every moment of time that Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter rambled around that old house, bored, provoking one another, resenting this war’s intrusion into their lives, there was a whole world of Narnia happening beyond the door of the wardrobe. Each NOW moment for the children contained a wealth of significance, though they did not see it or know it. There was nothing mundane or ordinary about even the smallest details of their lives.
Once they’d had their adventure in Narnia, they knew that there was something different about the passage of time, different from what their senses had experienced in England. There was a land beyond, and because their time here was different than there, they knew it was something beyond themselves, something they could not control. This opened their eyes to a new and different perspective on what life here and now was like, and they yearned for that land and that time dimension.
I’m convinced Lewis invoked the words of St. Patrick, who wrote to his beloved, battle-weary children in Ireland:
O most dear ones, I can see you Beginning the journey to the land Where there is no night nor sorrow nor death… You shall reign with the apostles and prophets and martyrs. You shall seize the everlasting kingdoms, As Christ promised when he said: ‘they shall come from the east and the west and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.' (St Patrick’s Letter to Coroticus)
Patrick was urging the believers to see the hope that comes with Jesus. Perhaps he was seeing the parallels between the order of events down to the minutest details that brought about the coming of Jesus, fulfilling every prophecy, becoming every answer for all of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven. The promises of God fulfilled in Christ and the future hope secured by him are the only things that can ever be always reliable.
Patrick was encouraging the Irish believers to redeem the suffering of NOW by regarding life with new eyes and a new tempo—Jesus time, if you will. Jesus time reorients the universe and rights all wrongs and re-calibrates the clocks to reflect God’s divine purpose and the outcome of history, the seizing of the everlasting kingdom of heaven.
Is this my vision? Do I see beyond the wardrobe to the land where there is no night nor sorrow nor death? Or am I stuck in NOW? Do I see how every moment of NOW is filled with the purposes and intentions of God, working out the love and mercy of Christ for eternal good? He is good in my life NOW. Love unimaginable is detailed in my life NOW.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:25-26)
Simeon was a man in Jerusalem, circa first century. That was his NOW.
And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:27-32)
But Simeon’s hope rested in the Lord’s promise to him. God assured him he would live to see the Christ, so he waited in his place now, and anticipated the Lord’s work in the world whenever that would be.
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:1–4)
“Oh, that you would,” yearned Isaiah. We yearn for days to come, but do we see them when they have arrived? Simeon did. Israel and Judah had waited 700 years, and here, now, the heavens were rent, and the heralds came, and Immanuel came down.
And there Simeon was, in the temple like always, waiting.
Simeon didn’t know when the event was going to happened, and he was likely not sure what it was going to look like when it did. Isaiah prophesied mountains quaking-—and this had happened with Moses, but nothing like that had happened here in Jerusalem. Isaiah declared the nations would tremble, but Herod’s horrific decree had brought to a halt all baby dedications. Mothers and fathers trembled, but not nations.
But he believed. He didn’t merely exist, letting the days go by unmarked, unmindful of greater things being done in the heavens, oblivious to the work the Lord was doing to prepare the world for His coming—or even discounting the prophecies, and deciding God might not be as trustworthy as he supposed. He noted the times, and lived a life of obedience and service. He believed the prophets who said no one is like God. No one could perceive how he works. He is beyond this time and space, and as such, he is the only One who can demand we trust him as he is.
Simeon anticipated each day could be the NOW of the coming of the Messiah, salvation, redemption, eternal glory, each advancement of the clock could be the moment of the Incarnation, the coming of the Promise, the new Mediator, the perfect Lamb, the greatest High Priest of all.
This is how he spent his days, waiting and knowing that the glory of God was in the moments of the waiting.
What are you waiting for? Let me ask this question: How are you waiting?
When I think of Christmas Eves, Christmas feasts, Christmas songs, and Christmas stories, I know that they do not represent a short and transient gladness. Instead, they speak of a joy unspeakable and full of glory. God love the world and sent his Son. Whosoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life. That is Christmas joy. That is the Christmas spirit. (Corrie ten Boom)
All of the events, memories and traditions shift and change through the years. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate—perhaps no sledding this year! Sometimes culture changes—when was the last time Turkish delight or figgy pudding was served at your Christmas feast? Sometimes a pandemic prevents family gatherings as usual or packages arriving on time for Christmas morn.
But the Incarnation happened, and the world is forever changed. Daily we have the choice before us to be fixated on the ticking of time in the slice of history in which we live, sorrowing, worrying, despairing, inward-facing, self-preserving, or to claim our citizenship of another kingdom, rejoicing to hear the bells peal as the celestial choruses rang out on that night when the sky ripped open. Immanuel! That changes everything!
Then rang the bells more loud and deep God is not dead, nor does he sleep (peace on earth, peace on earth) The wrong shall fail! The right prevail! With peace on earth, good will to men (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day")
Are you waiting with Simeon? Or have you given up? Does each moment hold the promise of God’s presence for you? Or are you operating as if God is far away, tinkering with his pocketwatch?
Does each Christmas story, each Christmas song, each Christmas memory fill you with joy, reminding you that all of life, all of time, all of existence is in the hands of the Babe whose arrival rent the heavens, whose Incarnation brought awesome things that you did not look for, whose sacrifice opened the way for life everlasting, whose habitation in our hearts fulfills the promise that “He will never leave you nor forsake you”, whose rule in the heavens transcends time and space no mater what your eyes see or your ears hear?
Is Simeon’s Christmas your Christmas?