"And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen..."
Jesus is born at an unremarkable time, in an unimpressive setting, visited by unimportant people... this is the humility God writ large. This is why we must feel our unworthiness to come to him, but never doubt his willingness to welcome us.
And when he does welcome us, as he did the shepherds in all their ordinariness, we do not leave our normal lives behind, but we live as those who return to normal life, in unseen places, among unknown people doing unnoticed work. But we do so also as those glorifying and praising God for what we have seen and heard.
This is real, biblical Christianity. We encounter Jesus personally, enter into life with God through identification with him, and then we return to life as those who bear witness to the glories and beauties of Jesus. We continually enter and re-enter his presence, connecting with him, sitting with him, drawing close to him, to be strengthened and nourished by him, while faithfully and boldly speaking of Jesus and the life we've found in and through him to those we're surrounded by.
A Prayer for Boldness:
Father, thank you for welcoming me into your arms and into your heart. Thank you for making a way for me to enter your presence and enjoy relationship with you. Show yourself and your love more fully to me today. Let me see and know you more deeply and more personally. And give me boldness and courage to speak naturally about the super-reality of the gospel and your grace revealed in Jesus.
"Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."
Jesus is the great longing of Simeon's heart and Anna's heart as we see in this text. They are longing for him, open to him, excited about him, and instantly love him. But Simeon's words to Mary in v. 34-35 give us a fuller picture of Jesus' impact. Yes there are those who open themselves to Jesus and embrace him, but there are also many, like the religious leaders, who are hostile toward Jesus. The polarizing nature of Jesus could not be more strongly previewed.
Since the days which Luke writes about, the response of anyone to Jesus determines the trajectory of their life. Our lives rise and fall with our embrace or rejection of Jesus.
Paul will later speak of the foolishness of the cross and the weakness of the gospel. We crave strength of our own and we're drawn to displays of strength and power. Weakness doesn't excite us. Yet here's Jesus assuming a posture of vulnerability as a means of securing victory. And we resist the upside down nature of God's Kingdom because we want a kingdom that reinforces our agenda and our values and our ways of thinking.
But Luke says the backwards nature of our hearts and minds would be revealed in our responses to Jesus. Jesus clarifies everything about how we see the world and ourselves. Jesus exposes our self-reliance, self-gratification, self-protection and self-importance for what it is. And he calls us to lay it all down so we can experience life as it was meant to be in Jesus... and our response dictates the trajectory of our lives. Either we lean into him and, day-by-day, get caught up in life with God. Or, we lean on our own understanding and, day-by-day, disinegrate as we live detached from the only true source of real life.
A Prayer for Self-Awareness:
Merciful Lord, reveal my heart to me. Let me see the places of pride, self, sin, and the world, even the good things in my life which distract me from you and rob me of connection with you. Let me see my inner thoughts, feelings, desires and motivations for the darkness they are... let know well those things internal to me that obscure the fullness of Jesus. And do this, Father, not that I would despair in my helpless state, but that I would be all the more driven to repentance and cling all the more desperately to Jesus. Amen.
"And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them."
I'm quite struck by Jesus' casual reply to his freaked out mom. I've seen this sort of dismissiveness out of 12-year-old boys in my own household, and it feels so disrespectful. Yet, Jesus is the sinless one. He is without sin and yet seemingly unconcerned about his mother's understandable and justified anxiety. I can only imagine how annoyed or angry she might have gotten with her son when he blamed her for not knowing where he was.
I guess my take away here is that we parents experience our kids at certain stages in life as utterly horrible when they may just be growing up. Of course your kids and mine are sinful, but Jesus seems scarily typical in his adolescent reaction here. I'm just convicted that I need to take less personally, respond more patiently and understand the appropriateness of teenage differentiation.
What's amazing here is Jesus' humility. He's God. He's clearly somewhat impressive at this stage to. His knowldge and wisdom are noticed as extraordinary. And not only did he submit himself to the Father in heaven by entering human history to live and die in our place. Not only did take on vulnerability and weakness as an infant and receive the loving care and nurture of human parents. But at the most difficult time in a kids life, with hormones raging within us, independence calling out to us, and rebellion tempting us, Jesus chose to submit to sinful parents.
That's stunning. And it poses two questions to me... 1) Who are we to think we shouldn't submit to God or human authority figures? 2) Who are we to think submission is not a primary thing we must teach our children to do if they are to walk with God?
God submits within himself, Son to Father, and Spirit to Son and Father. God also chose to submit to human authority figures and structures. Jesus submitted to those who were beneath him. Surely it is right that as his followers we learn to submit ourselves to earthly authority as an extension of our submission to His divine authority.
A Prayer for a Submissive Heart:
Sovereign Lord, forgive my chronic impulse for self-rule. I confess that I am a totally illegimate authority over my own life and I ask for the wisdom and humility to submit to your legitimate and gracious authority over my life. And as a part of that, Father, I ask for a submissive spirit toward all authority in my life which is delegated by you. I ask for a willingness to submit even my will to those I serve and lead where it is appropriate to die to myself. Heal my rebellious heart so that I love your authority and rejoice in the safety that you give. Amen.
"Bear fruits in keeping with repentance."
This is the essence of John's message, preparing the hearts of people for the coming of Jesus. Even before they fully understand all that would be attached to Christ's coming, John is creating this foundation: that their (and our) natural instincts, thoughts, feelings, conclusions and understandings about life and God and self, were all wrong. The one thing that was certain prior to Jesus' Spirit-Empowered ministry, which was commenced in v. 22, is that we had to admit life isn't working on our terms and we have to open our hearts and minds to some new possibilities.
The same is true today for us. The life God intends for us cannot be enjoyed without repentance. There is no receptivity to Jesus, acceptance of Jesus, union with Jesus, belief in Jesus, love for Jesus, surrenderedness to Jesus, without repentance. We need a heart that humbly, honestly admits our weakness, brokenness, corruption, confusion, helplessness, and inflated self-importance. That's a heart that will surely crack open to Jesus and at least give him real consideration for our real need.
And John says that repentance is about action. Genuine repentance is recognized by the fruit of repentance. Repenting is literally "to turn". To bear fruit in keeping with repentance, then, is to stop giving ourselves to one thing and to instead give ourselves to another thing... and not just anything, but something in the opposite direction. In the sense John is calling people to, it's to turn from our responsiveness to our own desires and impulses, and to instead respond to God's strategies for finding life in him and living life for him.
You probably have specific questions about what repentance looks like for you. John's hearers did. That's why v. 10-14 are in the Bible... So that you feel safe to ask your questions about you, and so you can see the kind of thing he's talking about even if it doesn't address your exact situation. Repentance for all of us means that there are things we're doing that that diminish the worth of others, take advantage of others or exploit them more cruelly. Sin is not limited to our relational spheres, but it is most identifiable in the context of relationships. And if there are patterns in us of these things, we must repent.
Repentance is a gift of grace whereby God gives us a safe means of admitting our distortion of his design for us and others, and realigning with how he created things to work. We all have things we need repent for daily... not the least of which is the thought that I might not have anything to repent for at all. This is the duty of every Christian... to nurture a heart of repentance faithfully, so that we might embrace Jesus personally and more deeply all the time.
A Prayer for Repentance:
Forgiving and patient Father, thank you for your kindness that leads me to repentance. Please forgive my earnest exoneration of myself; the ease with which I justify my thoughts and actions and words; the seamlessness with which I defend myself both internally and outwardly. Give me eyes to see how backwards my natural instincts are. Give me a deep longing for repentance and cement my heart in a posture of repentance that I might continually walk before you with a sense of my obvious need. Weaken my stubborness and erode my ego that I might cultivate the soil of my heart to be always ready to receive the Lord Jesus and the truth of the gospel with a glad heart, and to respond obediently when it is sown.
I preached recently on the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew's gospel, which differs in some ways from Luke's record. Whereas Matthew's line focuses on Jesus' Jewish ethnicity because he's writing to a Jewish audience, Luke seems to emphasize Jesus' humanity while writing to a broader and more Gentile audience. He's connecting those who Jews would have defined out of the saving work of the Messiah, directly to Christ.
In other words, Luke is reminding us that the story of Jesus, is relevant for everyone. He's hinting at the expansiveness of GOd's redemption which unfolds in Jesus' life and ministry. He's saying that if you are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, to borrow Lewis' language from the Chronicles of Narnia, then Jesus' life matters for you.
Geneaologies are usually used to connect a certain event or time period to a new time period. It's a way of beginning a new story but attaching to an old story. Geneealogies are about context. And Luke is doing that here. He's telling us that Jesus' life is connected all the way back to the Garden. His life finds is roots all the way back in the beginning. He is the new Adam. He is the one who is coming to set right all that Adam forfetied in Eden when he tried to enjoy life outside of God and his good design. Jesus' story is not just resolving Israel's story (though he is doing that too). The story of Jesus is also resolving humanity's story. He is entering into the realm of fallenness and brokenness to reclaim for us what our sinfulness has lost.
Jesus is coming to address the problems that Adam introduced. He's the one who would crush the head of the serpent according to Genesis 3:15. And even this far into the future, this distant from Luke's research and writing about Jesus, he's inviting for us to find resolution for our lives and our sin in Jesus. Just as we're all sinful in Adam, we can all be redeemed in Jesus. He's inviting us, 2,000 years removed, to look more closely and find our own connectedness to Jesus... to find our place in his story.
A Prayer for Connection:
Lord, it's so easy for me to live each day as if it stands alone with no connection to anything bigger or any other day. It's easy for me to be a prisoner of the moment and lose sight of you and your involvement in the here and now. But by faith you have made me your own. You claim me and have united me to your own Son. Help me to live today with a consciousness and delight that my choices, my actions, my relationships, my moments, are directly tied to Jesus and to the story of redemption that is unfolding in and through him. Help me to live in that reality today.