The Sword of Christmas

Luke 2:21-40  The manger baby challenged the nations. Let’s pass his message on!

The Christmas story does not end with a baby in a manger, it ends with a baby at the Temple. It also does not end with the confirmation of shepherds and wise men in Bethlehem, but with the confirmation of prophets in Jerusalem. It’s all very well hearing from shepherds, but shepherds had a bad reputation in first century Israel. And as for Gentile astrologers or Magi from the East – well, they were not the kind of people Jews looked to for announcements about the Messiah. So confirmation by the prophets of the Temple is an important part of the Christmas story.
Joseph and Mary had spent 40 days in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus and now they had to go to Jerusalem. Why? There were two reasons. First Mary had to offer a sacrifice for her purification. All Jewish women were considered unclean for 40 days after giving birth, so they would stay indoors for that time and then offer a sacrifice at the Temple on day 40. But secondly her baby had to be dedicated to God. Every first born Jewish male was devoted to the Lord just as the first tenth of Jewish income was devoted to the Lord. Jews gave their first fruits in recognition that all their fruitfulness was from God.
While Joseph and Mary were at the Temple with Jesus, two prophetic individuals stepped forward and spoke words over him. The first was Simeon. The Lord had promised him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. What a wonderful promise. Did you ever hope you would see Jesus? God told him that he would and he watched out for him day after day for what was probably many years.
Well, before Joseph and Mary entered the Temple courts carrying Jesus, Simeon felt the Holy Spirit moving him to go there. And when he saw the child he knew straight away that this was the Messiah. He must have seen many firstborn’s dedicated there, so the fact that he singled out Jesus as the one was strong confirmation.
Simeon then prophesied over Jesus saying he was God’s salvation, a light to the Gentiles, and the one that would bring glory to Israel.
The second prophetic person was a woman called Anna. It seems she stood alongside Joseph and Mary and spoke to all who were gathered about how this baby would bring about redemption for Israel.
Well so far everything is wonderful. And isn’t this what we would expect at Christmas? We have a cute baby, everybody admiring him, and great words about his future? Everything is joyous and exciting. But I have left an important part out, a part that most of us don’t think of at Christmas time. Simeon said to Mary, “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.”
Oh Simeon, how can you say such a thing? Don’t you know Christmas is a time of peace and joy? Don’t you know it’s a time to be kind and generous to your fellow man? What is this about the baby causing people to fall, and being a sign spoken against? Where is your Christmas spirit Simeon?!!!
Well, the truth is that Simeon never knew the traditional Christmas that you and I grew up with. Simeon only knew the real Christmas. And perhaps we need to say more about that?
Let’s look a bit more closely at the words Simeon spoke. Why would the baby cause some to fall and some to rise, and why would he be a sign spoken against? It’s because Jesus brought a message of truth; truth about the condition of men’s hearts and the need for salvation through the cross. And as we know truth judges us and calls us to change, and often people react badly to that.
Think of it, even today people have a problem with the fact that Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). In saying this Jesus spoke truth, an important truth, but it is a truth that some reject (or fall over) and some accept. And so it is a truth that many speak against.
Here in Mombasa, Christmas has become a festival for all religions. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe that Jesus is Lord and that the he is the only way to the Father, everyone here just enjoys the celebration. But does it make sense to celebrate Jesus while denying who he claimed to be?
Part of the reason why this happens is because Christians have adopted the idea of being nice to everyone at Christmas rather than using the moment to draw people’s attention to the truth of the gospel that Christ died for.
Simeon called the truth of Jesus a sword. He told Mary that this sword would pierce her soul just as it would pierce the souls of many others. Why would Simeon refer to the truth as a sword? Because like a sword truth separates right from wrong, good from bad, and genuine from false. It will bring pain before it brings healing, and it has the potential divide a nation and even a family. But it is a truth that is necessary.
Here is something Christians should never forget. Truth will always be a higher value than unity. It’s better that truth is spoken and a community is divided, than truth is hidden so a community is united. This is one of the problems with ideologies that try to make all religions look equal, they sweep exclusive statements like the one Jesus made above under the carpet to unite the various beliefs. The Bible does not accept this, and Christians must not accept this.
The call to put Christ back into Xmas is an important one. Much of the world has cut Christ out of Christmas to make it more tasteful, and Christmas is now celebrated without its original meaning. Our job as representatives of Christ is to restore the message that challenges people, the message that exposes their hearts and is sometimes spoken against. The Bible does not call us to practice a ‘Christmas spirit,’ it calls us to speak the truth about the incarnation. In short, Christmas is a sword – will you (did you) use it?

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