Phew! It’s Over. Now What?

December 27, 2010

By Lance Johnson

I must say I am generally relieved when the Christmas season is over. Too often after the Christmas season I am left asking myself what all the fuss was about. Now that Christmas is over, what do we have to show for it besides frayed nerves, depleted bank accounts, and empty boxes that won’t fit into the garbage containers? Is there really any solid significance to the season? Well, as a self-professed Scrooge, I have to answer that question with a resounding, “Yes.” The best part of the season is not the season itself, but what God did through the Incarnation. Simeon, an old man from Jerusalem, expresses it simply and succinctly in a way I never could.

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. 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 2:25-32 ESV)

This story, along with the story of the elderly prophetess, Anna, that follows in the Scripture, has always fascinated me. There are two things about it that are important. First, in spite of many of the paintings we see of the Baby Jesus, the Christ Child did not have a halo around his head when Joseph and Mary brought him to the temple in obedience to God’s law. Yet, Simeon knew immediately that this baby was the promised Messiah. What drew Simeon to this baby? Let’s face it, except to their mothers, all newborn babies look pretty much alike. Still Simeon knew that this was the “consolation of Israel” he had awaited for so long. How did he know? The answer to that is an important theological point, but is the topic for another article at another time. Suffice it to say for now that Jesus is the shepherd and his sheep know his voice.

The second important point of this passage, and the one I want to explore a bit, is that Simeon understood the eternal significance of the birth of Christ, of the Incarnation. He was blessed to understand the true nature of the Messiah. This was a blessing that even the disciples of Christ did not fully understand until after Pentecost, but Simeon did understand it. He understood that Christ came not for political or social reasons, but for spiritual reasons. Because of that he was able to correctly discern between the truly eternal or spiritual and the essentially worldly or carnal that has been painted with a spiritual facade. He understood that the coming of the Messiah meant a radical step forward in God’s redemptive work. It was a step that would destroy the bricks and mortar temple in Jerusalem and would replace it with the temple built in three days in the hearts of his people everywhere, a people that included, even embraced, the Gentiles as well as the Jews. He understood that because of the coming of God to dwell among us in grace and truth that all God’s people could, as he could now that he had seen the Savior, leave this world in peace.

The Scripture is clear that the work of the Savior is, among other things, primarily a work of reconciliation of sinners to a holy God. Because of Christ’s redemptive work we need not fear death. We can instead meet our maker face to face with a confidence that comes from the imputed righteousness of the Incarnate Christ. Our nature is to look to our actions, both good and bad, for a clue to our eternal destiny. Unfortunately, many of us have been strongly influence by the pseudo-gospel of legalism and therefore, fail to fully comprehend the full weight of the Incarnation. Christ came so that we might have life and to have it more abundantly. Yes, we are sinners in need of a savior, but in the final analysis, we are neither saved by our good works nor condemned by our sinful actions. We are saved by Christ’s redemptive work on our behalf. We are reconciled to God by the redemptive work of the Incarnate Christ. Therefore, the ultimate result of Christmas is that we might live and die in peace.

Paul expressed the outcome of the Incarnation quite well in Romans 8.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4 ESV)

By sending his Son, God did for us what could not be done under the law. Because of the Incarnate Christ “there is therefore now no condemnation.” I return to that verse often, usually with tears as I contemplate the grace, joy, and peace it conveys. I know the depth of my sin, and Satan often uses it to bring turmoil to my soul. Christ came to bring peace to my soul just as he brought peace and calm to the waters. Paul continues to develop this great truth in the verses that follow and finishes with these words:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28-39 ESV)

Peace with God made possible by the Incarnation of Christ. What a reason to celebrate!

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give to you.
Let not your hearts be troubled,
neither let them be afraid.

— Jesus the Incarnate Christ (John 14:27 ESV)

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