Eight Days After the First Christmas

If you were to read “the rest of the story” about the baby Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, you would discover that on the eighth day after His birth, Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus to Jerusalem, to the Temple, to perform the ritual of sacrifice which is done for all new Jewish babies.

When Mary and Joseph arrived at the Temple with the 8-year-old Jesus, they found waiting for them there 2 elderly Jewish people … a man and a woman … whose lives were made complete with the appearance of Jesus in the Temple. Simeon and Anna become examples of righteous and devout believers who 1) knew that God was going to fulfill the promise of sending a Messiah in to the world; 2) knew that God would present the one who is the Messiah to them before they died; and, 3) knew that their lives would be made complete in some way for having seen and believed in this new Messiah.

And indeed, God gave to Simeon and Anna exactly what was promised. On the eighth day of Jesus’s life, Simeon and Anna, were both at the Temple in Jerusalem, honoring God by their presence there. 

Simeon had been told by God that he would not die until he had seen the “Lord’s Christ.” And on that day, as Mary and Joseph carried Jesus into the Temple, Simeon went up to the baby and took Him into his arms and blessed God and exclaimed that God could now let his servant die in peace, for he has seen “the salvation of the world, which God has prepared before the face of all people … a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of all the people of Israel.” (Luke 2: 27-32) 

Mary and Joseph marveled at what Simeon had said, and Simeon then blessed them, saying, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and a sign which shall be spoken against.” (Luke 2: 33-34) You see, though it is clear that Mary and Joseph still are not sure exactly what it means for them to be the parents of Jesus, Simeon does know exactly what it means. How is that? Luke tells us how. In Chapter 2, verse 25, Luke tells us that Simeon was filled with the Holy Spirit. And that, my brothers and sisters, makes all the difference!

After Simeon blesses Jesus and His parents, a woman who has been living in the Temple during her old age comes forward. Anna had been widowed for many years, and since then has served God in the Temple by fasting and prayers … night and day. Anna was not going to miss this day for anything. She would stay at the Temple here whole life if needed, just to see the new Messiah that God has promised. When that happened, Anna thanked God for this child, and she spoke to all who would listen that God has now sent his redemption for all people, and His name is Jesus of Nazareth. 

Eight days after the first Christmas, Simeon and Anna have “presented” to them at the Temple the savior of the world, the Lord of all, the Messiah. And then, after the proper ritual of sacrifice, Mary and Joseph and Jesus return home to Nazareth. And we don’t hear about Jesus again until he was 12 years old and came back to the Temple, staying to question the Jewish leaders even after His mother and father had left town and mistakenly forgot Him. 

The story of “8 Days After Christmas,” when Simeon and Anna make their gospel appearances to receive the new born Messiah at the Temple and to have their spiritual lives fulfilled through the keeping of God’s promise, raises some interesting questions about our lives, and whether or not we will be prepared to 1) know who Jesus is; 2) understand what it means for us and for all people; 3) see how God has worked in the world through this babe in the manger to redeem it and save it from itself. 

I ask this of you because I know how religious people can sometimes lose their way in life by worshiping things other than God. Often, religious people worship their religion — and its practices and rituals. Or they worship their church — both the building and the congregation that attends there. Or they can worship a powerful preacher — who is NOT God and never will be. Or they can worship themselves — their standing in the community and their position of power and influence. Indeed, this problem of misdirected worship is an eternal and universal challenge for humans. Essentially, we want to know that God is out there and that God is on our side, but we surely do not want to give up and control over our own lives to God … we just want to be rescued when needed. 

I don’t know how much of these challenges for religious people affect you, but I do know their very common, and perhaps none of us are completely immune from these conditions. Clearly, Simeon and Anna did not have these problems. But many of the Jews that Jesus would meet later in His life did. And they are the ones who would lead to his downfall and death … even as temporary as that turned out to be! 

Most Jews were not like Simeon and Anna, who could immediately tell who Jesus was and what that would mean for the world. Even Mary and Joseph may not have been sure for some time. But it was the Pharisees in the gospel stories who would represent those that are blinded to God by their own religious devotion. Pharisees worshiped their customs, their traditions, their rituals, their Temple, their power, their standing in society, their lifestyle, their wisdom, their Holy Torah, their laws and rules, and so many other things about their religion. And in all that worship, somehow God gets lost, and fades away. And then it’s no longer God as the one being worshiped, but all these other things that humans attach to God (religion) that become the easy substitute for actually worshiping God and all that that requires. 

The Pharisees were so deep into their religious worship that they couldn’t even see God Incarnate standing right in front of them. They couldn’t understand the teachings of Jesus because they were so attached to their own teachings … right or wrong! They actually became annoyed, then angry, then violent, with what God was doing in the world because it didn’t fit with their own form of religion that they had created. How dare God work in ways that we do not agree with? Indeed, the Pharisees concluded, God would never do that to us, so anyone who is trying to change our religion must be killed, for God’s sake! 

Eight days after Christmas, Simeon and Anna — filled with the Holy Spirit — were able to see in Jesus exactly who He was and what that meant for all people. Some 30+ years after that first Christmas, the Pharisees were still so blinded by their misguided faith and their worship of themselves that they couldn’t see God when God showed up in person. They were not spiritually capable of seeing Jesus for who He was. Simeon and Anna: Had the power of the Holy Spirit and knew God when they saw Him. Pharisees: Had no Holy Spirit power and therefore couldn’t see God in all their religious zealousness. 

Now, back to us … me and you. This Saturday, January 2nd, will be eight days after Christmas 2020. Eight days is a good time to reflect back on this past Christmas for you … and what, if anything, was received from God; what, if anything, became known to you about Jesus that is new; what, if anything, will be changed in your heart and in your life because of your Christmas experience this year; and what, if anything, has the Holy Spirit revealed to you about Jesus and/or yourself that can help you in your spiritual walk this coming year. 

Simeon and Anna were very special people, with a very devout faith in God and the power of the Holy Spirit working mightily in their lives. 

The Pharisees were very special people, with a strong and firm attachment to their belief system and their practice of religion.

And then there’s us. On Saturday, eight days after Christmas, what condition will you be in? Will you be closer to Simeon and Anna, or to the Pharisees? Is your faith life being driven by the power of the Holy Spirit that is a gift to you from God through Jesus Christ? Or is your faith life some combination of religious practice and customs and traditions, but no real life changing relationship with God. If you are honest in your reflection about your own faith life, would you end up closer to Simeon and Anna … or the Pharisees? 

Is this the year you will come closer to unity with Jesus as your Lord and savior than you have ever been? Will you, like Simeon, be waiting to see Jesus every day, knowing that He is coming every day? Will you be like Anna, fasting and praying each day to honor God and to make the “church” your habitat — the center of your life for you and your family? 

This year, let’s make it a Simeon or Anna year! No more Pharisee years! And let’s plan for Saturday now. Think of these questions:

How will you nourish your relationship with Jesus this year?

How will you strengthen your faith to the extent that Simeon and Anna had? 

How will you know it’s Jesus when He stands right in front of you each day, waiting to be known by you?

How will 2021 become the greatest spiritual achievement of your life so far, as you trust God’s promises to come true in your life?

I once heard my favorite seminary professor give a rousing sermon about the need for leadership in the church, and how are spiritual heroes like Francis of Assisi and Augustine of Hippo challenged the status quo of the religion of the day and inspired people to turn from status quo religion to amazing incredible God! After the sermon, I emailed my professor on how he might suggest I become a leader like them. He told him, “Don’t do that!” Do not become like them, he urged me. We don’t need them anymore. Instead, become the spiritual leader God made you to be. Be your own version of Francis or Augustine … or, he could’ve said, Simeon. But be yourself. 

With Saturday coming up let’s remember that God has already blessed us spiritually with everything we need to be able to do what God calls us to in the world. We don’t have to become like someone else. But, we do need to become the person God created us to be. That is the challenge for 2021. Let’s call it the “Simeon or Anna Challenge.” And let’s start it this Saturday, January 2nd, the eighth day after Christmas!

Pastor Bob