Merchants lined the streets, peddling their wares, while the young couple were making their way through the crowd that was gathering in front of the temple. The throng was busy, pawing through the merchandise, searching for a unique item. Some might have been looking for a decoration or perhaps, a special piece of tableware that they might take pride in displaying to their house guests. Others combed the tables for a gift to give a loved one or a friend.
Mary held her newborn closely, as the people forced their way to the paraphernalia on the tables. Everyone wanted to be the first in line for the newest charm they would purchase and subsequently brag about it to their friends.
Children ran about as the Roman soldiers diligently watched the crowds. Sunlight danced off their shields but the little ones were unfazed by the powerful men. Some played hide-and-seek from behind the massive sentinels. The weapons they carried intimidated the Jews as they searched for signs of insurrection. Among the children that day would be those who would gather on a hillside decades later to hear Him teach and feed them with a few fish and loaves that He had multiplied. Others would try to throw Him off a cliff and the more impassioned ones would someday stand outside of Pilate’s Hall, chanting “Crucify Him”.
Joseph recognized the familiar hints of wood-smoke, lilting through the air as the priests prepared the daily offerings. He led the child’s mother by her tiny hand as they pressed through the crowd, heading for the Temple stairs. They made a brief stop at a vendor’s table, selecting two turtledoves for the upcoming ritual. He wished he had a lamb to offer but times were hard for a humble carpenter. After paying for the doves, he heard the five coins jingle in the purse attached to his belt, reminding him of the donation due to the temple required by the law. Joseph pondered the events of the past forty days and the trip to the City. How frustrated he had been trying to find shelter while his wife readied for the birth of the Baby. He so much desired a proper environment for his wife and the newborn, only to settle for a cold, dirty stable. The memory of that night did bring a brief smile to his weathered face when he thought of the shepherds that had been watching their flocks that night and how they carefully approached the small cave to catch a glimpse of history. Israel’s Messiah had arrived with little notice or fanfare worthy of a King. On that day, no one paid them much mind as the couple continued to weave their way toward the tall wooden doors.
Also moving through the Temple grounds was a man on a mission. He gave little notice to those in the marketplace that day. He was being led by God to the familiar structure in Jerusalem. Simeon was a devout Jew who was a true worshiper of the God of Israel. Spending his life studying the Scriptures, he waited anxiously for the consolation of Israel. The King was coming and with Him would be peace in the land and forgiveness of sin.
He somehow knew there was something special about that day. He arrived inside the Temple and saw the parents arrive with the Child. When they presented Him to the Lord, he recalled the promise that God had made to him, so many years ago. He was to see the Christ before he passed to heaven. Joseph and Mary stood in amazement at what the unexpected visitor had said. Then, he took Him into his arms and declared, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a Light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” The destined moment had arrived and Simeon overflowed with joy. He then turned to the Child’s mother and said ““Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Christmas had arrived and Simeon knew that the greater impact the Child would have on mankind was yet to come.
So many tourists busied themselves that day in the marketplace, ignoring what was happening. Caught up in the fever of everyday life, they missed the coming of Emmanuel. The vast majority of city-dwellers, young and old, rich and poor, religious or not, had missed His arrival. Only a handful of lowly shepherds, his earthly parents and now Simeon, had given testimony to Israel’s King who had come to deliver all men who would receive Him.
Where will you be this Christmas season? I know it’s become almost cliche to remember the “true meaning” of Christmas. We are all mindful of the materialism that has infected the Holiday but some sincere folks have become confused, even with good things. Family, friends and the spirit of giving have replaced the actual event we should be commemorating. Yet, what will you really do to keep Him as the center of your celebration this year. Do you have a plan or will it be the “Season as usual”? Will you be a distracted spectator, a scoffer or an onlooker in the marketplace? Or, will you be a participant? A “Simeon” in the temple, recognizing the Messiah?
May God bless you as you celebrate this wonderful season of great joy.