I love reading the Christmas story. Even throughout the year, I always get a little thrill of excitement when I open Luke chapter two. Before we do gifts at family Christmas, my niece and nephew have to sit on the floor in front of me while I flip back and forth between Luke’s account and Matthew’s of the birth of a King.
A few months ago I was reading through the old beloved story and came to the part where Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to offer a sacrifice in accordance with Old Testament law. This has forever been beautiful to Christians throughout the world because they brought the offering of the poorest of the poor. This King was born not in a palace but in a barn, and he lived his entire life in abject poverty.
But this time, the sacrifice itself was not what warmed my heart but a little verse inserted into the middle of the final recorded messianic prophecy. Luke chapter two tells us that Simeon had waited for decades for the Christ child to be born. He had received a promise from God that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. So when Mary and Joseph came in with Jesus, you can imagine Simeon’s delight as he cuddled on the tiny baby and began to prophecy over him. As readers on this side of Calvary, none of us are surprised by what he says. But right in the middle of his speech, a surprising little tidbit is interjected. Verse 33 says, “But Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him.”
Really? Just then they marveled? Why didn’t it say anything about their marveling previously? Pretty sure if it had been me, I would have started marveling right about the first millisecond after Gabriel himself appeared before me bearing the strangest of news. Or when a virgin broke all logic and became pregnant. Or when Elizabeth had a son at the age of roughly nine million. I mean, all kinds of crazy stuff had been happening of late. The entire book of Luke would have started with of record of, “And it came to pass that Donna marveled for years without ceasing.”
Goodness, the very day that Jesus was born, a whole slew of random strangers showed up, their smelly sheep in tow, wanting to see this infant Savior and claiming that they had been frightened nearly out of their skin by no less than a multitude of angels – angels! – who announced the birth of this child. The shepherds very likely explained to Mary and Joseph what they had been told: that a baby had been born who was Christ the Lord. Not only that, but they were told exactly where the baby would be laying and what he was wearing! What? Talk about incredulous. I would have been marveling over that.
But Mary and Joseph are recorded to have marveled over “the things that were spoken of [Jesus].” Why? As all good Jews and students if the Holy Scriptures, they knew to expect the Messiah. He had been prophesied about for millennia. Prophecies announced where he would be born, of what family he would descend, and why he would come. When Simeon said, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation,” Jesus’ parents were not surprised. They knew the Messiah had come to bring salvation and that Israel’s long awaited King had finally arrived. No, what floored them was verse 32: “A light to lighten the Gentiles.”
Wait – what? The GENTILES? No, no, that can’t be right. They were never supposed to have any part of this! The Gentiles hated the Jews! They didn’t follow the Law. They were uncircumcised. They ate unclean food, desecrated the temple, and followed a pantheon of unrighteousness gods. No, this Messiah had come to save God’s chosen people. He came to save Israel. He came to overthrow the Gentile outcasts. But now Simeon is saying that even the Gentiles will know his salvation? Could it possibly be that this child who was sent to “save his people from their sins” would consider even non-Jews his people?
That’s why they marveled. They had no idea what Jesus was really all about. They were astounded that the Gentiles could receive salvation. They didn’t know that this Light would break the barriers of cultural decency and lighten the lives of those unworthy of salvation.
Oh, but he did. And how thankful I am that he did. That Light reached out to the Jews AND the Gentiles in the ancient world and is still reaching out to us today. It reaches into every culture and touches every heart. No culture, language, race, creed, or religious structure is outside of his Love. I can’t read the prophecy of Simeon now without tears filling my eyes as I am overwhelmed once again that Jesus came to save ALL the world. The first-century Jews didn’t realize it, and who knows if the Old Testament prophets even realized it. Jesus didn’t come just to save the nation of Israel.
He came to save the world.