(This “Chapel Talk” was delivered at Lubbock Christian University in January 1998.)
Welcome back! I hope that your Christmas was as good as mine was. I enjoy Christmas — the trees and the lights and especially the cookies and the gifts. I also like the Christmas story and believe that it is a good thing that people all over the world celebrate His birth. Although, with all of the commercialism, I wonder how many have really seen the Christ child. And sometimes I wonder how many Christians know Him — have seen and felt and touched the wonder of God becoming a man. It is so easy to pass by a plastic baby in a nativity scene and give no thought to what He really means.
The Presentation of the Lord at the temple, the next recorded event after His birth, will be remembered in some churches the first of February. And again I wonder how many will see Him. With the apathy and “hohum” of many churches, one suspects that if the baby Jesus were actually there in person, manger and all, some still might not see Him.
And what about us? Chapel and our required Bible classes can be, for some, about as hohum as it gets. Even though this is a “Christian University,” it is so easy to allow academic, extra-curricular and social interests to consume us. Where is the excitement for God, the passion for Jesus? One wonders by the way we act sometimes if we really get it. Last semester I saw someone in chapel during the prayer — don’t ask how I saw this — I saw someone put his portable cassette player on top of his head. I don’t want to be judgmental. Perhaps he didn’t have anywhere to put it. At least it wasn’t a hat, although our Bible majors know that an Atlanta Braves hat is all right — it’s scriptural. Others of us are not quite so blatant. Chapel, Bible class and other religious activities are just things that we do. If Jesus were presented in chapel, would we recognize Him?
Luke presents Jesus at the temple in a remarkable way. He is a special baby, but Jesus is not an actor in the story. He can’t act; He is just a baby. What other characters in the story do and say, especially in the larger context of scripture, tells us who He is. And how others in the story respond to Jesus says that He is worthy of worship.
By this time in the story, as at the birth of Ishmael, Isaac, Samson and John, angels have announced His birth to Mary and the shepherds (
And Mary and Joseph in the story are model parents who are intent on keeping the law. Five times in our text, Luke says that they do everything according to the law. Jesus is the fulfillment and meaning of scripture. They take Jesus to Jerusalem for Mary’s purification (
Another character in the story is concerned with scripture. Simeon recognizes the baby as the One who was promised: God’s salvation (
As we cranked up the old Datsun 210 wagon to go to the hospital the Sunday Laurel was born, we heard from the tape deck strains of “Simeon’s Lullaby” by Wendy and Mary: “O my Lord sleeping in your mother’s arms, this little One, this little One…. Come let me hold Him; O bless You Lord. I will depart in peace. My eyes have finally seen thy salvation, the Glory of Israel, the Light of the nations. In this little One salvation has come, in this little One.”2
Mary and Joseph marveled at what was said about the child. Max Lucado takes us back a few days to His birth:
“Wide awake is Mary. My, how young she looks! Her head rests on the soft leather of Joseph’s saddle. The pain has been eclipsed by wonder. She looks into the face of the baby. Her son. Her Lord. His Majesty. At this point in history, the human being who best understands who God is and what He is doing is a teenage girl in a smelly stable…. Somehow Mary knows she is holding God…. She remembers the words of the angel. ‘His kingdom will never end’ (
“He looks like anything but a king. His face is prunish and red. His cry, though strong and healthy, is still the helpless and piercing cry of a baby. And He is absolutely dependent upon Mary for His well-being.
“Majesty in the midst of the mundane. Holiness in the filth of sheep manure and sweat. Divinity entering the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a teenager and in the presence of a carpenter.”3
The wonder of God becoming a man!
Craddock adds, “[Mary’s] fear that he would drop the baby was not near the fear created by [what Simeon said next].”4 “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign to be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your soul too” (
“Now Simeon, why did you have to go and spoil everything like that? It was a nice service. The priest was in rare form. A perfect day, and you ruined it. Why?”
Because the child came into the world to die for our sins.
I wonder how many others saw this. Did anyone else ask to hold Him? I can hear: “What is all of that commotion over there? Don’t they know that this is a place of worship?” “Oh, it is just another grandfather busting his buttons over a new grandson.” But Anna was there. She recognized the baby. Always at the temple fasting and praising God.
The night Laurel was born, I went to the Nautilus, a diner near the university and ordered shrimp-in-a-basket. I almost kissed that waitress. I told her, “My baby was born tonight, a beautiful daughter, and she looks a lot like her father too.”
Anna gave thanks and shared him with others.
In Luke’s narrative, the actions and speeches of the characters tell us that Jesus was a special child — God’s anointed, the One who was to come and redeem Israel, God’s very own Son.
How the characters respond to the baby tells us who He is. How we respond to the child tells us who He is for us! Have we seen Him? If He were presented on our campus, would anyone want to hold Him? Well, sure! After all, this is a Christian university; He is here every day, isn’t He?
Yes, He is here, but are there people among us like Mary and Joseph, like Simeon and Anna? Where is the thanksgiving, the praise, the excitement, the wonder?
I want both of my daughters to see Him. The night Laurel was born, I wrote the following letter:
October 31, 1983
To my precious little baby daughter, to Laurel:
It’s really difficult for me to know how to begin. I’ve never addressed anyone as a father before. This last day has been without a doubt the happiest day of my life, the day of the birth of my precious little baby daughter. You won’t and can’t know the feeling of joy and elation that we had tonight until you hold your own for the first time. We already love you more than anything we could ever love in this life.
By the time you’re able to read this we’ll have some practice at being father and daughter, but before that happens, I want to put it down in writing that I am a little nervous about this great responsibility that the Lord has given to us. I have some good points, but I have so many weaknesses too. I’ve promised God that I’ll dedicate my life to Him in a much greater way so that I can be a good example. JoAnn and I both want to give our lives to the Lord so that you can be dedicated to Him too.
I guess what I’m really trying to say is that I often mess up and hope that you will forgive me. But there was another precious little baby born even more precious and wonderful than that little bundle that I held in my hands for the first time tonight. Laurel, this baby was the Lord’s Salvation, the Glory of Israel, the Light of the nations — God’s only Son, the little baby Jesus. What I mean to say is that I want my little girl to grow up with Him — to be like Him. It’s my prayer that my life will be a medium to that end.
I love you with the very essence of my soul and being,
[Holding an imaginary baby] I am holding in my arms that very special baby — the infant God. As I look down into His eyes, like Mary and Joseph, I marvel. The wonder of it all. With Simeon, I praise God for I have seen God’s Salvation, the Light of the nations, the Glory of Israel. Yet, with Mary my heart aches, for I know the story. The child is born to die — to give His life for mine. And like Anna, I give thanks. My heart with her heart bursts with joy and shouts: “He’s here; He has come. God’s baby, the Messiah is among us! My Lord and My God!”
[Extending arms and imaginary baby toward the audience] “Have you held the baby?”
1Fred Craddock, “The Hard Side of Epiphany,” Preaching Today, Tape 32, sound cassette.
2″Simeon’s Lullaby,” The Wind Came Singing, Wendy & Mary, BWC 2045 (Sparrow Records, 1983), sound cassette.
3Max Lucado, God Came Near: Chronicles of the Christ (Portland, Oregon: Multnomah Press, 1987), 23.
4Craddock, “The Hard Side of Epiphany.”
(This “Chapel Talk” was delivered at Lubbock Christian University in January 1998.)