‘O come O come Emmanuel…’
My favourite carol which expresses the solemnity and enormity of the Incarnation; it expresses the passing of time and the waiting; it looks to the fulfilment of prophecy. Whilst a serious carol with a serious tune, it is not gloomy or morose, because it recounts the hope of Israel and the work of God through them – the working out of God’s purposes.
What is your life’s purpose? What is your ambition?
Meet Eddie Hall (picture) World’ Strongest man 20017 plus various other titles. His life’s purpose and ambition was and is wrapped up in being this superhuman strong man. It is a full time job keeping up with the eating and training – he needs 8-10,000 calories a day and spends hours in the gym. His dedication to being super strong almost cost him his life in a gym accident and although he has regular health checks, it is not going to be good for his long term health.
Food: A full English at first – four slices of bacon, four sausages, black pudding, eggs, fried bread, beans, the works. Then a second breakfast of porridge and about five portions of fruit. Snack all day on cashew nuts and beef jerky and lunch will be steak or chicken with rice, pasta and veggies and half a family-sized cheesecake for pudding. Evenings: Spaghetti bolognese or a curry and the other half of the cheesecake. The food bill for him alone is £300 per week. He can only fit into a large Ford pick up, doesn’t fit into ordinary train seats or airline seat. If he plonks down on a sofa it splits. But he knows what his life’s purpose and goal is.
Contrast Sister Wendy Beckett (picture) I received her book ‘100 best loved paintings’ for Christmas and learned something about her life. She dedicated her life to the worship of God (whether or not you agree with the way she did it) and when she was ‘discovered’ she was living as a hermit in an old caravan on a completely vegetarian diet. She may have been thrown into the limelight because of her personal study of art through pictures, but the filming and travel had to be fitted around her routine of prayer and worship. She didn’t lose sight of her life’s purpose.
What is your life’s purpose? A good question to ask at the end of one year and the beginning of another. We could get morose and have regrets, but that isn’t helpful. As Christians, our life’s purpose is no different from Wendy Becketts, although we may express it differently. And as she knew, being dedicated to prayer and the worship of God through Jesus Christ didn’t mean you missed out on the beauty and creativity of being human – but the focus was in the right place.
Our reading this morning introduces us to two people who knew their life’s purpose and one at least who lived in the same way as Sister Wendy – in a place of constant worship. As good and devout Jewish parents, but not particularly wealthy, Mary and Joseph present Jesus at the temple and make the necessary offering. This is a purification act, a redemptive act and also recognition that the first born belong to God and links back to the Exodus. As they fulfil the requirements of the law they come to the attention of Simeon and look at how he is described: Luke 2:25
Here is someone who is focussed on the God he worships and is alert to what God is doing. He had been living for the day he would see the promised Messiah and could die in peace now that his life’s purpose was achieved. What a wonderful prayer he prayed over Jesus, holding him in his arms: read Lk 2: 29-32. Just stop and think about the faith expressed in that prayer
No fear of death
He is only holding a baby!
He sees the glory of the Messiah spoken about in the prophets.
Like Mary and Zechariah in their songs, he sees the fulfilment of God’s purposes in this child. But this is going to be a mixed blessing. The promises of Gabriel were amazing, but they were also a mixed blessing under the circumstances. The visit of the shepherds was surprising as they knelt before the baby in the manger. Simeon confirms the high calling of Jesus and again Mary and Joseph must have been surprised by the interest in their child and all begins well, but imagine me saying what Simeon said, at the dedication of a child; the parents would not be pleased. Read Lk2:34-35. Their marvelling would have turned to puzzlement or even indignation surely. What was this person saying about their son? Not the sort of prophecy you particularly want for your child. However when we reflect on the life and ministry of Jesus we realise how true his words were.
Some were literally raised from the dead. Others were raised from the gutter. Others were raised because they found love and acceptance. Some fell because they could not follow Jesus – other things were more important. Some fell because they could not accept his words. Some fell because they felt threatened or he wasn’t the Messiah they wanted or expected. As a result, when Jesus was lifted high upon the cross and the spear thrust into his side, so Mary felt the truth of Simeon’s words that a sword would pierce her soul too.
Anna perhaps changed the tone as she came along. Here was someone else who was focussed on God and knew her life’s purpose. In the baby Jesus she recognised the Messiah of God and saw in him the redemption that was promised. What did these two understand about the mission of Jesus and the redemption he would bring? Only the pictures painted by the prophets, but they trusted in their fulfilment, because they trusted in God. The carol tells the story of the hopes of these two in the temple, rooted in the history of Israel and focussed on the worship of God. It tells the story of exile and the journey of the people and the longing for redemption that these two see in the infant Jesus.
As Mary and Joseph settled down in Nazareth and life seemed to become normal, they must have been greatly relieved after all the strange events around the birth of Jesus. But life would again take a different turn to that expected, as Jesus fulfilled all that was said about him. Jesus knew his life’s purpose and he knew that it was centred around the serious business of deliverance. From the gospels we can he enjoyed the company of people – on many occasions people of whom others disapproved. He wasn’t shy of attending weddings or feasts or enjoying life, but he also knew that in all things he was to serve God his Father and fulfil his will and purpose in salvation.
Enjoying life is not incompatible with our focussing on serving God. God created the world and the good things in it, not to deny us those things but for our enjoyment of his creation. However, making enjoyment and pleasure our life’s purpose; focussing on our goals and ambitions over those of God our saviour causes a loss of purpose and direction, and leads us away from the one who came at Christmas. So many people can point to the fact that in Jesus Christ they have found their life’s purpose and fulfilment as they have put their trust in him and received forgiveness and assurance of acceptance and eternal life.
Jesus came to be a light to the gentiles, revealing the glory of God to them and bringing them into his kingdom. In order to do that; in order to break the tyranny of satan; in order to save his people from hell; in order to give victory over the grave and be the key that opened wide our heavenly home, Jesus had to walk the path of obedience to death and so the sword pierced his mother’s heart.
It is quite helpful having this Sunday after Christmas Day, because it gives us an opportunity to step back from all the celebrations, and the presents and the parties and get togethers, and general bon homie that can become very tiring. It gives us the chance to put Jesus back at the centre before we begin the New Year. It gives us the opportunity to reflect on the serious business for which Jesus was born and these two in the temple knew about: redemption and salvation through following the purposes of God.
The passage I shared on Christmas Day from Colossians sums up who Jesus was and his life’s purpose: Colossians 1:15-20.
Let’s make it our life’s purpose to follow him in 2020.