Third Sunday of Advent… one week closer to Christmas. This is the season we sing “Joy to the World,” but some people are already feeling some kind of sadness, holiday blues, or even depression. We are celebrating the birth of Christ who proclaims good news to the poor,1 yet the poor are experiencing financial stresses as Christmas is approaching. We know that “by his wounds we are healed,”2 yet many are especially reminded of their brokenness during Christmas season. We celebrate the birth of “God with us” (Immanuel),3 but many are experiencing loneliness around Christmas.
If we are truly celebrating God becoming man, there is no reason that sadness or stress should even cross people’s mind, but I believe part of the causes for sadness during Christmas season is that so many human traditions which are not related to the birth of Christ have been added into Christmas celebration.
I will not mention any detail as I do not want to sound like I am against tradition or against celebration, and I am not. Still, I would like to say, as a gentle reminder, that if we are serious about our faith and the aim of our lives is to glorify God and to benefit others, then we ought to continually evaluate things in our lives including our traditions and celebrations.
Just imagine the following scenarios: if a poor and lowly person happened to go through Christmas preparation and celebration with us, would he or she4 feel that although he might be poor in the world, Christmas reminded him that he was rich in Christ, or would he feel that although he might be rich in Christ, Christmas reminded him that he was poor in the world? If a lonely old man spent Christmas with us, would he feel that although he was alone, Christmas reminded him that God was with him, or would he feel that although he knew God was with him, Christmas reminded him that he was alone and made him feel sad? If a person who was single, a widower or a widow, or someone from a broken family thought about Christmas, would he be reminded that he was made whole in Christ, or would he somehow feel uncomfortable with her singleness or brokenness?
The Bible recorded some people like these celebrating the birth of Christ.5 One of them was a righteous old man named Simeon. Another one was an old prophetess called Anna. According to worldly standard and today’s celebration mode, these people would have experienced pity, loneliness, and sadness when they celebrate the birth of Christ, but they did not. These were people who celebrated the first Christmas on earth, and they were filled with pure joy!
Celebrate Wholeness of Life in Meeting Christ!
Simeon was a righteous, devout and spirit-filled old man.6 By the revelation of the Holy Spirit, he knew that he would see the Messiah (Christ)7 before his death and was eagerly anticipating it. When he finally met Jesus, he burst in joy and praised God. He was so filled with joy that he felt that his life on earth could end anytime now.
In his praise he mentioned that he had seen the salvation for all nations and that God may now dismiss him in peace. This indicates that his was old as he did not seem to have the duty to support a family, but we certainly do not detect a sense of old age and loneliness in him. Instead, he was full of strength and praises and seemed to be overwhelmed by the exceeding joy of meeting Christ.
And that is really the true Christmas spirit, isn’t it?
Celebrate Wholeness in Life in Serving Him!
And then there was prophetess Anna. She was really old. She was married to her husband for only seven years and then became a widow for 84 years.8 Day and night she worshiped God, fasting and praying. Being known as a prophetess, she must have been using her gift of prophecy in serving in the temple as well.
When she met baby Jesus, she didn’t burst into tears crying, “oh Lord, your birth shall be celebrated with friends and families. Here I am, lonely and without a husband. Pitiful is my life!” No, she did not. She just gave thanks to God, and using her gift, she prophesized about the child. “To all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem,”9 her prophecy must have brought comfort.
So even at her old age and being a widow, she continued to serve God and had a special encounter with our Lord.
I don’t know what your idea about “Christmas spirit” is like, but if you belong to those who are feeling lonely, weak, poor, or old, remember Christmas is the season to be reminded that you have been made whole in Christ! It is a time to remember that we are never alone, we have been made strong, our lives can be rich in Christ, and everyone is valuable in Christ.
If you belong to those who are surrounded by people, are strong, rich or young, thank God for what God has given you, but try not to overemphasize human tradition over true Christmas spirit that is from the Bible so that we may not create stresses and pressures to others, lest we become this group that Mary sang in The Maginificat:10 “He has sent the rich away empty.” (Luk 1:53 TNIV)
May you have a joyful Christmas celebration remembering God’s faithfulness, His salvation, and our wholeness in Christ because of His immeasurable love and wonderful grace!
For other articles in the Christmas series, please click this link: Christmas Series.
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”),
24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.
26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,
28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.
34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,
37 and then had been a widow for eighty-four years. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.
38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.
(Luke 2:21-39 TNIV)
- Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61:1-2. ↩
- Isaiah 53:5 ↩
- Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14 ↩
- Henceforth I will use masculine pronoun to refer to any general, unspecified person. Repeatedly saying he or she, him or her, his or her every time a pronoun is needed is tedious and does not help anything. I assume my readers know I am not sexist. ↩
- This event happened eight days after the birth of Jesus, so technically it was not Jesus’ birthday, but the event was closely related to his birth. ↩
- The Bible does not say specifically that he was old, but the description that “he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah” (2:26 ) and his own saying that he could be dismissed now with the seeing of Messiah suggests that he was of old age. ↩
- “Messiah” is Hebrew and means “annointed one”; in Greek it is “Christos” which is translated “Christ” in English. ↩
- Or she was 84 years old. Either translation is possible grammatically. If taking the first translation that she had been a widow for 84, she would have been over 100 years old. ↩
- v. 38 ↩
- Luke 1:46-66 ↩
I could not help but LOL when I read “oh Lord…….Here I am, lonely and without a husband, Pitiful is my life!” What an imagination! David, you are right – this kind of whine and complaint and self-pity did not happen and never happened to the prophetess Anna when she met baby Jesus! Interestingly Luke gave quite an amazing and detailed description about her: her age, what an unusual widow she was, and what she had been doing in the temple for her past 84 years.
One thing for sure is that she did not live her life entirely for herself but lived for God as she worshiped night and day, fasting and praying in the past 84 years, longing for the Savior for her people.
This brought my thought to a visit I did recently to an old couple. They are indeed old in age. They recalled their good old days – how busy they were in those years in serving others and church, such as often opening their home to host dinners or gatherings to provide a warm home to foreign students, in particular during Christmas season, Thanksgiving day, New Year day. Moreover they almost were the first ones to be church to prepare and set up things for Bible study meetings and Sunday services, and they were also the last ones to leave church after cleaning like vacuum floor…. After saying these, the wife, (who once was a mother figure to me and some foreign students), paused and said slowly “yes, we were very busy but we can say in those years we did not live for ourselves.”
The prophetess Anna and many other people who have not lived their lives for themselves but for the Lord have set great examples for us to learn from them. Indeed, Christmas is about wholeness in Christ!
Hi Anna, thanks for your positive note.
When I wrote about the crying part, I wasn’t thinking of whining though. I was thinking along the line that the way Christmas was celebrated today, a widow or anybody without his/her family around would indeed feel some sadness. It is an unnecessary but true sadness that the society (or the so called “Christmas spirit”) is causing. It is opposite from the first Christmas and from true Christmas message.
Christ came and made his followers whole, so that is the atmosphere that Christmas should bring.
Merry Christmas to you!