The mainstream Christmas story, told in most churches once a year, across America, follows a pretty standard script.
A virgin, a carpenter, a barn, manger, baby, cloths, shepherds, angels, bright star and wise men… That about sums it up right? Simple, to the point, easy.
Then there are a couple of outliers, or the go-to, “mix it up,” stories that pastors use every couple of years just to keep things fresh…
John the baptist, Elizabeth, Herod, Anna and Simeon… Haven’t heard of them? That’s ok, most people have never heard of them, or even if they have heard of them, there isn’t much clarity on the role the play in the Christmas story.
I was one of those a few years ago, when I first read the stories of Anna and Simeon. Yep, I was being that pastor, trying to mix it up and keep it fresh, and I discovered something really profound in the midst of it.
The stories of Anna and Simeon are much more than an after thought. These two characters were the first to find a sense of purpose in the story of Christmas. Which brings me to advent gift #14.
The gift of purpose.
Mary, Joseph, the inn keeper, all had something in common. The events of the first Christmas were all kind of happening to them. They didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. The result in the narrative is that we get raw, natural responses that invoke a ton of emotion and allow us to connect our hearts to the story.
But Anna and Simeon were different.
Both of these characters were aware of the events of the Christmas story before they happened and as a result were waiting expectantly for it’s arrival. Their life purpose had become wrapped up in this Advent miracle.
Simeon’s moment sounded like this…
“And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”
Pretty amazing purpose right?
Then there is Anna…She didn’t know in advance about the coming Messiah, like Simeon did, but she recognized Him when she saw him, and her response was perfect…
“And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
She found her purpose in the coming of Jesus…
So what right? What does this have to do with us?
This past week, as I was just minutes from going out on the stage to preach in our “Christmas Eve” gathering, I was struck by a simple, yet significant truth.
The Christmas story was not meant to be observed, it was meant to be experienced.
For 4 weeks in December every year, across America, people pile into rows and aisles of churches anticipating the opportunity to observe the Christmas story. Unfortunately, most of us pastors, tend to give people exactly what they are looking for. A few carols, the story as usual, and a nice feel good, observable, safe message, that will allow us to feel a measure of connection to the story, but also allow us to get right back to our egg nog, shopping, family agenda’s and holiday traditions.
This is not the reason God put on human flesh.
He came to give you purpose.
The Christmas story is meant to be, and can be, starting right now, catalytic in every aspect of your life. It is meant to give you purpose, to move you to action, to fill your heart with so much humility that you feel driven into a lifestyle that reflects the heart and values of the savior who was born that silent night.
Your purpose in the Christmas story is to become an agent of those values. A Life-giver.
Engaging with the Christmas story is not an option, it is the only way to experience it the way it was intended to be experienced. If you choose not to, you are simply acknowledging a folklore. You are embracing a tradition that is about as empty, and lifeless as the dying tree in your living room, or the socks hanging from your mantle.
The Christmas story is only as powerful as you choose to let it be. Not just in your life, but in the lives of all you come in contact with.
It was meant to set our hearts on fire, with a passion to go live the heart of Jesus, in every situation we find ourselves in… all year long.
So… what are you waiting for?!