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, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-35, NIV).
Joy takes work. It does not grow on trees. If you want to keep renewed as you put another Christmas behind you, you need to be learning the lesson that Simeon gave Mary and Joseph all those years ago, and that is this: The blessings of God are not meant to keep us on the mountaintop, they are meant to keep us going through the next valley.
This lesson is found all throughout the Bible, if you are looking for it. God called Abram out of his ancestral home and promised to make him Abraham, “the father of nations,” and that through him all people would be blessed. But it would be decades before even his first child was ever born to him. Joseph was told that he would be the leader of his family and they would all look to him for their lives and welfare, unheard of in that culture as the second youngest of twelve. But it was years from the time God told him what would happen until its reality when he became the right hand man to Pharaoh. Moses was told that God had heard Israel’s cry for deliverance and was going to take them out of Egypt and would bring them victoriously into the Promised Land. Moses did not just stride into Egypt and get the people out. It became a war. A war of gods against God. Then what should have taken months took forty years to enter the Promised Land. David was anointed with oil by the prophet Samuel as a boy that he would be king of Israel, even as Saul was already king and had sons to follow him. It was many years later that David actually became king.
The outcome of the Civil War was determined at Gettysburg, but Gettysburg was not the end of the war. The outcome of WWII was determined on D-Day, but there were still many battles to be fought before that war was over. Christmas set things in place for victory. The outcome of the battle of Satan verses God was determined at Christmas. That’s the joy of Christmas.
What I have been learning is that all the noise distraction and confusion that is caused by the nasty things, negative people, events, problems, messes, illnesses, hurts, jerks, scrooges, liars, cheats, gossips, ner-do-wells, complainers, killjoys, and thumb-suckers that seem to suck the joy right out of you does not change the fact that “Your Redeemer is coming, and His reward is with Him” (But they can make you forget it! They can cover it. They can cloud it over like a thick morning San Francisco smog.
You need to be aware of the following facts:
Fact: There are spiritual forces at work in this world who have made it their goal to keep you from holding on to that victory promise of God. Paul says in Ephesians 6:10-12 (NIV),
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Fact: The number one offensive scheme these powers employ, is to get you so distracted that you forget those promises. This is in fact played out plain as day for us in the book of Job. Do you remember?
Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face” (Job 1:8-11, NIV).
Remember: Job is not the exception; he’s the rule.
Fact: Our own distrust and doubt in God’s ability to carry out His promises often leads us to give up on Him. When Israel was about to enter the Promised Land, they became scared because of all the obstacles they saw ahead of them and would not go in, even after all the Lord had done for them. Moses recounts this in Deuteronomy 1:29-33 (NIV):
Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”
In spite of this, you did not trust in the LORD your God, who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.
Simeon knew all this. That is why he said what he said to Mary and Joseph. It was not to break their bubble. It was not because they were all puffed up and prideful. Simeon wanted them to understand that they were not at the end of the race, they were just completing their first lap. Far from discouraging, Simeon’s lesson gives them the following defenses against these inevitable attacks.
First, Mary and Joseph needed to be prepared. Accomplishing great things is never easy. Accomplishing things that run against popular opinion are never easy. Accomplishing God’s work that He has assigned you to do in this world is never easy. When you encounter all those nasty things, negative people, events, problems, messes, illnesses, hurts, jerks, scrooges, liars, cheats, gossips, ner-do-wells, complainers, killjoys, and thumb-suckers that seem to suck the joy right out of you, realize that you are not experiencing some unique cosmic curse. We all have to deal with that. That is life.
Second, they needed to understand where they were. They were not at the end of the race. They were at the end of the first lap of the race. There was still a long way to go.
It is easy to see why they wanted it to be over. They had already had to go through all the pain and humiliation of looking like some infidelity was going on. Can you imagine the abuse a 13-year-old girl would get if she said, “I know I’m pregnant but I haven’t slept with anybody. An angel told me this was going to happen and my child is going to save the world from their sins.” My friends, they had already been through a lot. They had done well so far, but now they had to raise Jesus up into the man who would do those things.
Third, Mary and Joseph needed to understand what these angelic visits, blessings, dreams, and prophecies were for. They were not given because their work was over. God gave them to them to give them the strength and trust to keep moving. God knows our weaknesses. He knows we often lose sight of the prize we are running for. So He gives us mountaintop experiences to give us that taste of victory, that belief in His power and ability and that strength of commitment to keep moving forward until we are called home or until He comes again.