Where do you find your heart this Christmas? When Simeon encountered the eight-day-old Jesus in the temple, he prophesied that “the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). From the very beginning, the Christ child exposed a moral divide. Some believed right away, like Mary when Gabriel visited her. Others doubted, some felt threatened, some seemed to slip into indifference.
A DOUBTING BELIEVER’S HEART
Think about this. Even though Zechariah failed to believe Gabriel’s good news predicting the birth of John the Baptist, God did not yank the blessing. He gave the promised gift anyway. What an encouragement in our struggles with unbelief!
At his son’s birth, this doubting servant was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:76-79). Can’t you just hear Zechariah’s joy, his wonder at what God had done? Oh, how his faith had grown!
Take Away: When we stumble in unbelief, God corrects in grace, still keeps his promise, and still fulfills the purpose he has for us (Psalm 138:8). Hallelujah!
JOYFUL PRAISING HEARTS
When the angels proclaimed the good news to the shepherds, these humble men, as low in their society as janitors might be in ours, leaped into action. They couldn’t wait to “see this thing that has happened” (Luke 2:15). Then when they found that everything was just as they’d had been told, they couldn’t stop glorifying and praising God. Their story, conveyed with such joy and exuberance, amazed everyone.
Take Away: We have wonderful Good News to share! The more time we spend reveling in this joy, the more we can’t help but praise him to others.
THE FORGETFUL VERSUS THE PONDERING HEART
And how did the Bethlehem villagers react to the shepherds’ good news? Luke tells us that all who heard it were amazed. Surely people would have been curious and went to see the baby. Were some disappointed that he looked like any other ordinary child? But then after the excitement wore off, life would have gone on as usual—farming, raising children, weddings, funerals.
The Savior of the World remained “hidden in plain sight” in their town for about two years until his parents fled with him to Egypt. Did anyone else in Bethlehem, besides Mary, treasure and “ponder all these things” in their heart? (Luke 2:19) Did any, perhaps some of the children at the time, recall the events of this baby’s birth when thirty-three years later they heard about the famous Rabbi who performed miracles?
Take Away: As years fly by without the Lord’s return, worldly cares can cause us to forget him or to become indifferent. However, when we, like Mary, continually reflect on Jesus, he remains the treasure of our heart.
Both Simeon and Anna had been fervently looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, and they immediately recognized him when the newborn arrived at the temple. Moved by the Spirit to go into the temple courts, I can just picture Simeon as he made a beeline for Mary and Joseph, took the child in his arms and said, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation . . . ” (Luke 2:29-30).
In that same moment, Anna joined them. Imagine the joy on this old woman’s face as she raised her arms heavenward to give thanks. Can you picture her hurrying to tell all her friends, everyone who was “looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38)? They were the community of believers who actively and eagerly awaited the Messiah.
Take Away: Am I so in tune with the Holy Spirit that when Jesus shows up in a situation, I recognize him? Am I, like this watchful community at Jesus’ birth, also staying vigilant, longing for the return of the Prince of Peace?
THREATENED VERSUS SEEKING HEARTS
Have you ever wondered about the reaction in Jerusalem when the wise men arrived and asked to see the king of the Jews? Matthew tells us that “when King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” Though the chief priests and teachers of the law told Herod that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem, it’s doubtful any of them traveled there to see if they could find him.
Would they have recognized him anyway? Were their hearts already too hard, too blind to see? Perhaps they were so caught up in their self importance and preconceived ideas about prophecy, that they presumed the wise men were misguided. Besides, why would foreigners know something they didn’t? They, as teachers of the law, would most certainly not miss the greatest event of all. So it’s telling, that while the star shone for all to see, only the wise men knew what it meant and acted accordingly.
Take Away: The wise stay in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25) as they seek to understand the signs of the times.
The people in the Christmas story illustrate that the condition of the heart determines whether or not someone sees spiritually. It is not based on our education, our intellectual abilities, or even our biblical knowledge. Nor does it have anything to do with our place in society. And proximity to a miracle happening in our backyard also does not factor into whether or not we see. The question is whether we are pure in heart.
AVOIDING TWO EXTREMES
Just like the saints of the Old Testament, believers today also long for Messiah’s coming. As we wonder whether the return of Jesus is near, we must avoid two extremes. First, we must avoid arrogance in regards to prophesy and be cautious about the meaning of current events. It takes humility to recognize that even though our particular “religious camp” may have some things right, it most certainly has some things wrong. The first century Jewish leaders were convinced that they would recognize the Messiah when he came, but their pride in their “infallible” scriptural interpretations blinded them to the actual event. The problem did not lie in the scriptures. They could not discern because their hearts were not in the right place. Therefore, wholehearted love for the Lord is more important than trying to figure out everything about how prophecy fits with current events, tempting as that may be.
Secondly, we must avoid the other extreme in the Christian community that says we just can’t know whether or not we’re nearing end times. After all, Jesus said that only the Father knows the exact day and hour. However, Jesus made this statement while telling his disciples explicitly about signs to look for and warned to “always be on the watch” (Matthew 24; Luke 21). Why would he preach end times prophecy if he didn’t expect that the Spirit would give us some level of understanding as events unfold? For example, the birth of Israel in 1948 was a sign fulfilling Old Testament prophecies that many Christians would agree on. So the head-in-the-sand approach to end times is simply not biblical.
HOPE FOR END TIMES
In Daniel’s prophetic vision he was told, “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand” (Daniel 12:10). Isn’t this encouraging? When nearing apocalyptic times, believers will be able to see certain things and understand, much like Anna and Simeon and the wise men. That doesn’t mean we’ll understand everything. They didn’t either. However, fulfillment of prophetic signs encourage and inspire us to persevere.
So the answer to both extremes, overinvestment in our interpretations of prophesy or denial that we can know anything at all, lies in having a heart right with the Lord. So like in the parable of the ten virgins waiting for the bridegroom, we need to tend our hearts to stay spiritually awake.
Because surely, as believers endure the birth pangs of the new world to come, the Holy Spirit will be like the star of Bethlehem, a light that always points to the Prince of Peace and the hope he brings.