Archives For Israel

Avoiding Christmas letdown

Lisa Misner —  December 17, 2018

After the gifts are opened, what’s left to celebrate?

By Mike Keppler

Simeon

What comes after the waiting is over? Let’s ask Simeon.

Christmas gift-opening for our family is a seasonal experience of merry mayhem! The usual gathering of 16 adults and children is a large-sized event for our family room. We fill up the couches and chairs and use all the floor space as well, but still have to spill over into the dining area to accommodate everyone. I just have to keep remembering that it was my wife, Monique, who wanted this large family. But everyone knows that I, too, consider this one of our greatest blessings.

Monique has tried numerous approaches over the years for this time of giving and receiving. We started out opening only one gift at a time (and still prefer this!), but in these last years we have allowed the grandchildren to open their large Christmas bags of gifts at their own frenzied pace in order to deal with their exuberant impatience. It still seems that after the paper has found its way into the recycling bag, there are some eager ones waiting on the adults who are passing and sharing their gifts with each other. With a pile of unwrapped gifts strewn before them, our “near perfect” grandchildren can be heard pleading and even demanding, “Is that all there is?!”

There is a letdown after the last gifts are opened and all the boxes, wrappings, and bows have been processed. The tree looks lonely without packages teeming under its ornamented boughs. Adults feel relief that it is over but secretly long for the feelings of anticipation they had at the start of the season. The declaration that “Christmas is over” brings a certain disappointment with the acknowledgment.

Luke’s Gospel is rich with details surrounding the first Christmas: angelic announcements to Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds. It is the latter who are blessed to follow the angel’s directives to Bethlehem. After finding Mary and Joseph, these lowly shepherds are the first to see the baby lying in his manger bed. With great joy that night, they return to their fields and flocks glorifying and praising God on their way.

Most families conclude the reading of the Christmas story with the shepherds’ return, but Luke, the historian, is not ready to wrap up his thrilling account. He wants all his readers to wait because the story of Christmas is far from over. The scene shifts to the temple 41 days later and focuses on two saintly seniors who, with hope-filled lives, are waiting for the coming Christ.

One of these is Simeon, who, with prophetic insights that could have only be revealed to him by God himself, sings out this part of the Christmas story to all who are waiting for more. Within this prophecy, there is a musical message of singing praise, stumbling rejection, the all-important message of salvation for everyone, and even a surprising finale of sadness and sorrow.

The Singing: A sight to celebrate
“I have seen the One who was promised!” must have startled many who witnessed the crescendo of praise from the old prophet. How many who heard the old man sing this out could have thought he was a little tipsy in his prophetic merriment? How could anyone see in this vulnerable baby boy, the son of peasant parents, the Promised Deliverer? These young parents could only afford a humble and modest sacrifice at his dedication. Israel was expecting a prominent and proud warrior who would restore glory to the nation once again. Surely, many observers concluded this baby could not be the son of David, the hoped-for Messiah of God.

Simeon was so convinced by what he saw in the child that he was now ready for the next chapter of a peaceful end to his life. The promise of God was fulfilled. He had seen the Messiah.

What would Christmas be like without music? Musical programs abound during the holidays, rekindling Christmas memories. Luke’s Gospel account has even been put to poetic harmonies. Throughout church history, liturgies have been written and chancel choirs have been singing the canticles of Mary’s Magnificat, Zechariah’s Benedictus, the angels’ Gloria and Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis (Latin for “now let your servant depart”). Community and church choral performances at this season become excellent occasions for inviting seekers to experience these Scriptural songs. More importantly, they allow these friends to hear the good news of the Christmas story.

As the mood swings with this old man’s continued prophecy, Simeon now predicts there will be a stumbling resistance in this child’s future.

The Stumbling: Rise and fall
Jesus was a polarizing figure in his time. Some would gladly welcome the Son of Man, and others would vigorously oppose him. Those rejecting him would say he was not their kind of Messiah. He challenged the assumptions of his enemies. They wanted a revolution of power to overthrow their oppressors and establish an earthly kingdom of dominance and glory for Israel. Jesus would come to rule over human hearts, live his life in selfless service, and die on a cross as a sacrificial lamb for the sins of the world. The opposition would declare, “Not my kind of Messiah!”

We live in a culture that speaks about and even practices spiritual things. However, these beliefs are more aligned with eastern religions such as Buddhism that emphasize self-help. Engaging people readily talk about their own ideas of the spiritual realm, but it is increasingly clear that many of them do not really know what Christianity is all about. It seems that too many individuals today want to design a god in their own image. They vigorously defend the need to love, respect, and accept others, but they are repelled by the God who holds them accountable and confronts their sin. More and more will even dare to claim they do not sin and don’t need a savior! Their stumbling over Christ is our cultural challenge in witnessing.

For centuries, Israel hoped for a Messiah who would deliver them from Roman oppression and restore the glory of their nation. Even Jesus’s disciples zealously shared this idea of Messiah. Many who saw in him hope for the future, however, turned against him when he spoke of suffering and death on a cross. They stumbled over what he was accomplishing in their presence. They refused to believe in him.

Simeon’s prophetic song predicted this child would be a light and salvation to the nations. He would expose the darkness of man’s unbelief and futile attempts to live without God. He would challenge assumptions and there would be resistance. But like Simeon, there would be many in the world who would accept Jesus and follow him into eternal life.

On this occasion of happiness and joy at the prophet’s celebrative praising, there follows a surprising prediction of great grief and sorrow for this young mother.

The Sorrowing: A sword
It is almost ironic that a season like Christmas, so full of joy, could also have a mix of grief and sorrow; however, everyone who has lost a loved one to death can say this is true. There is a letdown and sadness for many at this season when loved ones are no longer with us at family gatherings.

Mary must have been taken aback by Simeon’s painful pronouncement. The coming opposition to Jesus would result in a stabbing grief like a sword piercing her own heart. Mary, who had treasured and pondered many things at Jesus’ birth, no doubt would leave the temple that day thinking deeply about the perplexing prophecy of this devoutly righteous man.

It is sad to think, and reflects a very shallow understanding of Christmas, that for many this season is only a time of gift-giving and receiving. The nation’s retailers project the average American will spend around $900 this Christmas on holiday presents and candies. The Christmas season alone has become a $500-billion-dollar juggernaut of sales for the economy. These businesses with accounts in the red count on Christmas profits to put them back into the black.

It is surely time for Christians to say, “Wait a minute! There is more to this season!” The truth must be told that if this season is only about sharing material gifts, we will feel a great letdown after the credit card bills start coming in January. But there’s good news! The baby Jesus came for a greater reason. He came to forgive our sins through his suffering death on the cross and provide salvation for everyone who will put their faith and trust in him. Unless we are convinced of this, we will miss the whole point of Christmas.

The Saving: A revelation
Many of the Jewish faithful saw in the Messiah a hope only for Israel. They had no problem receiving the blessing of God to make of them a great nation. But Simeon’s prophetic song of salvation was more inclusive and offered a broader invitation to all the nations. This salvation would start in Jerusalem, but that would only be the epicenter. From this locale, the gospel would spread to the ends of the earth. The baby whom Simeon held with humble gratitude this day in the temple would grow up to be the Savior of the whole world!

During this season of giving to international missions, those of us who have received Christ know that we have a global missions mandate to share the good news of Christ our Lord with everyone on earth. The annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is a partnership among Southern Baptists to give to make this mandate a reality around our world by funding church planting and the making of disciples. It is projected that there are 2.8 billion in our world who have little or no access to the gospel. For an individual, this task would be impossible, but working and giving together, we can make an everlasting difference in people’s lives.

Some may not see the point of sharing the Christmas story with unchurched family and friends. Yet it remains that when we do get the message and the “reason for the season” to the forefront of our witness sharing, we see that the gospel does impact the lives of those who hear it. Simeon understood what God was doing the moment he saw the infant Jesus. Let’s give the Holy Spirit something to work with in our witness by sharing the good news with someone this season.

Who knows how God will work through an intentional spiritual conversation that simply retells how Simeon had a surprising encounter one day at the temple with a baby boy who would change the world. Through those conversations, we just might convince some friends of the need to accept Christ as Savior. Imagine what they will discover as the Lord blesses and takes charge of their lives each day!

You might find yourself thinking, as you follow Luke’s telling of the Christmas narrative through the part about the shepherds, “It would be hard to top that story!” However, Luke interrupts that thought like a stage manager in a theatre drama and directs the next actor forward to stage right, “Simeon! Tell your story!” And Simeon joyfully sings out, “I can top that! I’ve seen the Sovereign Lord’s Salvation with my own eyes! I’ve experienced him face to face!”

There will not be a Christmas letdown if we who have accepted Christ and do see him at the center of this Christmas season, say to our world, “Wait a minute! There is more to this story! Come. Experience Christ! Worship him! Share him with everyone!”

Mike Keppler served as pastor of Springfield Southern Baptist Church for 26 years. Recently retired, he is enjoying writing and grandfathering.

The Briefing

Muslims on pace to outnumber Jews in US
Muslims will likely surpass Jews as the second largest religious group behind Christians in the U.S. by 2040, elevated by a high birth rate and immigration. The 3.45 million Muslims will more than double to 8.1 million by 2050, surpassing the number of Jews along the way. Still, Muslims will only account for 2.1% of the U.S. population by 2050. Christians comprise 70.8% of the nation’s population, including Protestants, Catholics,  and others.

Moody Bible president resigns
Moody Bible Institute announced that President J. Paul Nyquist and Chief Operating Officer Steve Mogck have resigned, while Provost Junias Venugopal has retired. Nyquist took the helm of Moody in 2009 and Mogck had served as COO and executive vice president since 2012. The board has appointed Greg Thornton, senior vice president of media, as interim president, and board member Mark Wagner as interim COO. John Jelinek, vice president and seminary dean, is now interim provost.

Bolivia law criminalizes evangelism
Evangelicals in Bolivia are “deeply worried” about the country’s new Penal Code, which could ban evangelism. Article 88.1 of the new legislation threatens anyone who “recruits, transports, deprives of freedom or hosts people with the aim of recruiting them to take part in armed conflicts or religious or worship organizations” with between five to 12 years in prison.

Palestinian leaders to withdraw Israel recognition
Palestinian leaders called on President Mahmoud Abbas to withdraw recognition of Israel and break off security cooperation, in a move following the Trump administration naming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council declared its leaders will restore their recognition of Israel when Israel accepts Palestine as a state. Abbas has cut off diplomatic contact with the U.S. since President Donald Trump said last month that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and intends to move the American embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Last Sutherland Springs victim returns home
Six-year-old Ryland Ward, the last victim hospitalized from the Sutherland Springs massacre, returned home Jan. 11. He rode in a fire truck driven by volunteer firefighter Rusty Duncan, who had rescued the boy from the Nov. 5 carnage. Ryland returns home to a world markedly different than the one he left — a new normal without his sisters and his stepmother, Joann Ward, who died shielding her children from the shooter.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, Time Magazine, Baptist Press

The Briefing

Christians divided on Jerusalem decision
President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was met with strong reactions from Christians on both sides of the issue. While some applauded the Dec. 6 announcement, others worried it could increase hostilities in the Middle East. Trump also announced the U.S. will being the process of moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Generation gap on support for Israel
While a majority of Americans with evangelical beliefs express at least some measure of positivity about Israel, many younger evangelicals are indifferent in their support for the country. According to a new survey by LifeWay Research, 77% of evangelicals 65 and older say they support the existence, security, and prosperity of Israel, but the number drops to 58% among those 18 to 34. And 41% have no strong views about Israel.

Baker gets High Court hearing
The Supreme Court will likely rule next year in the case of Jack Phillips, the Colorado cake artist who refused to design a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding celebration. During oral arguments Dec. 5, comments and questions from Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy were encouraging to lawyers supporting Phillips, Baptist Press reported.

Texas churches turned down for FEMA assistance
A judge ruled against three churches seeking federal aid after Hurricane Harvey, citing a policy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency that denies grants to facilities primarily used for religious activities. The Texas churches, who argue that FEMA’s policy is unconstitutional, have filed an appeal.

What we say vs. who we are
LifeWay Research found 24% of Americans self-identify as evangelicals, but only 15% are evangelical by belief. The survey also measured the percentage of people in each U.S. region who fall into the two categories.

The long road to peace

The docudrama, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem,” which follows Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade during the Six Day War, will be shown in theaters one night only, May 23.

Update: Due to a near record turnout in theaters May 23, Fathom Events will bring “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem” back to theaters on June 1. To learn more visit InOurHands1967.com.

Here’s something I never thought I would do—discuss Middle East policy with Gordon Robertson, son of “700 Club” and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson.

I met the younger Robertson, now the CEO of his father’s network, at the recent Evangelical Press Association Conference in Chicagoland. He was there to screen his docudrama, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem,” which follows Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade during the Six Day War as they battled their way into the old city, eventually unifying it under Israeli control.

The film, which is being released prior to the 50th anniversary of the war in June, includes interviews with the soldiers who fought and re-enactments showing how armies from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria joined together to attempt to banish the state of Israel. It highlights the determination of the Israeli people, the tension between them and Arab leaders, how God keeps his promises, and how some of those who fought felt they didn’t really win because they didn’t keep the Temple Mount for Israel.

Robertson was incredibly knowledgeable about the subject, having made several trips to the Middle East and met many of its leaders. My conversation with him, and my viewing of the documentary, felt especially timely in light of current global events—and throws into sharp relief the severe divisions still present in the region.

U.S. President Donald Trump met earlier this month Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, and is likely to visit Israel at the end of May, according to media outlets. The president hopes to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, but many who are knowledgeable about the long-standing conflict between the two have noted the leaders of both appear much less willing to meet in the middle.

In a column for Denver Post, writer Greg Dobbs pointed out that the eight U.S. presidents preceding Trump have all worked in some capacity toward peace between Israel and Palestine—ultimately to no avail. “Some expended more energy and intellect than others. Some came closer than others,” Dobbs wrote. “But ultimately, all failed.”

Taken in the current context, Gordon Robertson’s documentary is an important picture of the complicated struggle that embroils the Middle East, and of the often arduous journey toward any lasting peace. The film will be shown in theaters for one night on May 23; I highly recommend it.

-Lisa Misner Sergent