The Song In Your Heart

Simeon’s Song

Luke 2:25-32



Before he made it big in the music industry, country music superstarstar Travis Tritt spent many years playing his music in small, out-of-the-way joints and bars. Many of those bars were dangerous places, with drunk fans starting fights over the smallest things. But he found kind of a unique way to keep the peace when fights started in these barns. He’d start playing “Silent Night.” He says: “Silent Night proved to be my all-time lifesaver. Just when bar fights started getting out of hand, when bikers were reaching for their pool cues and rednecks were heading for the gun rack, I’d start playing ‘Silent Night.’ It could be the middle of July, I didn’t care. Sometimes they’d even start crying, standing there watching me sweat and play Christmas carols.”[i]


What’s your favorite Christmas song? Christmas carol? One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season is the music. I love Christmas music. As soon as Thanksgiving was over I downloaded my Pentatonix and Trans-Siberian Orchestra playlists. Music reaches us in a way that even the most well-written words of prose can’t. It touches our minds. It touches our emotions. It touches our souls. The Star-Spangled Banner communicates our national identity and sense of pride at a depth no document can convey. A heartfelt love song puts words to those feelings for our beloved that we can’t quite get to come out right. And the great songs of the Christmas season, songs that touch on some aspect of Christ’s birth, put words and emotions to the wonder and mystery of Christ’s birth in a way no sermon, no matter how well-delivered, can communicate.


Truth be told, the music of Christmas goes much farther back even than the old carols of the 1800’s. Those who experienced first-hand the wonder of Christ’s birth often broke out in song, and the words of those songs are recorded in the pages of Scripture, especially Luke’s gospel. Which is kind of interesting. The days and weeks leading up to Christ’s birth weren’t the most peaceful for anyone. People from all over the region were traveling to their hometowns to register for the census. And Bethlehem was a small village no one important thought much about, full of nobodies no one cared much about. The tiny town would have been full well beyond her meager capacity. The village of 300-600 residents swelled as people came home to register. Locals running everywhere trying to make room so they could capitalize on the influx of travelers. And then, when one woman named Mary went into labor in the cave stable of a small guest house, angels appeared in the skies over the countryside declaring to a bunch of shepherds that the long anticipated arrival of God’s messiah had come.


And eight days after his birth, the baby was circumcised and given the name Jesus, which was a modern rendition of the ancient Hebrew name Joshua, which means Jehovah is salvation. Even his name spoke of the saving work of God, and Joshua was one of the two faithful spies who survived the wandering in the wilderness and got to see Israel come into the promised land. In fact, Joshua was Moses’ successor, the one who led them into their new home, the one who led them to victory at Jericho and at city after city after that. He was perhaps the greatest military leader they’d ever had. Jesus. Jehovah is Salvation. God is my deliverance. And then about a month later Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem for the rites of Mary’s purification after childbirth and to present their firstborn boy in the temple as the law required.


It is obvious that the family of Jesus was very poor, for the law required the presentation of a yearling lamb, unless the mother or her family could not afford even that, and then she was to bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons. The acceptable offering of the very poor. The practically destitute. And what did Mary and Joseph offer? Look at V. 24. “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” A lamb isn’t even mentioned. Luke wants us to know that Jesus wasn’t born into the palace home of the powerful or the ornate home of the wealthy. He was born into the poorest of families. That the angels appeared not to the religious and political powerbrokers in Jerusalem, but to a group of reviled shepherds on the outskirts of a forgotten village. God had come! God with us!


Faith in Christ begins with need. Mary, in her great song of praise to God, which we call the Magnificat, said “for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant” (Lk. 1:48). It’s the prayer of a grateful soul saying “I’m not the kind of person one would expect to be used by God, but he’s using me anyway. I don’t understand, but I’m so thankful God is using me!” Not only were they poor, they also had to live with a stigma. Mary was pregnant, and they weren’t completely married yet. In fact, when Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he decided to send Mary away because he thought she’d been unfaithful. That’s when Gabriel appeared to him in a dream and told him that God was behind the pregnancy. Now it’s pretty likely, given the customs of the time, that Mary was about the same age as Pasha. Maybe even a little younger. Think about that. I mean, if Pasha stood up here and said, “Hey everyone, I’m pregnant, but I’ve never been with a guy.” “Uh huh, yeah right Pash. You’re pregnant and drunk too. Yeah. Your baby is literally a miracle baby. Yeah right.” I wouldn’t believe her. Neither would you, would you?


Tiny Bethlehem. Destitute Mary and Joseph. A bunch of poor, rough shepherds. These are the ones to whom the birth of Christ was announced. Those who think they’re deserving will never seek Christ. Those who know they aren’t deserving will fall at his feet in wonder and worship.


Joseph and Mary did everything that the law required. The circumcision. The naming of the baby. The sacrificial offering for Mary’s cleansing. The presentation of the first-born boy at the temple to be set apart for the Lord. Jesus would later say, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). And fulfill them he did, for every Jew living under the law and failing miserably; for every non-Jew living apart from the law, Jesus lived flawlessly under the law, becoming the once-and-for-all unblemished Lamb of God who would die on the cross to take away the sins of all who place their faith in him.


Now, look at what happens next. Joseph and Mary were at the temple with Jesus and an old man approached them. Simeon was a righteous and devout man who had been anxiously awaiting God’s next move. God had for the most part been silent for 400 years. 400 years. Think about that. That’s longer than American has been a country. 400 years ago? That’s the 1600s. The EARLY 1600s. Shakespeare died 403 years ago. Kepler and Galileo were figuring out that the planets, including the earth, revolved around the sun, and not the other way around, about 410 years ago. Jamestown became the first permanent British colony in the Americas 413 years ago, and the Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower 399 years ago, and that’s is all figuring from 2019. That’s how long God had been silent.


Now God was certainly still acting on behalf of Israel, but for 400 years there was no prophet. There was no one to help the Jews understand what was happening in the world around them as they passed from the hands of Egypt, to Syria, to Greece, and ultimately to Rome. And while God was silent, for 400 years, the people of God were tossed around like a ping pong ball as superpowers rose, collided with one another, and fell. They were nothing more than pawns in the political games played by others. Most people did the best they could, going about their business, grumbling about the heavy burdens placed on them by their superpower overlords. And they sought answers in strict, legalistic obedience to the law. If they could just make themselves clean enough, God would claim them once again as his people. You see, in their minds, they had been abandoned by God. But while most grumbled, a few were waiting for God to act.


So while everyone else was anxiously looking for answers in all the wrong places, Simeon was waiting on God, listening carefully. And the Holy Spirit came upon him and began to speak to him. And because he was faithfully praying, listening for the voice of God, looking for the hand of God at work around them, this blessed saint, well advanced in years, got to see God’s salvation in the flesh before he died. And the spark of a song that had been born in his heart was fanned into flame as he recognized the Holy One in the arms of Mary, and that song overflowed as a song of praise to God. While others were looking for powerful military leaders like Joshua and the Maccabees, or perfection in worship and life through the magnificent temple in Jerusalem, Simeon recognized Emmanuel, God with us, in the baby from Nazareth, born in Bethlehem. Simeon recognized God not in the power and might of the ruling elite, not in the false, legalistic purity of those trying to live perfect lives so that they could please God and become good enough to be God’s people again. Simeon recognized God in the arms of the dirt poor, unmarried, dirty young mother who brought her son to the temple for dedication. Think about that for a minute. When God became man and lived among us, how did he choose to come? As a nobody. Where did he choose to come? To a tiny, insignificant village in a tiny, insignificant country. God is so often found in the places we would never even think of looking.


Now look at the words of Simeon’s song, because they carry within them not only a promise, but a warning. A warning for Mary, and for us. Look at V. 34. “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” The first thing to notice here is that the baby in Mary’s arms is referred to as one who will divide the nation of Israel. Because one has to truly come to the end of self to embrace Christ, there are those who cannot bring themselves to kneel in humility before the babe of Bethlehem. During his time of public ministry Jesus would later say, “I haven’t come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword.” No matter how you slice him, Jesus was, is, and will always be a stumbling block for some and the cornerstone of life for others. But given the testimony of the Christian scriptures, the claims made about him, and the claims he made about himself, either embrace him as Lord and fall before him in worship or hate him and reject him as a liar. With Jesus there is no middle ground.


Notice Simeon’s words directly to Mary. I can just picture him looking deeply into her eyes as he said “a sword will pierce your soul too,” for something in Simeon knew that down the road lay the tears and despair of a heartbroken mother. Golgotha’s cross has its roots in Bethlehem’s manger, for the one who is Emmanuel, God with us, would, having lived for us from the moment of his birth, the life that no human being could live, a life lived perfectly under the law, and offer himself as the lamb of God on the cross in your place and mine, offering us forgiveness before God and a place in the kingdom of God here on earth now.


The Christmas season is hard for many. Certainly for those who mourn lost loved ones. Others have become jaded by the commercialism and busyness of this time of the year. Many have lost the song of Christ in their hearts and abhor this time of the year. Over the past couple of years the holidays have become a season for me to survive as best I can. But this year, there’s been the faintest wisp of the song in my heart again. And for a few weeks I didn’t know why. And then, last week as the kids and I set up the nativity at home, I realized … he is MY Emmanuel … God with ME. Not just with us, with you all, but with ME. He hasn’t given me the answers I’ve sought. He hasn’t yet wiped every tear from my eye. He hasn’t taken away the heartache. But he’s given me himself and he’s walked every step WITH me. Many of his steps hurt too, and in those steps he felt my pain, in fact he felt more than the pain I feel now because he felt the ultimate, eternal pain of my sin for me, and for that I am grateful.


I’m reminded of the scene at the end of the movie the Polar Express, in which the boy, now a grown man, says “At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell. But as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found, one Christmas, that she could no longer hear it’s sweet sound. Though I have grown old, the bell still rings for me. As it does for all who truly believe.” And so I ask you, is the song of Christ still in your heart this Christmas season, or has the song, because of life, because of cynicism, because of pain and tragedy, stopped playing in your heart? Does the song still play for you? Come to the end of yourself and in humility embrace him, the babe of Bethlehem, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, watch with anticipation for God at work around you in unexpected ways, and allow him to be Emmanuel … YOUR Emmanuel.



[i] Twang! The Ultimate Book of Country Music Quotations, compiled by Raymond Obstfeld and Sheila Burgener (Henry Holt and Company