Christianity 201

January 9, 2020

Do You Belong in Church on a Sunday Morning?

by Clarke Dixon

Listen to the original sermon on which today’s article is based at this link.

Do you belong in church on a Sunday morning? There are those who have no desire to go. I get that. However, there are those who who would like to, but don’t feel they belong. They feel they will be judged, by the regulars, or worse, by God. There are those who feel that they are not good enough to be found in church, their attendance would be hypocritical in some way. At the tail end of the Christmas story, there is an event which will help us reflect on where we belong.

Let us first consider Mary and Joseph:

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord  (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Luke 2:22-24 (NRSV)

Often missed in the Christmas celebrations, and often neglected in our rush to get beyond Christmas, is this story about Mary and Joseph taking the infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was known to be the place where God took up residence among His people. Of course everyone would have known that God, Who created the cosmos, could not be contained in any single building. But there was a sense in which God had chosen to dwell among a certain people and therefore dwelt at a certain place. The temple, therefore was a sign of intimacy.

Do we think of Joseph and Mary as just going through the motions, doing a religious duty and nothing more? Or was there a sense of wonder, expectation, gratitude, and recognition of the intimacy between God and his people? Indeed this intimacy with God would be worked out in a special way through this child Mary and Joseph carry. Would they really have known what a privilege they had? If they did, being regular people, would they have felt they deserved that privilege? I doubt it! Do we really get what a privilege it is to be in the presence of God together with God’s people? Do we think of going to church as merely ‘doing a religious thing,’ or are we aware of our participation in something quite incredible?

Let us also consider Simeon. While Joseph and Mary are at the temple, Simeon took Jesus in his arms and said:

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32 (NRSV)

These are surprising words. We may have expected ‘for my eyes have seen your salvation, for this child will deliver us from all peoples, and kick these pesky Romans out.’ Instead, salvation is “prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” The temple was a place of nationalistic pride. Many held the attitude that “Romans don’t belong here,” not in Israel, certainly not in the temple. Many feared the Romans would destroy the temple, just as the Babylonians had done hundreds of years before. Many were hoping the coming Messiah would protect the temple by destroying the Romans. However, this infant called Jesus was not destined to protect the temple and destroy the Romans, but rather to include the Romans in God’s loving embrace!

Next, let us consider Anna:

 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:36-38 (NRSV)

As God used Simeon to drop big hints about what was to come through this infant Jesus, so He used Anna also. Anna spent most of her time for most of her long life at the temple. However, if the temple stood as a symbol of intimacy with God, it also stood as a symbol of distance from God. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy place in the temple, only once a year, and only after much rigmarole to ensure ritual purity. Such is the holiness of God. Your regular priest could not go as far into God’s presence. Non-priests were kept further away. Women were kept further away still. Anna spent her life in devotion to a God she could not properly approach. God would change all that through this infant Jesus. Following his life, death, and resurrection, people like Anna could “come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Hebrews 6:16 KJV).

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. Ephesians 3:12 (NLT)

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28 (NLT)

In fact, people like Anna, once kept at a distance without Christ, together are the temple, the place where God takes up residence:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16 (NRSV)

With Simeon and Anna we discover that God can surprise us with his inclusive love. Are you surprised by the fact you can be included in God’s love? One of the things I am fond of saying at the Lord’s Supper is “it is not necessary for you to be a formal member of our church, or indeed any other church to participate with us in the Lord’s Table.” People are often not “good enough” to be included in church membership rolls. God is good enough to include them in His love, in His mercy and forgiveness at the cross. Perhaps that describes you? You may think you should stay away from church for you are not good enough to enter. You are welcome to come. You would be in the right place.

December 27, 2017

Did Simeon’s Blessing Leave Mary Feeling Blessed?

As I’ve mentioned before, I had the privilege of sitting under Gordon Rumford‘s teaching during the many visits he paid to a church I attended in Toronto. Click the title to read this at source, and then check out the other fine articles at his site.

Good News And Bad News

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon,
who was righteous and devout.
He was waiting for the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was on him.
Luke 2:25 (NIV)

It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 

Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”  Luke 2:26-32 (NIV)

In the time of Jesus the law of Moses required that the first child be dedicated as holy to the Lord (Exodus 13:2, 12, 15; Numbers 18:15). As they went about their business in the temple, a man named Simeon came up to the couple and asked to hold the baby.

Simeon was described as “righteous”—meaning he behaved himself well in respect to others—and “devout” in respect to the laws of Moses. God had revealed to him that he would live to see “the consolation of Israel”—meaning he would see the Messiah.

Perhaps Mary was a little anxious handing her precious baby into the arms of a perfect stranger. But she did, and when she did she heard wonderful prophetic words from the man. The man prayed to the Lord and rejoiced that he was holding the Saviour of God’s people Israel—also the Gentiles “light”—in his arms. Because the man told the Lord he was now ready to die, having seen the Messiah, some people conjecture that he was old. Scripture does not tell his age and so we must leave that notion to the area of speculation.

What a Christmas it was for Simeon! God had promised he would be alive when the Messiah appeared and God’s word was fulfilled. Simeon knew in his mind that God’s word was always fulfilled but to experience the fulfillment in real life was very wonderful for him.

The joyful parents of Jesus must have been very encouraged to hear the man’s words as it once again confirmed to them that Jesus was extraordinary. That was the good news.

But then Simeon went on to say some bad news that upset the young couple greatly. Luke 2:34-35 (NIV)

“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.’”

Of course the man spoke of the suffering of Jesus through being rejected by His own people Israel, and by the Gentile world as well. Only when Mary stood at the foot of Jesus’ cross did these words come home to her heart. She was learning that there is no Christmas without the cross. So as we draw near to the day we mark Advent, let us remember the cross—while thinking of the manger. Only then shall we have the full celebration of Christmas in our hearts.

We’ve posted this before, but it’s one of my favorite songs.


November 23, 2014

Awaiting the Coming of Messiah

A little bit of explanation is necessary for today’s devotional. Today I rediscovered the blog Another Red Letter Day by Benjamin Nelson. Normally the connection I am looking for in seeking material here at C201 is a high value placed on scripture, and ARLD does that with each blog post. (And we might break our six month rule and revisit the website again very soon.) But I decided instead to go with one that actually contained no scripture at all but is based on the story of Simeon, the temple prophet who was awaiting the coming of the Messiah.

For those of you who want your daily scripture reading direct, click here to read the story at BibleGateway of Simeon (and Anna, who also awaited the coming of the Anointed One) from Luke 2: 25-38. This is a great preparation as we head into the season of Advent, to understand the expectancy of Christ’s coming.

To read this at source (with a beautiful graphic image) click the title below and then take a minute to look around the rest of the site.


My father always said I should have been born a Levite. Even as a young boy I loved the days we spent in the temple. I grew up just outside the holy city, and so on Sabbath we would all go to the temple to gather for prayers and the reading of the scrolls.

Though I am of the tribe of Judah, my name is Simeon. All my life my teachers and rabbis said I was well named. My name means ‘harkening.’ They would call me ‘the little listener.’ When I was a boy, every Sabbath day there was a Levite who would tell us, the children, stories of our history. Sometimes it seemed the scrolls were nothing but a roll book, name after name – he begat him begat her. But many days he read us stories of the great deliverers of Israel.

We learned that the Lord Almighty had chosen us, the Jews, above all nations, When we would cry out to Him, He would rescue us. He used men and women from all kinds of backgrounds to liberate us from our enemies. I loved those days, those stories, of faith filled heroes like Gideon and Samson, Deborah and Ester, Joshua and Elijah.

These stories would stir up a hope deep in my being to see the Lord’s hand of deliverance once again. In those days it was the Philistines, or the Babylonians, or the Assyrians. Today Rome occupies the holy city, and all of our lands.

Some say the Lord has abandon us, that we are a God forsaken nation because of our repeated rebellions. But they forget the promise God made to our people. He would send Messiah. The scrolls speak of One who would be born not far from here, in Bethlehem, born of the root of Jesse, the tribe of Judah, the son of David. He would be a deliverer. He would set us free once and for all from the hand of our oppressors. He would reign on the throne of David. The kingdom He would  established in Israel would have no end.

O how I longed to see this Messiah.

When I was a boy I didn’t understand the need. My parents protected us from indignities and persecutions we suffered as an occupied people. As I became a man, and began to raise my own family, I felt the oppression first hand. They let us worship after a fashion, but they demanded our money, tribute to their Caesers. They required us to give our children into their service, to do their menial tasks, all the heavy lifting. It’s hardly any different than what our forefathers suffered in Egypt.

I said I was a good listener. Sometimes I would hear things – hear things in my spirit. It’s hard to explain what I mean. In the scrolls we read of seers, those who had visions, even those who encountered angels. But I hear the voice of the Lord. At first I would tell everyone what I had heard, but they started looking at me like I needed special help. So I stopped sharing what I was hearing.

Early on I wasn’t sure if it was the voice of the Lord, but the things I heard always could be found in the scrolls. I would write out what I had heard and read it to the rabbi.  He would go and open the scrolls and show me a prophecy that said the same thing – that confirmed what I had heard.

About twenty years ago now, I think I was in my sixtieth year, I heard something that has thrilled my soul for these two decades. The Holy Spirit of the Almighty told me I would see this Messiah with my own eyes before I tasted death.

This I never shared with anyone. It’s one thing to compare what you hear in your meditations to the scrolls, but this was so personal. But I knew what I had heard. There was no question in my mind. Because I had tested this voice so many times, I knew the voice of my Lord.

It has been twenty years, and there have been days when I thought I missed it, and days when I thought I was crazy. But somewhere inside, I knew that I knew I would see this Long Expected One, the Lord’s Anointed.

It was eight days ago that I heard once again.

“The time is near.”

I began to fast and pray. I would head to the temple every day and worship before the Lord.

Today when I awoke, the Spirit of the Lord came upon me, that’s the only way I can describe it. It was not like in the past when I ‘heard’ things. This was the presence of Holiness. I knew this must be the day, so I dressed and headed to the temple. I didn’t break my fast.

As I stood in the temple and ministered to the Lord, a couple came in with an infant. I could see they were here to dedicate Him to the Lord. As they stepped into the court where I was worshiping, my spirit leapt for joy. This child, this infant was the One, the Promised Messiah.

As they approached, I went to them and fell to my knees before this One born King of the Jews. The young mother handed the child to me, and I wept for joy.

I cried out:

God, you can now release your servant;
release me in peace as you promised.

With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation;
it’s now out in the open for everyone to see:

A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,
and of glory for your people Israel.

As I looked into the eyes of my Lord the Spirit of the Lord rose up in me and I began to speak what I was hearing.

This child marks both the failure and
the recovery of many in Israel,

A figure misunderstood and contradicted—
the pain of a sword-thrust through you—

But the rejection will force honesty,
as God reveals who they really are.

My heart can barely contain the joy and peace I feel. I have been old but today all things are new. Though our oppression has not changed, today I am free. Though my joints ache and my eyes aren’t what they used to be, I am leaping for joy and I have seen the Lord’s Salvation.

I am ready to go to the bosom of Abraham today, where I can tell my story to those who have gone before.

The day of deliverance is here.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

For further reading, click to read the same treatment of the story of Anna.

I know we’ve posted this song before, but I wanted to share it again with you: