Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” Luke 2:28–32 (NLT)
Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Matthew 2:16 (NLT)
One event, and two extremely different reactions. Great rejoicing versus great fear and evil toward the innocent children. Do you ever wonder how and why this happens? What is there within people that causes them to turn from the light and hide in the darkness? I am reminded of the opening lines to Charles Dickens’ classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
For Simeon, the heavenly hosts as well as all the saints down throughout the ages, “it was the best of times.” The advent of the Messiah was the pivotal event in all of history. Simeon declared, “I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people.” As Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men celebrated the birth of Jesus, “Immanuel, God with us,” the forces of darkness were seething with rage and plotting against “God’s Anointed One.”
While many have an image of the Nativity as peaceful and serene as portrayed in carols like “Silent Night, Holy Night” or “Away in the Manger,” in the spiritual realm this was a declaration of war. Light was invading the darkness; hope was confronting fear and despair. Prisoners’ chains were about to be loosed; broken bodies were about to be healed and things would never be the same.
Sentimentality will obscure the true meaning and significance of what happened in the manger of Bethlehem. We may prefer “Peace on earth to men of goodwill,” but Jesus said: ““Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…” Matthew 10:34 (NIV). Ultimately, there will be peace because while the outcome is not in doubt, for us the battle is still raging.
Undoubtedly, there are some who would prefer not to contemplate the magnitude of the conflict at this time of year. They would prefer to exchange presents, visit with family and friends in the warm glow of candles and Christmas lights. We do not really have that option because the enemy is doing all within his power to remove the true meaning of Christmas from the public consciousness.
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. John 3:19 (NIV)
For those who have a pessimistic view of the future of this world, it might be quite natural to resign oneself to the inevitability of the encroaching darkness. If on the other hand, we believe that the greatest revival is still ahead of us, then it is incumbent upon us to continue to “let our light shine before others…” In the face of deeper darkness, the light will shine even brighter.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. John 1:5 (NLT)
Let us also draw encouragement from the words of Isaiah:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Isaiah 60:1–3 (NIV)
For those who love darkness, the Light coming into the world is perceived as “the worst of times,” yet for we who believe, “it is the best of times.” “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let Earth receive her King.”