Friday, 19 December 2014

The Consolation of God: An Advent Meditation

At the beginning of the last chapter in the Old Testament, there is a curious little promise:
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. Malachi 3:1
If you were a devout Jew, like Simeon, living at the time of Jesus' birth, believing the prophecies that God gave to Daniel in Daniel 9 and half decent at doing your seven times tables, then you would be living state of great expectation, that at some point in your lifetime, Messiah, the one enigmatically referred to here as "the messenger of the covenant" could finally appear.

Of course, we modern, progressive "on the right side of history" types tend to write off that kind of apocalyptic number crunching as ridiculous, fictitious Dan Brown style speculation, but for Simeon and others like him, this was a time of taking God at his Word, fasting, praying, waiting, looking and hoping - and they were not disappointed.

So it's no surprise to him that the Holy Spirit - in accordance with what He had had written down hundreds of years ago by Daniel, tells Simeon in Luke 2 to hurry down to the Temple where he will finally see the Lord's Anointed One. Simeon's heart must have been on the verge of bursting open with joy!!  Exactly how the Holy Spirit pointed out which baby Jesus was the baby Jesus, we don't know, since, on any given day there would have been many (possibly hundreds of) babies being dedicated in the temple as it was the only place of dedication for newborns in the whole nation - and Jesus was a common name at that time as Oliver or Mohammed is in ours.

But there's a twist…

You see, every time The Lord Jesus had come to his temple before, it was in a manifestation of great power and glory.  When Moses and Aaron and all the Israelites finished the Tabernacle, (Exodus 40) the Glory of the Lord (an old testament pseudonym for Jesus) came and lived in it - it was his house and his house was in the midst of the camp.  The Son of God drew near and made his dwelling amongst them.

When Solomon finished building the great temple in 1 Kings 8, the same thing happened, the Glory of the Lord (yes, that's Jesus again) was so excited to be with his people, he barely waited for the priests to get out of the Holy Place before he moved in making his house in the midst of the City of God's people - Jerusalem.

But after years of personal and national apostasy and idolatry by the people, the Glory of the Lord, (Jesus again), left his home, the temple.  And like all empty houses, it soon got plundered, ransacked and eventually flattened by invading powers.

And even though God restored the people back to the land gave them great favour with the ruling empire of the day such that this empire bankrolled the reconstruction of the temple, the Glory of the Lord, (you know who by now) never returned to take up residence in it.

So whilst many in the restored kingdom didn't care, to those who were looking in faith to the coming of the Lord, the words of Malachi 3:1 brought great comfort to an otherwise desolate, and seemingly deserted people.

But now, 400 or so years later as Simeon walks into the temple, he doesn't see a glory cloud above the Holy of Holies, he doesn't hear a Voice booming before which he trembles (e.g. Deut. 18:16).  Jesus had finally turned up at the Temple in the way that he promised he would back in the Garden of Eden, as one born of a woman, born not of natural descent or of a husband's will, but born by the power of God (John 1:13)

Jesus is the Consolation of God - Luke 2:25. The word used in Greek that is rendered 'consolation' in our English Bibles describes the kind of thing a mother does when she finds her runaway child who has been set upon by bullies and left in a heap, as she holds the child in her arms she nurses and heals the wounds and strengthen's the child's spirit with her words. (For another example, see Matt 23:37)

The great hope of Christmas is that in all our misery brought on by our own mad and faithless wandering, the Lord has not just drawn near in a glory cloud as of old, but he has united himself eternally to our humanity by becoming one of us, that he might bear and destroy our curse (a bit like this) and with great compassion pardon, cleanse, heal, strengthen, renew, adopt and glorify so that we might become like him. Truly, Isaiah was right:
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder
Isaiah 9:2-3.

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