Your Salvation Is Just a Baby!
The Christmas story we read in the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel is full of surprises—angels showing up out of the blue and startling people who we’re surprised are even in the story (like the ruffian shepherds and lowly Mary—and God himself as a baby in a manger!).
Surprising, the whole thing!
But halfway through chapter 2, suddenly we meet a man who doesn’t really seem surprised at all by the arrival of Jesus!
How to Celebrate Christmas
If all the surprises up to this point make us sit up and take notice of this savior, the story of Simeon comes in as a lesson on how we are to respond to this savior.
The story of Simeon is here to teach us something many of us still struggle with: how to celebrate the savior’s birth. Simeon is the first person we meet in Luke’s Gospel who knows how to celebrate Christmas because he had waited for it his whole life!
In a nutshell, here’s how he did it: he embraced Christ.
Take a look:
Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32 ESV)
Embrace Your Need…
Simeon was “a righteous and devout” man—but what we see about Simeon’s righteousness was that it came not from what he was doing for God but from the fact that he knew he needed God to do something for him.
The shepherds needed a savior and they didn’t know it. The difference with righteous Simeon isn’t that he didn’t need a savior—it’s that he already knew he needed one.
This is what prepared Simeon to embrace the birth of Christ—to literally hold on to Jesus—and it’s the only way we can rightly embrace the birth of Christ: if we are prepared to face our need for this savior. To see the savior, we need to look honestly at our sin.
Embrace Your Savior…
Ironically, it’s because Simeon knew “the bad news,” that he and all Israel needed God’s help, that he responds with wonder and joy to seeing a little baby carried into the temple! As it became clear to him who Jesus was, he realized that the one he desperately needed and the one he had trusted God to send—he was now holding in his arms. Embracing his need prepared him to celebrate his savior!
And what’s the result? This surprise: now he’s ready to die.
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (vv. 39–42)
In some ways, his response makes sense: God had promised that Simeon wouldn’t die before he saw Christ; now he sees Christ, and he’s ready to go.
But at the same time, it’s a little strange, isn’t it? Wasn’t there anything else on Simeon’s bucket list?
“Well, he’s an old man.” Hm. Maybe. He comes across as elderly, but actually we’re never told he’s old. What we are told is that Simeon gets just a glimpse of what God is doing through this baby—and he’s ready to die.
For Simeon, embracing the Christ who’d come to save him wasn’t a means of improving his circumstances. Salvation to Simeon was about having peace with God that enabled him to face death with joy. Christ was the peace-giving guarantee that death for Simeon would bring him face to face with a saving God.
In other words, through the incarnation God had set himself up to face death—and judgment—on behalf of Simeon and anyone else who’d trust in him. This is the Jesus who would one day say “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
Not Grown Up Yet!
Holding Jesus in his arms, Simeon saw a salvation that was as certain as it would ever be—but not nearly as good as it was going to get. This baby, this person who was salvation, had yet to accomplish that salvation.
Even though when we receive Christ we welcome him not as a baby but as the one who now has lived, died and risen again for our salvation—still, in a sense, God’s salvation comes to us even today “as a baby.” We are still supposed to long for our full-grown salvation. God has not yet accomplished in us everything he’s guaranteed for us through Christ.
We have, a “baby” salvation, so to speak. Your Christmas festivities this year and then the return to “regular” life—the highs and lows of following Christ—is not the be-all and end-all of Christianity.
Christianity is not cyclical—it has a direction. It’s about waiting for THAT day—not a day when we’ll embrace the newborn Christ, but a day when we will be welcomed and embraced by the risen lord of the universe, absolutely astounding, totally satisfying, awe-inspiring, setting every troubled mind right, freeing every burdened heart, ushering us into an eternity of wonder! Like an old hymn says:
“Oh resurrection body, young, radiant, vibrant, free; with powers un-thought, un-dreamed of, how rich your joys shall be. Through endless years to marvel, design, create, explore—in resurrection wonder to worship, serve, adore.”
Therefore We Do Not Lose Heart
So don’t be discouraged, those of you who feel like sometimes “salvation” seems sort of half-baked, like things are still not totally right, either in your own sinful heart or in the wicked, tragic world around you.
Let’s help each other remember, let’s be reminded by Simeon: our salvation is still in its infancy! This is just the beginning! This is just the newborn stage—the first faint indications of a strong, solid, joyful life on the other side of death or Christ’s return.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
So we can face death and all the deadly struggles of this world with joy, because the salvation that HAS come in Christ guarantees the salvation that WILL come when we get to be with Christ. Like Simeon, our bucket list should be weighted toward what lies beyond death, not before it. There is joy to be found in embracing Christ not just for what he does for us now but for what he holds in store for us: seeing him.
Christmas is just a reminder of the beginning, friends. Let’s not forget the end! Thank you for your friendship with us in Christ. Merry Christmas!
~Your brothers and sisters at BHOF
God Will Never Leave You or Forsake You
God pursues his people.
This is an incredibly comforting truth, because the more I get to know myself, the more I realize that the greatest threat to my walk with God…is me.
His Word makes this clear.
Satan is ferocious, and I must be watchful. But he can’t overpower me if I am relying on God: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
People can do me great harm. But compared to unrepentant sin and God’s judgment, they’re not worth worrying about: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
God sure isn’t an obstacle to my faithfulness: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
My sinful heart, on the other hand, left unchecked, is a public menace: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:13-15).
I am prone to wander: easily discouraged, quickly offended, repeatedly tempted. Sometimes, I’m not just prone to wander—I’m liable to run into spiritual trouble, into sinful territory.
You and I can be like toddlers. We hear the voice of our Father telling us to “stop, come back,” and we turn and take off in the opposite direction—toward the oncoming traffic of disobedience and its deadly consequences.
Which is why I am so grateful that God doesn’t just shrug and walk away. Like a good Father, he chases us down. Convicting. Restoring. Renewing.
He’s been doing this for his children since we started sinning.
He came looking for Adam and Eve hiding in the garden, and he clothed them.
He came to Jacob-on-the-run and started capturing his allegiance.
He threw a storm at Jonah and pulled him back to obedience through the belly of a fish.
He sent Nathan to David and moved him to repentance. He blinded Saul on the road to Damascus, allowing him to see Jesus as glorious and precious for the first time in his life.
God chases us down like a father, because he intends to make us like his Son.
He is not content just to “save” us. He plans to sanctify us—to “bring us up,” to mature us into children who are with him and like him.
And so when we run from him, he follows. Even when we trip and do irreparable damage, he is with us. Seeing everything. Ready and able to apply the power of his healing grace to the wounds of our rebellion. The injuries of our waywardness might sting. The healing process may take a lifetime. But it is God’s process—and nothing can separate us from his love.
This is the love that we continue to experience at the Bronx Household of Faith, and we in turn desire to be instruments of God’s pursuing love in the lives of others.
This is in fact one reason for God’s church—to manifest the reality that through his Son the Father is adopting wayward children and creating by His Spirit a family. We call others into that same family when we speak about the Son and when we love like him.
What a wonderful reality to share: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
If you love God and his people, it’s because he has loved you. Which means he loves you still. If you are walking with God, it’s because he has pursued you—and he will never stop.
Better Late Than Later
The time for the summer “City Lights” has come and gone. What in the world is going on over there in the Bronx? They’ve dropped the ball! Is anybody home? Did things just fall apart after Bob and Jeannie Hall left??
Well…no, things haven’t fallen apart. But Bob and Jeannie are sorely missed, as you’d imagine. And yes, the summer issue of “City Lights” fell through the cracks.
As Jack (my father) likes to say, “No one is indispensable…but everyone is irreplaceable.” We cannot replace Bob and Jeannie. We cannot duplicate the particular warmth, zeal, and steadiness with which they invested in their relationships and responsibilities here in our church.
For many years, Bob faithfully produced this humble newsletter. He has shared his wisdom, his struggles, his concerns—and his heart for the gospel and the impact it can make in this dark city.
While these two dear friends, Bob and Jeannie, have moved on to watch the gospel illuminate lives in a different context, we in the Bronx Household of Faith continue on here, convinced of this life-shaping truth:
The “light” we bring to the city is not an agenda; it is not a philosophy or a program; it is not a bare system of truths or even the love that flickers and falters within our own hearts. No, the light that dawns every single morning over the darkness of our city—over every place—is a person.
Until God extinguishes the sun, each day its quiet, powerful rays will speak of Jesus Christ and the power of his grace to overcome darkness.
No one (to my knowledge) has ever tried to keep the sun from rising. No one can prevent the day from dawning. And so life continues on the earth.
In the same way, we Christians here in our little sliver of the hemisphere wake up every day with reason to live in hope: we can navigate this city because the light of the world is shining today, once again.
Jesus himself promised to illuminate his people’s lives. “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12).
I’m sure there is a whole lot to this verse I haven’t seen or learned yet. I am quick to complicate and overthink, trying to come up with sophisticated interpretations of what “the light of life” might mean. At it’s most basic level, though, surely it means this: Jesus. The first line makes it clear: “I am the light.” Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me—has me.”
How can this truth brighten our lives? Several ways come to mind:
For one thing, Christians are given and taught freedom from shame. Shame feels like death. But Jesus gently reminds us: “I already died for those shameful deeds.” The light of the world shines into our darkness, exposes our most shameful deeds and attitudes and thoughts—as having already been dealt with justly. He was shamed in our place. He beckons us to approach his Father boldly, because the light is with us. The life-giving message of Jesus Christ is that he knows how bad we are and has loved us anyway. Loves us enough to welcome us and change us.
The light of life also gives us and teaches us freedom from listlessness. There really is purpose to life. There really is a reason to study the Bible, for example, because it is a way that Jesus actually deepens his relationship with us. It is a real way to get to know the God who is there—the God who is here—the God we will see one day, face to face. But the light is with us now. So there is also reason to engage in the nitty-gritty details of work, family, politics—“mundane” stuff. When we belong to God, everything we do is done for him and before him. It is meaningful because it is part of a relationship with the God who owns everything.
Finally, the light of life gives us and teaches us moral stability. It can be easy to take for granted the wisdom of God’s Word and God’s ways. But imagine your life with no boundaries. Imagine what we would be like if every sinful impulse of our hearts was given free rein to lead wherever it wanted to go. We’d probably be dead right now. But instead, because Jesus, the light, is with us, “we have fellowship with one another”—and God uses that to shape, refine, cleanse us. And “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” The light is with us. We walk in the light by learning to confess and confront our sin—and that actually does lead to healthier relationships with others and with God.
Another way to say all this is if God’s grace is ours, then Christ is with us wherever we go. So as recipients of that grace, we blink our way into each morning sustained by the life-giving light of Jesus Christ.
And by that Spirit who enables us to look to Christ and live for him, we look up each day and turn to each other—and for God’s glory, to those in darkness he’s put in our path—and we say, “Look!”
A few hundred miles north, in Massachusetts, Bob and Jeannie are looking up as well. How grateful we are to be partners with them, and with all of you, fellow partakers in the grace of God—fellow children of the light.
We are on the last leg of the building project! The “punch list”—the finishing touches which our contractor has committed to seeing through—we hope will be completed by the end of November. A few inspections remain in order to acquire our long-awaited Temporary Certificate of Occupancy, but the architect and contractor believe we are in good standing to meet NYC Building and Fire Dept. standards.
The most recent progress includes the leveling of the surrounding plot and a wall on the back of the property—both thanks to the generous and skillful labor of BHOF covenant member Wilbert Belezaire.