A little boy once wrote a little verse. It went:
A little mouse for want of stairs, ran up a rope to say its prayers.
The little boy was growing up in a deeply religious home, in the late 1600s, in South Hampton, England. The Christians there had divided themselves into two powerful and competing sects. Some belonged to the Church of England – the conformist and the Nonconformists. The non-conformists, like the little boy’s family – were typically Presbyterians or Baptists who wanted to worship in a government-free church. So serious was the family’s commitment that the father was jailed several times. So serious was the family that the father was not amused by the little boy’s verse about a praying mouse. He was opposed to such frivolous behavior, and he tried to drive it out of the child. The little boy received a thorough spanking. Through his tears, the little boy cried out:
O Father, Father, pity take, and I will no more verses make.
Time would prove that no amount of spankings, remonstrations, hardship, or years, could drive out of this child the joy of verse, rhyme, poetry, and music.
No passage of time could drive out the experience of joy from two old people – Simeon and Anna.
Luke tells us that Jesus’ parents brought him to Jerusalem, to present him in the Temple, as was the custom. In the Temple, there is Simeon, a faithful man, who has spent his years waiting for help to arrive for Israel from the Lord. He believed he would see the messiah – the Savior- before he died. Anna was a prophet, refined by loss, who had lived almost her entire adult life in the Temple, in worship fasting and prayer.
At first glance, Simeon and Anna might seem to have more in common with the little boy’s dour, non-conformist father. They are deeply religious people with staunch views and clear ethical convictions. They are willing to suffer for their beliefs.
But as soon as the infant Jesus is brought into their midst they are filled with life-giving joy. Simeon takes the child in his arms and praises God with his own poetry. He declares that he holding such joy right now, that he has seen salvation. He can die in peace.
Anna breaks into an anthem of joy when Jesus is near. She praises God for the gift of this new life. She tells anyone who will listen about the joyful saving child.
Outwardly they are bent by the years. Inwardly they live vibrant with hope. They are open, attuned to hear and see what God is doing in the world, and to receive it with joy.
Oh, they are not naïve. They know that life is hard – just ask about their aches and pains, the battles, and the bruising of their nation they have seen through the years. Simeon announces Jesus will not have a secure way. Simeon’s poetic ode cries that his mother will be wounded to the heart. He sings that it is this tension that will reveal the truth. Seeing this child, and receiving or rejecting his glory will reveal who people really are.
Simeon and Anna have seen, and they are joyful. Nothing has knocked the joy out of them. They offer this joy to the world. They want others to know who the child really is and to see who they really are.
The late Presbyterian pastor and poet David Steele wrote a poem about Simeon. It doesn’t rhyme as well as the little boy’s, but it too is filled with joy. It begins with reference to another preacher:
Claimed scholarly research had documented
Of Simeon and Anna,
Had pronounced the very same blessing
(The one in Luke 2:27-35)
Over all the babies presented to him in the Temple
Those final years of his life
It’s meant to be funny, this image of Simeon, blessing all the babies presented to him but Steele writes:
The preacher was pulling my leg, of course.
But when I read the blessing
And thought about it,
I began to wish he was right
About Simeon … and those babies.
And I began thinking about our babies.
And I wished someone,
Might hold my grandbabies high … and yours …
The born ones and the not yet …
Proclaiming to them with great conviction,
“You are the saviors of the world!”
Meaning it so absolutely
Those young ones would live it,
And love it,
And make it happen!
The Advent of Jesus is God’s way of interrupting tired, old, conformist routines of the world. The coming of Jesus is the way to transform us and change the world. Simeon and Anna weren’t confused about who the real Savior was. They knew that knowing him as Savior would change those who received him. Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and all who heard and are still hearing are now part of the saving story. It is being revealed who we really are.
That little boy whose love of verse could not be spanked out of him was Isaac Watts. Watts would go on to write poetry that was filled with clear theological convictions and deep emotions. He composed songs that put old faith into new language and melody. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed. I Sing the Mighty Power of God. O God, Our Help in Ages Past. Those are all his work.
And he wrote one of the most exuberantly joyful carols of Christmas – Joy To the World. Except Watts did not write it as a Christmas carol. He wrote a close retelling of Psalm 98 as an announcement of the Advent of Christ into the world. Joy to the world. The Lord is come it sings. Not has come. Watts has us singing of the time when the Savior reigns, and he rules the world with truth and grace.
Watts, like Simeon and Anna – and all the faithful before and after him – knows there is suffering in the Advent of salvation. Sins and sorrows grow. Thorns infest the ground. The curse of sin is wide, yes. Yet the Lord is come. Joy comes to the world through the wonder of this love.
Nothing could drive the joy out of Isaac Watts. No spanking. No rigid upbringing. No fear of imprisonment. Nothing could drive the joy out of Simeon and Anna. Not long years of waiting. Not the pain of loss. Not the weariness of age. They knew the Lord is come. Their eyes had seen salvation. They held him in their arms.
Don’t you wish that you wish some Simeon or Anna could hold up every child on earth, seeing God’s saving grace? Don’t you wish every one of us could recognize Christ in every child? Don’t you wish each of us could feel arms of love holding us, delighted at who we really are? Don’t you wish that all the years of your life, you could remember what it is to see salvation and know who you really are?
Don’t let anything drive out that joy. Don’t let any shame, pain, burden, sin, or worry drive out the joy of knowing you have seen salvation. Joy to the world. The Lord is come. Let him reveal who you really are.