The wonderful truth, the magnificent truth, the incredible truth of the Christmas story is that God came to this hopeless, blinded, wayward world dressed in robes of humanity to live with us and suffer for us and die in our place. God dwelt among us as a babe, as a toddler, as a child, as a teenager, as a working young adult. He identified with our suffering, divided, and uncaring world. He revealed himself to us so we could know him through his words and deeds. He came to make salvation and union with God possible. Without the incarnation there would be no salvation, as much as without the cross and empty tomb there would be no redemption.
There are many characters or “lampstands” in the Christmas story: Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, wise men, shepherds, Simeon, and Anna. However, when we preach about the characters in the Christmas story we need to hold before the congregation the main thing: Jesus was God incarnate who came to reconcile rebellious humankind to himself. The characters were like menorah lampstands shedding light together so that we can all see that God sent Jesus to save us from all our sins.
Without ignoring this contextual truth, we can look at some smaller picture highlights and use them as focused points of relevance. I am thinking of all the seniors. There are four of them and their journeys lend secondary insights that we could apply to lives of seniors today.
There are so many seniors in the churches in Singapore. During the heyday of the revival among evangelicals and the charismatics many youths came and followed Christ fervently. Most of these people are now gray-haired and white-haired and no-haired in our churches. If ladies stop dyeing their hair for a year we will indeed get a clearer impression of the ageing of our congregations. And there is a spirituality for seniors just as there is one for the kids in Sunday School. The seniors have to learn to navigate in a godly way some of the transitions and experiences they will encounter from 55 to 95. The four inspiring seniors in the Christmas story addresses some of them.
Seniors will face a faith challenge. As they near the end of their life, they will think more deeply about faith and life after death. They will think about God, about religion, and about death and eternity. Zechariah’s story of a disappointed faith restored is a good story to inspire people to think about the quality of their own personal faith, and how God wants to assure them when they have doubts.
Elizabeth’s story is one of deep disappointment, shame, sadness and barrenness. She would have often recalled her past and felt she had failed to make a meaningful life. However, the angel came along and intercepted her pain and tears and delivered the impossible. In her senior years, her life took on purpose and meaning for she and her husband would have the privilege of rearing John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah. This inspiring senior prods us to realize that even in senior years and beyond retirement there can be a higher purpose and great weight attached to living out our faith till death or Jesus comes.
Simeon was another godly senior, a prophet without a card. A man ahead of his time. 400 years of silence – no prophetic word to Israel. Suddenly Simeon filled with the Spirit, guided by the Spirit declares by the Spirt the destiny of the child Jesus when the parents came to do Mary’s purification rites and the child’s dedication. Then he prays, Lord I am now ready to go home. I am ready to die. I have seen the Messiah and it is enough. Simeon was able to pray like that because he lived well –he walked in the Spirit and did not gratify the lusts of the flesh. Seniors in our churches need to learn to live well so that they can die well.
Finally, there was Anna. Great material for inspiring seniors. Seniors will need to learn to grieve well for they will lose loved ones, lose health, lose investments, lose their beauty and they would need to learn to grieve well. As well as Anna who lost her husband at the probable age of 21 after seven years of marriage. The text is silent after that but indications are that she grieved well and had no bitterness towards God or man for she spent her years in dedicated prayers and fasting, serving God and his people and the Temple. What an inspiring elder.
Advent has four Sundays leading up to Christmas day. Do consider preaching a series on inspiring seniors in the Christmas story. Singapore churches need to hear a relevant word for them. Let’s not always focus on the young; speak up to meet the needs of the elderly and inspire them to finish well.