Jesus' First 40 Days

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The number 40 holds special significance throughout the Bible. It rained 40 days and nights; Moses was on the mountain with God 40 days; the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness; Jesus fasted 40 days in the wilderness; Jesus was seen on earth 40 days after the crucifixion. These events always ended with renewed or extended rule. At Christmas time we talk a lot about the day of Jesus’ birth, but actually Luke 2: 1-38 tells of the first 40 days of Jesus’ life. We know well of the role Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds played, but we talk little of two other very significant, yet quiet, servants that God chose to be a part of the first 40 days of Christ’s life. It is awe inspiring to see how God chose ordinary people much like you and me to be a part of an event that would change the world. Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna were unlikely and little known participants in the greatest story ever told. They were all humble, obedient, and faithful to the call.

Joseph was an upright man but one of lowly means, a carpenter. When he learned that Mary was pregnant, maybe he thought of putting her away and avoiding public humiliation. Instead he listened to the angel, obeyed God, and took Mary as his wife.

Mary had a humble, quiet spirit. She must have felt frightened and alone when she learned that she would bear a son, the Savior of the world, yet Mary proclaimed that she was the Lord’s servant saying, “Whatever he says, I accept.” Mary and Joseph believed the angels that appeared to them, trusted God and were obedient to him. God chose this meek couple to be the parents of the King.

It’s remarkable that God chose shepherds to be the first to receive the announcement of Jesus’ birth. Shepherds were simple men of the field who could not even observe all the ceremonies of their religion because their time was spent tending the flock. Yet God invited them to visit the Christ child, and they were obedient and even hurried to see him. Isn’t it an awesome thought that God chose these unassuming shepherds who care for “sheep” to herald the coming of the “lamb” of God!

Many of our traditional readings of the Christmas story end at Luke 2:20 after the shepherds visit Jesus. However, there are two more witnesses that played significant roles in the birth story: Simeon and Anna. Simeon met Joseph and Mary at their temple presentation 40 days after Jesus’ birth. Known for his righteousness, Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before seeing the Christ. This devout Jew blessed the baby and then prophesied about his future.

Anna was another quiet witness in the early days of Jesus’ life. She was an elderly widow who spent her days and nights worshipping and praying in the temple. When she learned of Jesus’ presence in the temple, she began giving thanks and telling of the good news to all who were there. The first 40 days ended with Simeon’s blessing and Anna’s sharing. What an inspiration for us during this season! We too can share with others the blessing of the Christ child.

God chose to use humble, righteous, and devoted servants as the first witnesses to the birth of our Savior. They were unknown outside their own finite worlds. They were like many of the forgotten or invisible people in our own worlds. Yet Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna were all picked by God. They were faithful; they were obedient; and they were witnesses to the world. They accepted the call and each one chose Jesus.

God wants each of us to be witnesses to the world about the good news. All he asks is for us to be faithful and obedient servants. He leaves the choice to us. During this Christmas season, let’s choose to be like Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna. Let’s choose Jesus.


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