“Now Lord, Thou doest let Thy bond-servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32 (NASB)
Have you ever been just gobsmacked by a moment? Something in a church service, a song, a movie, a play, TV show where tears immediately well up in your eyes and you are powerless to do anything but bow your head and cry? Sometimes I will hear a song on the car radio or in the playlist on my iphone and just have to pull over the emotion is so strong.
That is exactly what happened when our church decided to undertake a huge Christmas musical. We had never done anything like this before, or at least since I had been a member. The title was Fire of Hope and we were pumped! This wasn’t just going to be a choir presentation as always before. Our music director was casting people from the congregation to participate as well as kids from ages 18 to my newborn nephew in his debut as baby Jesus.
There were committees for production design, scenery, costuming, publicity, kid wranglers, baptist bites (our version of Kraft services), sound, lighting, choreography, just like the big time only on a much smaller budget. We borrowed costumes from a larger church, rented a camel outfit from a local theater group, upgraded our sound and lighting and turned our auditorium in to a little Israeli village circa “when Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:2). Bethlehem had come to Lemon Grove.
My niece was selected to play the part of Mary. This girl sings like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. She just has “that voice”. She was also about 15 years old which would have been the same age the original Mary was, give or take. At one point in the play when Herod’s soldiers were killing the babies we needed a screamer. That person would be standing off stage delivering a blood curdling “oh my baby is being killed before my eyes” kind of scream. My niece was recruited and she delivered! It scared us all. Through all of the performances, even though you knew it was coming, you were just never quite prepared for the severity. It always made me quiver.
Between all of the baptists learning a Jewish dance (2 left feet), missing cues, Herod’s beard slipping down his chin at a pivotal part of his solo (try to stay in character during that fiasco), seeing our beloved pastor dressed as a spitting camel schmoozing with the audience, my husband dressed as a sword wielding Roman baby killer and baby Jesus crying during the entire lullaby it went very well for our small town performance.
The first night we were all so nervous. We had rehearsed and rehearsed until we knew it in our sleep. It was a bonding time for so many of us. Dress rehearsal went as planned. Not a hitch or a dropped line. Then came opening night. My friend and I were cast as the town busy bodies wanting to know about all of the strange things going on in the area. I had to be very animated (honestly not a stretch for me). The song encompassed talk of a king being born, shepherds telling of angels announcing His birth, too many people crowded in to Bethlehem to be counted. It was a “show stopper” song. Right smack in the middle of the show right where it counted. Fortunately it came before my defining moment or no telling what would have happened, thank you merciful God!
Nerves, no sleep, little to eat because of neves I as spent! We had prayed over this offering; that it would be a light and a path to faith in Jesus for those who did not know Him. My mother and her husband Howard were sitting in the balcony that night. She NEVER came to anything in which I performed as we were still somewhat estranged. I was surprised to look up and see her there. More nerves.
My part came and went as seamless as it did in dress rehearsal. My friend and I were a little more “on” that night and really played it up. Then came the heart stopper for me. One of our young men who had never been in a play in his life was performing as Simeon the man the bible says was “righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel.” He took this part very seriously growing a beard and working to make his costume authentic. He was a pretty big guy, tall and filled out.
Since the play went beyond Jesus’ birth we got to the part in the show where Joseph and Mary took their infant son to be circumcised at the temple on the eighth day. As my niece approached holding my infant nephew, “Simeon” took baby Jesus in to his arms, loving looked at him and held him up kind of like Mufasa holding up Simba in the Lion King. Actually maybe not that dramatic but it was memorable. I was sitting right almost under his raised arms. The spotlight was on him. He began to recite Simeon’s prayer. That moment was all too much for me to take. I burst in to tears trying so hard not to go in to the ugly cry with all of the extra mascara and foundation on my face.
I have never to this day witnessed such a powerful performance. Our Simeon was spot on. He believed everything he was saying. That made me believe him too! I could just picture the real Simeon standing in the temple holding baby Jesus at that moment so many years ago. When he got to the part “a light of revelation to the Gentiles” I lost it. I wanted to run, I wanted to lay on the floor and sob, I wanted to grab that baby and say “thank you thank you”. Jesus came to earth for me. He came as the glory of His people Israel and as a light to the Gentiles to show the way of salvation. I was overwhelmed with joy, gratitude and an astounding awareness of what God had done for me. Something in me changed that instant. God came near. He used all of the events leading up to that moment to show me His love for me and His mercy for His people.
As this was happening one of our young ladies saw my despair and took my hand. The spotlight was not just on Simeon but I was caught in it’s glow as well. I guess a sobbing busy body was in order because after the play someone approached me and told me I was so believable during that scene. Thank you was my response because there was no way to explain what had just happened to me.
Still today when I read that portion in Luke or I hear it preached in a sermon my heart goes back those many years ago when God used a church production to further me in my walk with Him. Surely Simeon did see God’s salvation that day; the Salvation God prepared in the presence of all peoples. A light of revelation to the Gentiles, the glory of His people Israel. Jesus came for you and for me. “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light. The hope and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Joy to the world!️