December 26, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Luke 1:5-7; 2:26-32; 36-38 (NRSV)
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years (Luke 2:5-7).
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:26-32).
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38).
The Christmas story makes it clear that you matter to God and God’s work no matter how old you are. You aren’t too young for God to use you. Nor are you too old. Moreover, as God uses people of all ages in the divine plan, those people not only contribute individually but also interact intergenerationally. Christmas underscores the intergenerational work of God.
I love the intergenerational character of Christmas. For example, when my family gathered this year for the holiday, one of our celebrants was less than a year old, while several of us were well into the third third of life. When I was a parish pastor, we had two services on Christmas Eve for younger children and their families. Not only did we enjoy the cacophony associated with little people in worship, but also we had tons (literally) of grandparents and even a few great-grandparents. These services were the most intergenerational of anything we experienced through the year, and I dearly loved them.
The heart of Christmas is profoundly intergenerational. At the center of the biblical Christmas story, we find a newborn baby, the one who is God in human flesh. We marvel over the miracle of the Incarnation, by which God is made known to us and through which God saves not only humankind but all creation. (The Incarnation makes possible salvation through the cross.)
Those of us who have been Christians for a long time (I accepted Christ over 60 years ago!) can easily take for granted God’s coming among us as a baby. It’s such a familiar story, after all. But if you step back from the familiarity of this narrative and think about it, it’s incomprehensibly amazing. The all-powerful God who created all things, the all-wise God who knows all things, that God chose to become a powerless, vulnerable, dependent, and unlearned infant. What a wonder!
The fact that God came as a human baby dramatically underscores the utter value of human life, even that of the tiniest children. Human beings don’t matter just because of what we can contribute to the world. We matter because we bear God’s image and are beloved by God even when we are newly born.
But the Christmas story also emphasizes the value of human beings as we get older. In fact, the birth narrative in the Gospel of Luke is framed by folks who are well into the third third of life. The narrative begins in Luke 1 by introducing Zechariah and Elizabeth, both of whom “were getting on in years” (1:7). These two people will become the parents of John the Baptist, a crucial figure in the future messianic work of Jesus.
Then, in Luke 2, after the more familiar parts about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and the visits of the angels and the shepherds, we come upon the account of Jesus’s parents bringing him to the temple to offer the sacrifice required by the Jewish law. In the temple courts, they encounter two older people, Simeon and Anna. Anna, in particular, is notable for her “great age.” (The Greek of Luke 2:36-37 makes it possible that Anna lived as a widow for 84 years after her seven-year marriage, which would mean she was well over 100. But even living to 84 was an impressive accomplishment in Anna’s day.) God used both Simeon and Anna to encourage Jesus’s parents and to let bystanders know how special Jesus was.
So, at the center of the Christmas story, we have a newborn baby, while the whole story is framed by older people. But that’s not all. Other participants in this story are somewhere in between. It’s likely that the shepherds were mainly young adults, given the nature of their work. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was probably a teenager when she gave birth to Jesus, given the cultural norms of that time. It’s also likely that Joseph was relatively young, though a facet of Christian tradition holds that he was quite old. There is, however, no biblical evidence to support this tradition. But even if Joseph were old, this would only underscore the point I’m making in this devotion about intergenerationality. The Christmas narrative is chock full of people from all age groups and they all matter to the story.
This means that you matter to God and God’s work no matter how old you are. You aren’t too young for God to use you. Nor are you too old. Moreover, as God uses people of all ages in the divine plan, they not only contribute individually but also interact intergenerationally. For example, Luke tells us that Jesus’s father and mother were “amazed” by what Simeon said about their baby (2:33). Moreover, Simeon didn’t just praise God for Jesus. He also “blessed” Mary and Joseph directly and explicitly (2:34).
As I reflect on the Christmas story as a person in the third third of life, I ask myself several questions: Am I open to being used by God at my age? Or have I given in to the cultural narrative that dismisses the potential contributions of older people? Am I willing to be surprised by how God might use me in this season of my life? Or do I prefer that my life be predictable and safe? Am I in relationship with younger people so that we might share in life and ministry together? Do I use my words to bless and encourage younger folks? Do I value myself in the third of my life as much as God does?
Do you truly believe that God can work through people of all ages? Or do you tend to limit God’s work to people in a certain age bracket?
Have you ever experienced God’s grace given to you through a young person?
Have you ever experienced God’s grace given to you through an older person?
Are you open to God using you no matter how old you are?
As you probably know, one of the central works of the De Pree Center has to do with serving people in what we call the “third third” of life. In this work, we seek to help people reject cultural narratives that minimize their value and to adopt biblical narratives of flourishing in the third third of life. We also strive to help older adults discover the purpose God has for them in this season of life. That purpose is often intergenerational, as those of us who are older mentor, encourage, and support younger folk. If you’d like to learn more about the De Pree Center’s third third work, I’d urge you to check out what’s on our website. Be sure to sign up for our Third Third Newsletter, which will keep you up to date on all sorts of things related to third third flourishing.
Gracious God, thank you for creating human beings in your image. Thank you for the value this gives us no matter how old we are.
Thank you for affirming the worth of the youngest people by coming to earth as a baby. Thank you for reinforcing the value of older people through the events associated with the birth of Jesus. Indeed, the Christmas story gives us a glimpse of your intergenerational mission, one in which people of all ages matter.
No matter how old I am, Lord, may I know that you have a purpose for my life. Moreover, may I also affirm the worth of others, whether they are young, old, or in between.
I pray today for your church, Lord, that we will be a uniquely intergenerational community in our culture. May we know and love each other even if we are from different generations. And may we work together for your kingdom purposes.
To you be all the glory! Amen.
Banner image by Michael Payne on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Kingdom of God Shows Up at Work (Luke 1-5).
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.