This is a gift from beneath my Christmas tree at home. (hold up for people to see.) It is one Beth is giving me. Thank you, Beth! But I have a problem. It is not Christmas yet. I have never been very good at this waiting game. Even as a kid I would look for presents beneath the tree with my name on it and when I thought no one else was looking, I would pick it up to see how heavy it was. I would rattle it to see it if made any noise. I would feel around it to see if get some sense of its shape or size. (Act out each of the actions mentioned with package in hand.) I would try my best to try to figure out what was on the other side of the wrapping paper. Don’t laugh; I know a lot of you out there did exactly the same thing. I have decided that there is a balance out there somewhere between the frustration of the unknown in my hand and the anticipation of the joy that is to come when I finally get to see the gift. I know that I will love it because the person who bought it and wrapped it as a gift for me loves me and wishes me joy. So, for now, I wait, and I hope, and I wait, and I hope, and I wait, and I hope……
The story of Jesus has two stories sitting side by side that are about people waiting and hoping. They are stories that carry into the temple courts as Mary and Joseph come to dedicate Jesus. The first story is the one William Dooley shared with us earlier in the service. It is Simeon’s story. We hear that there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He has been waiting for something almost his whole life. He dreamed of seeing the one that would be the face of salvation for his people and the world. He knew that there was a purpose in his waiting.26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Then the day he had been waiting for arrives. Luke tells us that Simeon,27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required. It appears that as soon as he saw the face of Jesus he knew. 28 Simeon took (Jesus) in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” 33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.
But the moment was not through. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Simply said, Simeon told them that Jesus would turn everything upside down and impact the heart of many. But in this great blessing there is a foreboding word, something would happen to Jesus that would break their hearts.
It fascinates me that God chose Simeon be a part of early moments of the gospel story. There would have been many others in the temple compound that Mary and Joseph could have gone to circumcise their eight day old infant. In fact, for the couple, it was much less important who did the ritual than that it was done on the day and in the fashion their faith demanded. This was no ordinary day. It was the day Jesus would claim the symbol of God’s original covenant with His people. But the one God chose to use for this sacred moment was one who had waited with hope. Simeon did not need to see Jesus perform miracles or hear him teach. Simeon led a life of spiritual expectation. This spirit gave Simeon the heart feel and the eyes to see the face of God in the infant’s face.
Lying beside Simeon’s story is another. It introduces us to a woman of great faith named Anna. Elizabeth Ogburn shared her story. She wears the face of one who has seen many, many years pass by. God rewarded her faithfulness and gives her a gift worth waiting for. She had lived the life of a wife, and then endured a long season as a widow. In our context we hear that simply as a woman whose husband has died. In that time it was more. Not only had she lost her husband, she had lost her identity and her means for survival. A widow was completely dependent on her male children, and if she did not have any, she had to rely on the pity and generosity of others. Luke tells us that Anna never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Anna spent her days and nights worshipping and waiting, ready for God to speak. In response God gave Anna a special gift. She was so focused on God’s voice that she was seen as a prophet, one speaking to others on behalf of God. As Simeon’s words still hung in the air Anna came up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child, Jesus, to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Anna is equally an incredibly unlikely participant. As an 84 year old widow Anna would have had no standing to step into this moment. She was neither a friend of the family nor an invited guest. The fact is that she chose to intrude. She did not intrude because she was rude, but rather because she felt God’s compelling. God summoned one who had dedicated herself to worship, prayer, and fasting. Anna had waited with hope. When the moment came she did not need to see Jesus perform miracles or hear him teach. Anna led a life of spiritual expectation. This spirit gave Anna the heart feel and the eyes to see the face of God in the infant’s face.
Simeon and Anna are powerful, but uncomfortable, models of faith for us. The power of their witness is that they show us what it looks like to wait with anticipation and absolute trust. Their witness is uncomfortable because waiting is hard and in our case, counter-cultural. We want what we want when we want it. Our culture is an on-demand culture. We are the creators of fast-food, the ATM, drive through car washes, and a countless list of other devises designed to meet our desires instantaneously. We have come to view waiting as a violation of one of our basic human rights. We expect the cashier at McDonald's to apologize if it takes longer than 30 for our food to arrive at the counter. We listen as the man at the table next to us strum his fingers on the table top if he thinks the waitress has taken a bit too long bringing the check. We listen as people blow their horn a microsecond after the light has changed, demand the car in front to move on.
Waiting is frustrating. Too many of us live lives of frustration, waiting impatiently for something we want or believe we deserve. We dream of a new job, and our frustrated waiting cheats us from fully investing ourselves in the task that God has put before us. We dream of living in a different place, and spend countless wasted hours spinning plans on how to get there, rather than pouring ourselves into the place where God has planted us and the people that God has put in our lives. We find ourselves living between where we once were and where we hope to be with our emotional and spiritual bags packed and ready to go. We are seized by our frustrated plans rather than being defined by hope and expectation.
Waiting is spiritually challenging. When things do not happen on the time we believe is right or fair we begin to wonder why God has not responded. It can make us doubt God’s love for us or God’s willingness to do good and right things for us. But, hear me clearly, this doubt is not of God. While it is hard for us to conceive that waiting could be a good thing. It is even a harder thing to conceive that waiting can be a tool of God. Instead of being spiritually challenging, it is entirely possible that waiting in hope can become a tool God uses to shape us and change us.
But when we look again Simeon and Anna’s witness we discover that it resonates across the breadth of Scripture. We are taught to wait with hope and expectation for God to act - and having the faith to know God will act in a way that is best for us as His children. The Psalms presumes a stance of faithful expectant waiting as act of worship. Listen to what some of them have to say.
- Psalm 27:14 Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD!
- Psalm 37:7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.
- Psalm 33:20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.
- Psalm 38:15 LORD, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God.
- Psalm 130 5 I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
In the waiting we find ourselves dependent on God. In the waiting we find ourselves forced to learn to truly trust God with our future. It pushes us to learn to live in today with God and to entrust God with our tomorrows. In our waiting God has the opportunity shape us and draw us close. In our waiting God will strengthen our hearts. In our waiting we learn to face our future with a sense of divine expectation, knowing that God is loving and faithful. Simeon spent his life waiting with a certain hope in God and God responded beyond his wildest dreams. Anna lived a life of devotion and expectation and God spoke to her and through her. While waiting on God will stretch us, it can also help us discover a new depth of trust in God. Where is God calling you to wait with hope, trusting Him to do what is right and best for you? Where God shaping you, strengthening you, and calling you close? Will you respond in frustration or respond in faith? Wait, with hope and expectation. Wait, trusting that at the right time – God’s perfect time, God will move in a way that redeems and renews us.