In this season, we begin to look forward to the coming of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.
Lately I have been thinking more about the "waiting" aspect. Maybe it's because 2020 has been such a hard, crazy year, and like many others I am waiting for it to be over. It probably has something to do with feeling cooped up in coronavirus stay-at-home prison with no clear end to the confinement. is also an element of waiting for a political transition in this post-election time. Then, too, I am waiting for a few things in my personal life--things that are working their way to a logical conclusion, things I can't really hurry along but that contribute to my sense of noticing the passing of time.
Scripture offers a great story of waiting, specifically for Advent--the coming of Jesus--in the story of Simeon. Let's look at the passage.
Luke 2: 25-33
And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart 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 of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him.
Perhaps the most significant things about Simeon is his waiting. Simeon knows what is missing from his life—what he needs to look for, what he is waiting for. Simeon is looking for, waiting for, "God’s consolation." But what does this mean?
Simeon has good reason to expect something, to be waiting for a great comfort and deliverance from God. After all, God promised his Messiah long ago; all the Jews should be looking for Him. Moreover, the Holy Spirit has promised Simeon that he would see the Messiah before he dies—and he is getting up there in years!,--Simeon believed this, accepted it on faith. BUT life goes on. Years pass. Babies are born. Old people die. Stories become legends. Expectation dulls. The promise seems, well, like an idea—like theology. We understand God’s promise as a theological, theoretical truth, even as actual hope fades to a dull ache in our hearts.
[Now close your eyes:] Let’s walk into the temple together. See, there’s Simeon over there. You can recognize him because the Spirit is resting on him, see it? What does the Spirit on Simeon look like to you? You can see that Simeon has a look of hope on his face; I think he’s beaming, glowing, maybe it’s supernatural. Let’s follow him. Has the Spirit told him now is the moment? Does he expect the Spirit will show him a baby?
Babies, babies. Look at them in their parents’ arms. They are so small, especially those 8-day-olds coming in with their parents to fulfill the requirements of the law to become circumcised. Look at the parents. Parents who love them, parents in awe of what God has made using their bodies. Parents who want to seal God’s promise of deliverance onto their sons’ bodies. Parents with babies milling around the temple, waiting their turn, nervous, vulnerable, in love with the tiny being they hold, the miracle repeated tens of thousands of times over generations. You see Priests. They are performing Rituals. Here’s our old man, Simeon, standing over one of the babies. Looking on with the parents. Mary and Joseph. Jesus. What does he look like? A tuft of silky black hair, all swaddled up, sleeping that newborn sleep with his tiny cheek relaxed so his mouth is half open, lopsided. The priest takes the baby into his arms, lays him onto a table, wields his knife, says ritual words. Watch the baby react with surprise and pain, listen to that tiny infant scream as the priest adeptly cuts and then wipes a drop of blood from his tiny body. Mary tears up. Joseph tenses visibly. “There, he’s done. He’ll be fine, just go nurse him.” The old man wants to hold the baby. Just another Jewish baby being brought to the temple on the eighth day.
But no! Instead of just another Jewish baby undergoing just another ritual, Simeon sees in Jesus: Salvation, Light and Glory. He sees the fulfillment of longstanding hope. Does he see God Incarnate? Do you? Every tiny baby is a miracle, every parent knows it. But look at this baby, with Simeon, and see God, Emmanuel. Hear, along with Mary and Joseph, Simeon’s words of consolation, shouted out to God and the people in the Temple. “My eyes have seen your salvation!” With Mary and Joseph, be amazed. Our eyes, looking at baby Jesus, see a tiny little human, they see a crying, squirming infant, they see salvation, light, and glory, they see God With Us. Seeing this real baby Jesus, we are consoled. Our deepest hope is fulfilled because we are in the presence of God. Stop searching and take in the peace he has already given. Amazing!
Waiting is, after all, what Advent is all about. We wait for, remember, and affirm that there was a miraculous baby born in Bethlehem in real historical time, and that baby was God himself.