a story of waiting

During Advent, Christians often focus on the parts of Christmas story leading up to Jesus’s birth - Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and the angel Gabriel, Joseph’s dream, the Magi beginning their journey.

But the events surrounding the nativity story go even further back, years before Jesus’ birth...

There was this young Jewish man – he encountered God, not unlike the prophets of old. The Holy Spirit was upon him. To others, he was always distracted. His attention was never on the present. In the marketplace, in conversation, in his home with family, and especially in the Temple, his gaze – his attention – was always on the horizon. It was like he lived in a constant state of waiting.

Because he did. You see, he’d received a promise that he would see the Messiah of Israel in his lifetime. “The Messiah?” he thought. “Wow! The One who will restore our nation back to greatness; restore God’s favour like it was in the days of David and Solomon!” What a message! It was an exciting time. It was distracting in the most hopeful of ways.

His expectation ran so deep he moved to Jerusalem and made of point of going regularly to the Temple to worship, committing himself to this waiting, often telling others of his hope.

But time passed. Waiting got difficult, monotonous even. Excitement waned. Yet even in uncertainty,, the man kept going to the Temple, committed to the promise that his waiting was not in vain. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Waiting. Waiting for the consolation of Israel.

The man was still waiting in old age. His body aching. His mind wandering. He was tired. Navigating the slopes of Jerusalem streets got more and more difficult. Yet, he persisted. He didn’t lose hope. Seeing this hobbling old man day after day - often muttering strange things under his breath - the people in the Temple wondered, “What is he waiting for?”

Yet the man wasn’t the only one waiting. There was an old woman in the Temple who didn’t join the others in questioning ridicule. She could relate. Hers was a similar story.

As was the norm, she had married at a young age. But tragedy struck, and she was widowed shortly after marriage. But rather then remarry, the woman dedicated herself to worship and prayer, choosing a life of simplicity and devotion, day and night fasting and praying in the Temple. It was here that God met her.

At first, people were surprised to see this young widow of seeming insignificance hear from God. She developed a reputation as one with great wisdom, a prophet even. All of this despite her obscure family background from one of the Northern tribes of Israel, a place God was thought to have abandoned long ago.

Nearly 70 years passed. Day and night in the Temple.

She could remember the day the man first showed up, young and full of excitement for this great promise he had received. But where others doubted his message, she believed him. “The Messiah was coming! Our oppression at the hands of Romans will end. Our limited freedom to worship as Jews will be gone. The king of David will reign again!” She was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. She joined the man in his waiting.

But that was decades ago.

Now in their old age, even she wondered if the promise of a Messiah would be fulfilled. She was weary, often dozing instead of praying - hunger pangs that much more intense as her aging body endured the toll of regular fasting again and again. She was getting weak.

But like the man, she persisted. Waiting wasn’t a curse, but a blessing, accompanied by the presence and promises of God.

Together, the man and woman found purpose in their waiting. The words of the great prophet Isaiah remained their hope:

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the LORD returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.

They watched together, their daily commitment spurred on by the prophet’s promise, “They will see it with their own eyes.” Where some in the Temple lamented Israel’s waiting, the man and woman found hope in the very act of waiting. Waiting wasn’t passive. Waiting wasn’t to be avoided.

For Simeon and Anna, waiting was holy.


Post a Comment