I meant to post this last week, but… holidays – everything happens slowly!
Let’s play a word association game. I’m going to write a word, and I want you to say (out loud) the first word that comes to mind… ready?
I wonder what you said? This year, my ‘word’ associated with Christmas has been ‘waiting,’ closely followed (I know, I’m only meant to have one, but it’s my blog post so I can say what I like!) by ‘gift’. I think waiting is a pretty good description of the whole Christmas-related process… if not the most obvious one. Waiting for the day to arrive, for family to turn up, for presents to be unwrapped, for food to cook, for the Queen’s speech, for the Doctor Who/Call the Midwife/Downton Abbey Christmas special… and that’s not even counting the days and weeks of waiting we do with decorations appearing everywhere, lights being switched on, cards clogging up post boxes and delays in all those last-minute internet purchase deliveries!
But that’s not really the kind of waiting I’ve been thinking about. (At least, not in this train of thought!) I’ve been thinking about a story of people who were waiting, and not just for weeks or months, but for years. And they weren’t hoping just for a new pair of slippers or even a shiny iPad. They were waiting to be rescued from a desperate, dark condition. These people knew they were in a bad way. They had a long history of corrupt leaders, experience of slavery, oppression, exile and suffering. Following the path backwards in time, tracing the route from disaster to disaster, with few and brief periods of partial respite in between, the origins of this tragic story are surprisingly simple, but nonetheless heart-breaking for being so.
A moment of wilful betrayal.
Since then, things have not been as they should. Oh, there is hope. There has always been hope. And it’s hope that’s kept them going. Hope that the one they betrayed will one day come and restore what has been broken. A hope that seems too audacious and improper to some to be believed – that the injured party, the betrayed, rather than the betrayers, should be the one to make it right! How unfitting.
So some, along the way, have tried to invent their own hope. They’ve been concocting a better way, in fact, they’re not even aiming for a restoration of what once was… They know better. Why go back? Far from waiting for rescue, they hate the very suggestion that rescue could even be necessary.
But still, there were some who kept on waiting, and hoping. Waiting for the rescue to come.
A bloke called Simeon was one of these ‘hopers’. And he knew the day was drawing near when all that he had been waiting for would come.
And friends, this is where I’ve missed the point for about the past 20 years…
Simeon sees the salvation of the Lord. He sees the consolation of the people, the long-awaited rescue has come…
He sees The Bridge Diagram etched on the temple wall. No, wait a minute, that’s not right….
He sees a vision of the Son of God being crucified as the propitiation for our sins. Uh… no, not that either….
Simeon sees a little boy in his parents’ arms. He scoops up the child into his own arms and he says of him:
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
As he’s holding baby Jesus in his arms, Simeon praises God that he has seen the one that he’s been waiting for, that generations of believers have been waiting for.
Anna was a ‘hoper’ too. She was at the temple that day when Simeon met the Rescuer. She met him too. What does she do, having seen Jesus? ‘She began to give thanks to God and to speak of him [Jesus] to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.’ (Italics mine obviously!)
These ‘hopers’ weren’t waiting for a formula or mechanism to come and set them on the right track. They weren’t hoping for a new philosophy or religion. They were waiting for their God to step into the world and mend what they’d broken. Because he’d said he would. And they trusted him.
And guess what? At Christmas we get to remember the fact that the waiting is over! Jesus has come. Never before has the name ‘Emmanuel’ been such good news to me! God with us – it’s incredible. I’m not trying to downplay what Jesus would later accomplish at the cross – quite the opposite. And there’s all sorts of other amazing things about God-in-human-flesh that I’ve not even begun to touch on. But this has been the eye-opener this year. Jesus is the one waited for. And he showed up. Sure he did what he said – of course he did! I mean, when you know what he’s like, which is the whole point, how could you ever think he’d do anything different?! It all makes so much glorious nonsense!
‘…the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide out feet into the way of peace.’
The light has dawned. The Son has come. Jesus has rescued – and now he waits for us, to come to him and receive all that he has for us.