25Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
29“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30for my eyes have seen your salvation
31that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
When our children were young, they couldn’t wait for Christmas. Now while impatience may be the peculiar privilege of children, it is not a virtue—especially during Advent. One year, in an effort to temper their impatience, we gave them each an Advent calendar. It didn’t work: the calendars only increased their impatience. And the chocolate didn’t help either.
Since Advent is a season of waiting and preparation, it makes sense that if we are to celebrate Advent properly, patience is a necessary virtue. However, given the proximity of Thanksgiving to Christmas, life gets very busy very quickly—especially around the holidays. Things get hectic and with so much needing to be done, patience is in short supply. Besides all that, just how does one celebrate waiting? It’s counter-intuitive—especially given the culture in which we live.
- Why wait when you can act?
- Why practice patience when busy people who get busy get things done?
- Why slow down when life moves at hyperspeed?
On the other hand, given the lightning pace at which life moves, why not take the time to wait? Why not practice patience? Why not slow down?
Advent is designed to slow us down. Advent teaches the importance of patience by showing us the patience of God. Advent teaches the virtue of waiting with the familiar stories of those, like Simeon, who waited for God to keep His promise. The story of Simeon illustrates why Advent slows us down: it is a season of waiting and preparation. Waiting and preparation require time. They also require faithfulness and hope. Faithfulness is learned by waiting. So is hope. And yet, our faithfulness and hope must have an object—something, Someone, worthy of our faithfulness as well as our hope. Advent points us to God as worthy of our faithfulness and hope. Advent tells us God is true to His Word; that He keeps His promise; that He follows through on the things He says He will do. Simeon’s patience is a lesson: we learn faithfulness by waiting for God to keep His promise.
In all likelihood, Simeon’s faithfulness stemmed from the fact that the Holy Spirit was upon him; and that the Spirit revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Simeon waited faithfully and patiently because the Holy Spirit empowered him to be faithful and patient. He came in the Spirit into the temple on the very day Joseph and Mary brought Jesus there according to the Law of Moses. When we learn faithfulness God has a way of leading to the right place at the right time for the right reason.
God kept His promise to Simeon. However, sometimes God keeps His promises in ways we do not expect. Think for a moment: was Simeon surprised when the Spirit revealed to him that the Messiah was the infant in Mary’s arms? All the Spirit revealed to him was that he would see the Messiah before he died. Not until Simeon saw the infant Jesus, and the Spirit prompted him to take him in his arms, did he know this baby was the Messiah. Sometimes God keeps His promises in ways we do not expect.
If I were to summarize the story of Simeon, I would quote Proverbs 13.12 which says,
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
How many days did Simeon go into the temple hoping to see the Messiah only to have his hope deferred and return home heartsick? How many times did he have keep his faith in God from wavering into unbelief? How many times have we experience a similar heartsickness while waiting for God to keep His promise?
This will sound strange, but I believe Advent is designed to make us heartsick. Ever since Jesus ascended into heaven, we have been waiting and hoping for His return; His second Advent. Yet rather than make us waver in our faith, God intends this heartsickness to strengthen our faith, encourage our hope, and deepen our love for the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
During Advent we prepare our hearts for the One who will lift every valley and make low every mountain. We wait for the One through we are put right with God and through Whom the Spirit is given to help us as we wait. Advent is a reminder that while Jesus has already put things right, He has not yet put all things right nor has He yet made all things new. Advent reminds us that faithfulness is not for the faint of heart. For this reason God has given us the Spirit and the Word. These two witnesses testify to the faithfulness of God. He keeps His promises. Therefore we are to wait with a patient hope. Jesus has come. Jesus will come again.
Simeon was told he would not die before he had seen the Messiah. He looked forward to the first advent of Jesus. Unlike Simeon, we have no such guarantee while we await the second Advent of Jesus. We live and we die in the hope God will keep His promise. Until then we are waiting, always waiting for the day God will follow through.
I composed the following poem during a particularly dark period of my life. I was waiting in the dark for God to keep His promise. Seasons of darkness intensify the pain of the heartsick. Dark times teach us to wait with a patient hope. Here now is the poem:
Outside—It’s morning but it’s still dark
Perhaps the sun has overslept
Tucked in and cozy beneath the horizon
Inside—I yawn while waiting for the coffee to be done
Outside—The sun has begun to yawn lazily still reluctant to begin its daily circuit
It’s still dark
Inside—The coffee is done. With a cup in one hand and my Bible in the other
I sit at my desk.
Outside my window a cardinal is singing
His song reminds me
That it’s possible
To sing in the darkness
While waiting for the dawn
So—Here am I
In the dark
The song of the heartsick soul expresses a resilient, joyous, and patient trust in the faithfulness of God. Simeon knew that. He also knew that while the dark may be deep, and the time of darkness long, hope believes the Light will dawn.
Sing on! Our hope is not in vain.
Sing on! The Light has dawned and the darkness has not overcome it.
Sing on! The Light that has dawned will vanquish the darkness forever with the glorious Sonrise of God’s eternal day.
You think about that.