Before my lesson this morning, I want to share with you a video about the birth of Jesus. Now, if I were to tell you the story, you’d probably doze off because you’ve heard it a thousand times. So I’m going to let some children tell you the story. And I’m pretty sure you’ve never heard the story told quite this way.
This morning I’m not actually going to be talking about the birth of Jesus, but about something that happened to him a few days after he was born. If you want to be turning ahead to Luke chapter 2, in just a little bit, we’ll be reading from that chapter.
And, this morning, I want to talk with you about waiting. It’s something we all do. In fact, sometimes it seems as if we spend half our life waiting. We have waiting rooms, and waiting lines. We wait to be seated at the restaurant, and we wait on the phone to speak to an operator. We wait for loved ones to return from deployment. We wait a lot.
But waiting is not something that most of us do well. And it’s especially something that children don’t do well. If you have ever taken a road trip in a car with young children, there’s a phrase that you are familiar with. It’s a certain question that gets asked over and over and over. And even if you are on a ten-hour road trip, after about ten minutes, you’re going to start hearing this question, and it will get repeated for the entire trip. You parents know what that question is — “Are we there yet?” Because children are not very patient.
But those of you who get upset at your children for doing this, don’t really have any right to do so because you’re just as impatient. Most of us in this room when we go grocery shopping, you know we do? When it’s time to check out, when you’re going up to get in line, you count how many people are in each line. Right? But you don’t just count the people, you start counting the items in the carts of the people that are checking out.
And after you have done all the calculations and figured out which line might save you 30 seconds of waiting, you know what you do then? You get in line, but you keep track of where you would have been if you had gotten in another line. And if your line happens to go slower than where you would have been if you had gotten in the other line, you leave that store angry or depressed. Because we don’t like to wait.
Some of you have spent much of this year anxiously awaiting the arrival of the iPhone 7, or the latest installment of Stars Wars, or the adoption of a little boy named Rio. And sometimes what you’ve been waiting for meets your expectations, but a lot of times it doesn’t. Sometimes we wait and wait and wait for something to happen, and when it finally happens, we feel let down, because we expected so much more.
And maybe that’s why Christmas is such a letdown for so many people. We spend so much time waiting and waiting, looking forward to this day. I can remember when everybody got geared up for Christmas as soon as Thanksgiving was over, but over time, it got earlier and earlier. And eventually, everyone started focusing on Christmas as soon as Halloween was over. But then it got even earlier and now, it seems like as soon the Fourth of July is over, all the Christmas decorations start appearing in the stores. It’s like everyone is impatient, and can’t wait for Christmas to arrive.
But Christmas is about waiting. Or, to be more specific, Advent is about waiting. Now, if you were like me, when you were growing up, you didn’t hear much about Advent. But for at least 1500 years, Christians around the world have been celebrating Advent, which is the season leading up to Christmas.
Advent comes from a Latin word which means “coming”. It is the time of year that leads up to Christmas, the time when we celebrate the fact that Christ has come, and that he will come again. But Advent is not the same as Christmas. Advent is the time that leads up to Christmas, which means that it is a time of waiting. And it’s a season that taps into the deep hope that we all have for things to be different, for things to be better.
And I do think that this is something that our children can help us to understand. Not because they’re good at waiting (because they’re not good at waiting at all), but because they constantly remind us of what it’s like to anxiously wait for something. Over the past month, those of you with children have probably heard them ask a lot, how many days till Christmas? 12 days, 7 days, 3 days, 1 more day. And for some children, they are so anxious for Christmas to come that they will start the countdown tomorrow – 364 more days to Christmas.
Our children were no exception. In our family, we engaged in a lot of competitions. But, probably the biggest competition of the year involved Christmas presents. Our children liked to discover where their Christmas presents were hiding, and once they found those presents, then they would peel back the wrapping paper, see what they were getting, tape the packages back up and then wait for Christmas morning when they would have to act surprised when they opened their presents.
Sueanne and I didn’t like losing that game, so it became a contest to see whether we could hide the presents well enough that they wouldn’t be discovered in advance. There were some years we won this game. There was the year we didn’t put any names on any of the packages so as create confusion (and it did). There was the year that we kept all the presents in the trunk of the car, and another year when we kept them in my church office. And so, some years we won and some years they won.
And while it was very frustrating for us, there’s something we can learn from that kind of eager expectation. There are some things that we need to be that excited about. In Hebrews 9:28 it says, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
Christ is going to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Which raises the question, are you eagerly waiting for Christ to return? Is your life filled with the excitement that your children feel in those days leading up to Christmas?
Because Christianity is a faith that deals largely with waiting. Have you ever wondered why Jesus chose the people he did to start this new movement? He chose tax collectors and zealots and he chose a whole bunch of fishermen. Now, I don’t know about you but I’ve spent some time with fisherman and I’ve never walked away from a die-hard fisherman thinking, that guy needs to start a church.
But there’s one thing that fishermen can do to. They may not have all the qualities that you would assume are essential to start a new religious movement. But there is one quality they have that most other people don’t. They are very good at waiting. They will stand in the water and they’ll keep casting over and over. And the less they catch, the greater the hope they have. And maybe that’s why Jesus chose fishermen because they understood what waiting is all about.
I’m sure you’ve heard sayings like. “Good things come to those who wait” and “Some things are worth the wait.” But, if that’s true, if good things do come to those who wait, is there anything you would be willing to wait your entire life for? It would have to be something really good, wouldn’t it?
What about if somebody offered you ten million dollars if you just wait for it your entire life? Would you be willing to wait your entire life for ten million dollars? Maybe you’re thinking, “You bet I would.” But what good is ten million dollars going to be to you if you only get it one minute before you die? I don’t think I’d wait my whole life for ten million dollars.
But there are something I am waiting my entire life for. And I suspect that many of you are probably waiting for the same thing. But before we talk about what that is, I want us to look at Luke chapter 2, where we read about Simeon, a man who waited his entire life for something. And I think it was definitely something worth waiting for. If I was given the opportunity to wait my entire life for the same thing he waited for, I would do it.
Shortly after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple where they went to dedicate this young baby, just as every other Jewish parent of that day did. And we begin reading in Luke 2, verse 25:
“Now 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. 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 do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
“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.” (Luke 2:25-32)
Right after this, we read about Anna, who was also in the temple. And so we’ve got these two elderly Jews who have spent all their lives, they’ve been waiting in the temple day after day. And all we really know about them is that they’re old and they’re waiting. We’re told that Simeon was waiting for “the consolation of Israel” which is really just another way to say that he was waiting for the Messiah.
It may seem strange for us to hear Jesus described as the “consolation of Israel”, but the prophets, especially Isaiah, recognized that when the Messiah comes to make all things right, he will console his people.
Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”
Isaiah 49:13, “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.”
Isaiah 51:3, “For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.”
Isaiah 61:2, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”
So, Simeon was eagerly waiting for the day when the Messiah would come, the day when he would make everything right, the day when he would turn this world upside-down and provide comfort and consolation to those who are hurting.
It’s a beautiful scene, but it’s a little bit strange, too. And if it doesn’t sound strange to you, then it’s because you’re not really picturing it very well. Young parents, imagine coming to church for the first time and some old man that you don’t know comes up and grabs your baby and starts dancing around and says, “Now I can die. Now I can die.”
Because that’s what’s happening in this story and it’s a little bit weird. But part of the reason I think it’s so strange to us is because I don’t know if we’ve ever waited for something like this. I don’t know that we’ve ever had a hope this deep, especially one that was satisfied.
I’ve thought about the fact that one of the reasons why we’re not very good at waiting is because we usually have the ability to make stuff happen ourselves. For example, if something in my house breaks and I need to replace it, I just contact Amazon and have it on my doorstep in two days. Or if I can’t wait that long, I go down to Wal-Mart and get it right now. There’s no need to wait, because I can take care of it.
But when I come up against those problems in my life that I can’t fix, things that I don’t have control over, and all I can do is to wait on God, then I find that I sometimes don’t do that very well.
Reinhold Niebuhr once said, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime.” And I think of how that was true of the Messiah. God made promises to Abraham, and he waited. Hebrews 6:15 tells us “he waited patiently.” And then the promises were made to Isaac and to Jacob, and they waited. And then the promises were repeated to the Israelites through the prophets, and they waited hundreds and hundreds of years.
But Simeon never gave up on this hope, and so he waited. He spent his whole life waiting for the Messiah. And when he finally sees baby Jesus, he takes him in his arms and he sings this song which is rooted in passages from Isaiah.
This is somebody who just lives in the story of God. He is so eagerly awaiting the coming of the Messiah that he basically says, “God, I’m ready to die. You can have my life now. Because I have finally seen what I waited my entire life to see.”
Now, keep in mind, all Simeon has seen is a baby. He hadn’t actually seen what he said he had seen — the salvation of Israel. He hadn’t seen the end of Roman oppression, he hadn’t seen Israel become a light to the Gentiles. All he saw was a baby, but that was enough.
And I’ve got to tell you, I’m a little bit jealous of Simeon. Not just because he got to see baby Jesus, but because he was able to say, “I have waited my whole life for this moment, and it was worth the wait.”
Is there anything in your life that you could say that about? At any point in your life, is there any gift that you’ve ever gotten – a new car maybe, a new XBOX, a new iPhone, something that was so wonderful that after you got it, you said to God, “I’ve gotten everything I’ve ever wanted in life. I’m ready to die.”
Because I think there’s something within each of us that wants that. You desperately want to find something that will fulfill your life to that extent. And advertisers know that. And they will use that desire you have, and they will lie to you and say, “This is it. This is all you need. This is all you want. Having this will make your life complete.”
But it’s all a bunch of lies. And deep down, you know it, because you’ve gotten some of those things that advertisers have talked you into, and they didn’t satisfy your deepest desires.
But the more that happens, the more we get and the more we continue to be disappointed, our hope begins to wear out, because we get tired of waiting. We have waited for so much for so long and it’s only let us down.
But Christmas is God’s promise that the wait is worth it. Lewis Smedes has said, “Waiting is our destiny, as creatures who cannot by themselves bring about what they hope for; we wait in the darkness for a flame we cannot light. we wait in fear for a happy ending that we cannot write. we wait for a ‘not yet’ that feels like a ‘not ever’. Waiting is the hardest work of hope.”
So, I ask you today, what is it that you’re waiting for? My guess is there’s something deep in your heart. Something more significant than the latest gadget advertised on TV. Maybe something within you that wants things to be made right – for the pain to go away, for that loved one to be restored, for the injustices in this world to be made right, for everyone to live together in peace and harmony, regardless of race.
Because here’s the promise Christmas makes. Christmas says there really will be a day when we will enjoy that kind of fellowship with one another, when all oppression will cease. When those who mourn will be comforted. A day where there’s “no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain.” There will be a day when Jesus rules this earth and the world is set right. And it really will be worth all the wait.
Like Simeon, we look to forward to the day when we will see for ourselves the consolation that can come only from Christ. Simeon knew that Jesus was Israel’s only hope. The same is true for us today. As we are surrounded by so many lives that are not centered on Christ, we are filled with longings and desires that can’t find their satisfaction in what this world offers.
In Romans 8, we looked a few weeks ago, at verses 20-22, which talk about all of creation looking forward to that day of restoration. But Paul also talks in this passage about us.
In verses 24-25, Paul writes, “If we hope for something we already see, it’s not really hope. Who hopes for what can be seen? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (God’s Word)
Not everyone can wait like that — certainly not those who are satisfied, contented, and feel that they already live in the best of all possible worlds! But those who are a bit uncomfortable with what this world holds right now, we wait. Because we have seen a vision of what lies ahead, when Jesus restores all things, and we are eagerly waiting for that day.
And waiting doesn’t have to be a miserable time. I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Romans 8:24-25: “Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting…the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.” (The Message).
And that’s what Advent is all about. Advent gives us an opportunity to remind each other that we’re waiting. And it gives us an opportunity to remind each other what we’re waiting for. And we need that, especially here in this country. Because if we don’t remember this, we start to think that we can fix all of our problems with better education, or better systems, better organization, elect the right person and all those things are important and good and valid.
But Advent reminds us that what’s wrong with this deeply broken world isn’t going to get fixed like that. And that ache in your heart is not going to go away when you get that next new gadget, or a new car with a big red bow on it. Advent says, “No, the thing you’re waiting for isn’t a thing at all. It’s not something that can be wrapped up in a bow. It’s not a what; it’s a who.”
And so, like Simeon, we wait. Year after year, we eagerly wait. Year after year, we patiently wait. And we spend our whole lives waiting. Waiting for Jesus. Not for his first coming, but for his second. We wait for the day when Jesus will come and make all things right. And on that day, like Simeon, we will say that it was worth the wait.