My father was not very patient, especially around Christmas time. The tradition in French Canada where I grew up was that the children would go to bed and at the stroke of midnight the parents would wake them up to come and see what Santa had left. You'd go to sleep, just barely and be awakened to the excitement of the lit tree and gifts under it just waiting to be unwrapped.
There was great anticipation because unlike today, the presents were placed under the tree only after the kids were asleep in order to provide the maximum impact when running into the living room at 12am to the glorious view of the gifts and the stockings and goodies to eat set on the table. We would open our gifts and also receive visitors at that late hour who would come to eat and share the Christmas fun late into the next day.
Now I said that my father was impatient.
Every Christmas eve as I lay in my bed pretending to sleep I could hear him trying to talk my mother into waking me up early to open the presents. She'd say, "Tony, it's only 9:30 - let's wait until the guest arrive to start the party and wake Michael up for his presents!" My dad would give her all kinds of reasons to abort her timetable and tradition (and I'd be in bed saying - go dad go), until she'd relent around 11:30.
And when he would come running into the room to get me out of bed we'd dash off to the tree - me ahead of him, because he wanted so badly for me to see my gift he'd "help" me unwrap them and explain what they were. I'd be handling and examining one toy and he'd be grabbing the next box to "help" me see what was inside.
Like I said, he was an impatient kind of guy, especially at Christmas. I guess Christmas has been about patience. I don't mean the "holiday" of Christmas, but the reason for it in the birth of Jesus.
After all, the Jews had been waiting patiently for the coming of the Messiah for many centuries by the time the Christ was actually born. And when He was born Luke tells us an interesting story of a man who had learned how to wait patiently for something that took a long time to arrive. And also in this morning's lesson I want to talk about Jesus' birth and how it was a particular reward for one man who had learned to wait patiently for it.
Unfortunately, my dad passed away long ago, but for those of us here perhaps the story of Simeon can teach us some valuable lessons about waiting patiently, not just for Christmas presents, but for other important things and events in our lives.
Background - Simeon
25And 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. 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 carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29"Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace,
According to Your word;
30For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
31Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32A Light of revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel."
- Luke 2:25-32
In this passage Luke is describing and episode in the very early life of Jesus when, as a baby, he was brought to the temple in Jerusalem. The occasion was during the purification rites necessary for women to perform who had recently given birth. According to Jewish Law recorded in Leviticus 12:1-ff.
A woman who had given birth to a son was ceremonially "unclean". This meant she was unable to enter the temple for worship for seven days or until the circumcision of the child.
Then for 33 more days she was not allowed to come into the sanctuary. After 40 days she needed to come to the temple and be purified by offerings prescribed by Jewish law. And so, according to these commands, Mary and Joseph were in Jerusalem in connection with these purification rites and had brought their baby, Jesus, with them.
Aside from these rites, there was another religious duty necessary and that was to "present" the first born to the Lord. In Israel every first-born son had to be presented to Jehovah as belonging to Him in a special sense.
Parents would then "buy back" or redeem the child with a sacrifice and offering at the temple. Luke compacts these various rituals into one scene as Mary is at the temple with Joseph seeing to her purification rights and the presentation of their first-born to the Lord.
It was during this time that they are met by a devout Jew named Simeon. In the passage we read, Luke describes him as being:
- Righteous - good and right with God
- Devout - totally devoted to God
- Looking for the Consolation of Israel
- Consciously waiting for the arrival of the Messiah.
Now everyone who read the Law and the prophets at the time knew that God had promised a Redeemer, a Savior to the Jews and were, in a sense, waiting for Him too. But Simeon was special because God had revealed to him somehow (a dream, a vision) through the Holy Spirit that he would not die before seeing with his own eyes the Christ promised by God.
We don't know how long ago this promise was made. All we know is that Simeon had waited patiently for that promise to be fulfilled and at last it was as he was directed towards the baby Jesus. Luke quotes his prophecy concerning the child, one that later we know was fulfilled as the gospel of Jesus was eventually preached and received by the Gentiles through Paul the Apostle.
We also learn from Simeon some valuable lessons about waiting patiently on God's promises; lessons that can quite easily be applied to our very different lives today.
Lessons on Waiting Patiently
Lesson #1 - God's Promises Are Not Always Fulfilled in Ways You Would Expect.
As a Jew living in those times the last person Simeon expected as the fulfillment of God's promise was this little baby, first son of these poor people. If it would have been:
- The son of a king, yes
- An important Priest, sure
- A military man with courage and charisma, O.K.
But a little baby in the arms of a poor young girl from Nazareth? This wasn't exactly the image that the Jews had of their Messiah. And yet this was the one God led him to as the fulfillment of his life-long promise.
God's ways are not our ways, but His ways are perfect - even if they seem strange to us.
Sometimes God's answer is right before our eyes but we don't recognize it because we want it in a package we like rather than the way He presents it. Waiting patiently for God's fulfilled promise requires us to accept God's answer, not our answer, when it comes.
Lesson #2 - Waiting Patiently is An Acceptable Form Of Service To God.
Simeon did nothing in his life and service to cause or hasten the arrival of the Messiah. And yet God considered him righteous, devout, worthy of a special revelation. The Apostles asked Jesus to enable them to do the "works" of God. They wanted to do miracles like Jesus whom they had just seen feed 5000 and walk on water.
We're like that too. We want to do great things for God - and that's O.K. because sometimes that's what is needed. But on this occasion Jesus answered them by saying,
This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.
- John 6:29
Sometimes believing and waiting patiently are the only task required of us by God:
- Whether it's waiting for the next step, the next mission
- or simply waiting for death to take us home, like Simeon once the promise was fulfilled.
If it's the Lord we are waiting for, then our faithful and patient waiting is fully pleasing and acceptable to God.
Lesson #3 - God Always Fulfills His Promises.
Simeon had the promise but during his wait there must have been times that he grew tired or restless. Some may have pitied poor old Simeon, that guy wandering around the temple waiting for the Messiah in his lifetime. Note that he had no following; he wasn't recognized by the high priest.
All he had was the promise. And God answered it unexpectedly one day and made his joy and his life complete. Simeon's experience is a parable to teach us about our own experience God's promise to each of us:
- That one day He will come, and in the twinkling of an eye we will all be changed and we will all be with Him in heaven rejoicing forever.
- That promise will be fulfilled one day; probably in a way we can't imagine now, a way that will catch us off-guard.
So don't let the mocking, or the indifference of the world deter you from waiting patiently on your lord - He will come and you will be so happy that you waited.
In closing let me say one last thing about God's promise - it's for everybody. Whatever you are, wherever you've been, whatever you've done - God promises that if you believe and obey His Son Jesus Christ you will receive the promised blessing of eternal life when He comes.
If you want the promise for yourself, give your life to Christ today by repenting of your sins and being baptized in His name. And if you've been impatient, given up on His promise and want to return to Him reclaim your blessings in Christ come forward to be restored.
Either way the Lord also waits patiently for every sinner to come home to Him. Won't you do that today?