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Dec 24, 2017

“What Are You Waiting For?” 12-24-17

Luke 2:21-38
December 24, 2017

Here we are – one week away from Christmas Eve, and I can’t help but reflect on the Christmas Eves of my childhood. I was one of those kids that never could sleep on Christmas Eve. For years, I would lie in bed thinking of Christmas breakfast, Christmas dinner, and, most of all, Christmas presents. My mother would occasionally check in on me, and I would always close my eyes tight and pretend that I was asleep. Sometimes this wakefulness would cause unusual situations. I have a distinct memory of hearing my parents up and busy one Christmas Eve night. That year, they had chosen for some inexplicable reason to watch the movie “The Silence of the Lambs.” I was in grade school then, and was mildly traumatized by listening to most of the movie while I lay in bed. That is a story for another day. It is enough to say that I was awake because of the anticipation of all that would come the next day.
I think of these childhood memories in relation to our text from Luke. In our passage, we are introduced to two persons who were anticipating that which was to come – Simeon and Anna. I believe there is wisdom in asking these two persons, “What were you waiting for?” “What were you anticipating which you found in the person of Jesus?” These are good questions. Functionally, within the gospel of Luke, the appearance of Simeon and Anna serves to further our knowledge of who Jesus is and what he has come to accomplish. Yet Simeon and Anna serve our following of Jesus in other ways. The Gospels are full of a range of responses to the person and work of Jesus. As we seek to follow Jesus, we return again and again to the pages of the Gospels and we locate ourselves within the narratives. The Gospel accounts of responses to Jesus reveal our motives, desires, and behaviors and spur us forward in discipleship.
So, we ask Simeon and Anna, “What are you waiting for?” for two reasons. First, we want to grow in our knowledge of the Messiah whom they waited for. Second, we are then encouraged to turn the question on ourselves. How does the anticipation of these two figures interact with our own desires and longings? How is God’s Spirit at work within us using the account of Simeon and Anna to mold our own priorities and behaviors? If I asked my childhood self on one bygone Christmas Eve, “What are you waiting for?” I imagine the answer would be fairly obvious. But what about now at this very moment in my life? How may God be challenging me to grow and change in light of the coming of Jesus?

In order to dig into these ideas, I think we must ask three questions of our text:

1. What was the content of Simeon and Anna’s longing?
2. What behaviors characterized their waiting?
3. What did they do when they met Jesus?
First, what was the content of their expectation? Our text describes this content in various ways:

• V. 25: Simeon waited for “the consolation of Israel.”
• V. 26: the Holy Spirit told Simeon he would see “the Lord’s Christ.”
• V. 30: while holding Jesus, Simeon declares he has seen God’s “salvation.”
• V. 38: Anna saw in Jesus the “redemption of Jerusalem.”
So, we can say that Simeon and Anna saw in the child Jesus the fulfillment of longstanding expectations that God would send an anointed one to save and restore his people after years of captivity and humiliation. Luke is tapping into a whole vein of Old Testament prophecy and promise stretching back thousands of years:

• In Genesis 5:29, Lamech had said of his son Noah that “this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” Noah never succeeded in bringing relief from the curse.
• In Deut. 18:15, Moses prophesied that God would raise up another prophet like him who would lead the people. Yet in a history full of prophets, no prophet had as of yet lived into this expectation.
• In Isaiah 9:6, the prophet saw a vision of a child who would be called by name Mighty God and who would hold the government upon his shoulder.
• In the passage from Zechariah 2, Zechariah proclaims the coming of God’s servant, here known as the Branch, who would bring in days of abundance for the people of Israel.
In Jesus, Simeon and Anna saw the fulfillment of all these expectations and more. Yet it is important to note that these two were not simple nationalists, waiting for the glory of Israel exclusively. Simeon recognized fully that the coming of this anointed one would mean judgment for Israel as well as salvation, for as he states in Luke 2:34, the coming of Jesus would mean the falling of many in Israel as well as the rising. Furthermore, though Israel would experience consolation through the coming of Christ, the gift would not be for the Israelites alone. V. 32 testifies that Jesus would be a “light for revelation to the Gentiles.” In Jesus the ancient promises of God would be fulfilled not only for Israel but for all the peoples of the earth.

This then is the content of Simeon and Anna’s expectations. Jesus is the one who fulfills all that they had waited for. What happens when we locate ourselves in this story? How do our own expectations and longings compare to the God-centered desires of Simeon and Anna? The younger me, lying awake on Christmas Eve, I suppose would have been confused by the question. I was waiting for presents, food, and a license to spend the day doing nothing. Children grow up of course. The older me takes the question a little more seriously. What am I waiting for? What are the desires driving my day to day choices? The heart of a woman or man seeks after many things – from financial security to social acceptance to control over circumstances. Simeon and Anna longed for the coming of God’s messiah.

Second, what behaviors characterized Simeon and Anna’s waiting? To ask it a different way – how did they wait? Waiting is something that is difficult to do gracefully. Think how most of us wait in a drive-through line. I have noticed this problem in myself, especially if there are two lanes – the urge to pull in front of someone else is significant. But what moral and behavioral characteristics marked the waiting of the two figures of our text?

• Simeon is characterized in v. 25 as righteous, devout, and open to the work of the Holy Spirit.
• Anna’s life was characterized by night and day worship accompanied by fasting and prayer.
It would be wrong to see in these figures a prescription of behavior for the contemporary follower of Jesus. 24-7 worship is not the pathway to which God has called most of his people. Instead, we are called to live faithfully as parents, friends, and workers in the context of God’s good creation. Yet it is important to note that Simeon and Anna’s God-centered desires were accompanied by fitting behaviors and moral characteristics. It works both ways. On the one hand, Simeon and Anna were called to a way of life consistent with their belief in the faithfulness of God. This call to consistency in belief and behavior finds many other reiterations in the New Testament. Think for example of Eph. 4:1, in which Paul wrote, “I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called”. On the other hand, Simeon and Anna’s behaviors spoke of what was truly important to them. Again this consistency of belief and behavior is testified by James: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). There was remarkable consistency between the content of Simeon and Anna’s expectations and the practices of their life.

In the pathway of following Jesus, the same dynamics are at work in our lives. How do we live in light of our expectancy of the return of Jesus and how does our life reveal the content of the things most important to us? I have recently been learning from the writings of David Wells in books such as God in the Wasteland and Above all Earthly Powers that it is easy for the church to claim faith in God but to operate largely according to the thought patterns and behaviors of modernized, materialistic culture. Most parents in this room could likely testify to the struggle of teaching our children to celebrate Christmas in a way consistent with our faith. If you are like my wife and I, you have probably fretted a time or two over whether your children’s spiritual development has been hampered by certain holiday traditions. Of course, we could turn the search a little wider in scope. If I live by faith in the goodness of God to me in Jesus Christ, should I really binge-watch a show on Netflix tonight? Or what really drove me to say yes to picking up a few extra hours at work? Simeon and Anna lived their lives in expectancy of God’s faithfulness to his promises and his people.

Third, what did Simeon and Anna do when they met Jesus? In v. 28, we see that Simeon took up the baby Jesus in his arms and blessed God. In v. 38, Anna gives thanks to God and begins talking immediately of the blessing she has seen with her own eyes. The narrative of Simeon and Anna is short, but it climaxes appropriately with the thing which was of most importance to them – the praise of the God who had fulfilled his promises to his people in Jesus. The details of their lives are scant. We know that Anna was a daughter of a man named Phanuel. And that she had a short marriage followed by a long widowhood. I think it is possible that she was a known person to the early audience of Luke’s gospel – given the details that are provided. Yet in the end what is most important was who they were in relation to Jesus. The very purpose for their lives was found in their recognition of the child Jesus and their praise to God. We likewise find the purpose of our lives in the praise of God. If all of the things for which we wait in the course of our lives do not finally find their resolution in the glorifying of our Lord and Savior, we will inevitably follow after things which God does not desire for us. Simeon and Anna teach us that it is possible to live our lives for God’s glory.

When locating ourselves in this story, we find that we fall short of God’s glory in many ways. We wait for things that are selfish in nature, we behave in ways inconsistent with our beliefs, and we harbor areas of our lives which do not lead us to God’s praise. We live contrary to the portrait of holy expectancy put forward concerning Simeon and Anna. How can we change? How can the little boy lying awake waiting for a Super Nintendo learn to want the things which God wants and live accordingly?

The answer can never come through our own strength. It only comes as we look to Jesus in faith. For Christ lived a life listening to the Father’s will, wanting what the Father wanted. He waited to act in obedience to his Father and even waited for God’s response from the painful agony of the cross. And his life, death, and resurrection have brought light and salvation to his people. We cannot change ourselves. Instead, we are transformed into the image of Jesus by coming in faith to receive what only Jesus can give. You may come this evening waiting on many things in life, but don’t fail now to come to Christ, an opportunity that we have as we partake of the Lord’s Supper. To quote the theologian J. I. Packer, “…do not postpone action till you think you are better, but honestly confess your badness and give yourself up here and now to the Christ who alone can make you better; and wait on Him till His light rises in your soul, as Scripture promises that it shall do.” What are you waiting for?

 

 Pastor Scott Cress
 Faith Presbyterian Church
 West Lafayette, IN 47906