Sunday, January 6, 2008

Simeon, Anna and the Business of Waiting

As part of some of my post-Christmas reflections, I have been pondering the passages about Simeon and Anna in the Gospel of Luke. Many preachers skip from the birth stories straight to the visit of the Magi and the Baptism of the Lord. But hidden in the middle verses of Luke's second chapter, we read about the Holy Family's visit to the Temple. In those brief verses, we read about a man named Simeon and how he "looked forward to the consolation of Israel." When he finally sees the Christ child headed to the Temple, he takes the child in his arms and blesses him. In a separate but similar episode, Anna blesses the child within the walls of the Holy Temple.

These short verses do no justice to the long wait of Simeon and Anna. They spent a lifetime waiting and watching for the Messiah. How many times did they get their hopes up, only to have them smashed by reality? We will never know. I imagine Simeon searched the faces of those he met in the street, hoping that the Holy Spirit would reveal to him the One who would bring consolation to his people. Anna, prayed and fasted, waited and watched in the Temple. Would she know the One when He came, after waiting for so long? Finally the blessed event came, the Holy Presence was made known to both of them. Their joy was complete; their presence and purpose in the Gospel passes and we are left to learn from them and apply the lessons to our own lives.

Waiting and watching are never easy things for us. Humans tend to be impatient, searching for distractions as we try to rush our waiting to an early end. I doubt that is the way that Simeon and Anna learned to wait and watch. I believe that as they waited, they made the most of the time they had as they drew closer to God, the source of our true consolation. Perhaps in the waiting they understood that as moments pass, divine fruition draws closer.

Waiting for the Holy in each moment also frees us from the tyranny of the next big thing. For the next big thing rarely meets our expectations and it never brings us true consolation or salvation. That is true of the latest gizmos or the next blockbuster movie that will supposedly entertain us or the latest CNN Presidential Preference Poll that will inform us. If our hope is in the passing of time or in the unrealistic expectations of what we think should happen next, the only thing we will gain is wasted time and an empty reality. Our salvation cannot be found after the next commercial, the next job, or whatever the next "It" is.

Perhaps it took Simeon and Anna a long time to discover this. Maybe it takes us years of experience as well. For as my family gets older and the community and the church I serve change, I find myself at times lost in the looking for the next thing, the next stage, the next important date on the calendar, the next event. Yet, thanks to Simeon and Anna, I realize waiting and watching in this time of my life cannot be about what happens next. It has to be about making the most of each moment--- of searching faces and places as Simeon and Anna did---for the presence of God in the here and the now even as we hope for the future. Salvation and the abundance of life happen more often in the now rather than in the later. For our unrealistic expectations of later rarely match the reality that will come. Even as we wait, watch, and hope for tomorrow, we cannot overlook today.

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