Guest Writer, Joseph Walker, Athletic Director, Grace Community School
After a few years of marriage, my wife and I decided to start a family, so I (naively) thought we’d have a baby in the nursery nine months later. When we didn’t, I (briefly) began to understand the fear, anxiety, and longing that I’d heard so many friends talk about as they were waiting for God to give them a child. A couple of years after our second child was born, we again asked God to grow our family. Four years and three lost pregnancies later, we realized that God wasn’t going to grant that wish. Those experiences were enough to teach me that waiting on God for the gift of a child is a pain like no other.
Even long before these trials, I’d always been drawn to the story of Simeon in the Christmas narrative. Here’s a (likely) grandfather, a devout prophet, and a righteous man, filled with the Spirit of the Lord. He’s been told (by the Spirit) that he will not die until he sees the Messiah, but he’s one of the few who have heard anything from the Lord in over 400 years. God’s people were beset with the aching, anxious, fearful doubt that worries whether or not God is who he says he is. Simeon had been promised that he would see God’s Salvation, so did he tell his friends he was “pretty certain” the Son of David would come soon? Did everyone consider him the “crazy old guy in the temple who always says the Messiah will be here any minute?” After such a long age of silence, who could blame the Israelites for doubting? Like Hannah, who came to the temple and wept for a child year after year, the nation of Israel was in mourning, wondering if the heavenly delivery would ever come.
Advent, from the Latin adventus, means “coming.” But in early church history, Advent focused on the second coming of Christ, not the first coming that we now celebrate as Christmas. In the Middle Ages, the focus shifted to the celebration of the given Messiah, and the original meaning faded. The waiting, anxious nation of Israel comforted themselves with the remembrance of God’s past deliverance (from Egypt, from captivity) in order to keep faith in God’s assurance of future liberation. Similarly, when we gather in the Christmas season, we remind one another of God’s past salvation (the baby in the manger) and encourage each other with God’s promise of return and the New Jerusalem.
Perhaps the reason that Simeon’s story of longing and exuberant celebration resonates with me is because it is our story as well. Like Simeon, we’ve heard the stories of God’s redemption in centuries past, but we wait in expectant hope of God’s final deliverance from the aching our hearts feel this side of heaven: the terminal illness of a parent, the pain of broken relationships, or maybe the loss of a child. But one day, like Simeon, we will also hold Jesus in our arms–not the newborn baby, but the risen king in all his glory, at the throne of God. And our response will be the same as Simeon’s: unbridled praise.
Because of my love for this passage, I can never read that story in Luke 2 without thinking about a wonderful, Christmas hymn that I also love, as appropriate for us now as it would have been for the yearning nation of Israel:
Come, Thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver, Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever, Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit, Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit, Raise us to Thy glorious throne!