How many of you have children who are having a hard time waiting for Christmas? I mean, they are counting the days—and are fully aware that as of today they only have 9 days to go.
How about you older people—do you remember how that felt—how hard it was to wait for the big day?
Well, I’m old and I still do—I mean, when I was a kid Christmas morning was a wonderful—much-anticipated time. It was a day when a kid’s dreams came true—when after a year of hearing things like, “No—you can’t have that.” Or “We can’t afford it.” After twelve months of “no” there were “yeses” — because whatever that “no” was—would appear under the tree. It was a day of great joy—a not just because of the presents but because it was a day when the family was together—a rare day when dad wasn’t pre-occupied with sermon prep. He and mom got on the floor and played with us. It was an awesome day.
I remember one Christmas Eve afternoon, when I was about six, my dad saw that I was having a very hard time waiting. He saw I was so excited I couldn’t sit still. So—he told me to get my coat—and he took me to the dime store. For you young people—those were stores where nothing was much more than a dime—kind of like “Five and Below” only this was “Ten Cents and below.” We didn’t stay long because dad knew what he was looking for. We only fought the crowds of last-minute shoppers for a few minutes—just long enough to buy a set of dominos. Then dad and I went home and we spent the evening playing that game that is so popular in the DR—playing until I got so sleepy, I couldn’t play anymore. As I look back, I think I enjoyed that night of playing dominoes with my dad—more than opening gifts the next morning.
Well, the truth is waiting is not just an issue for us when it comes to Christmas. We struggle with WAITING all the time don’t we?! I mean, let’s be honest, you and I don’t wait well. And—I hate to sound “preachy” — but I think the reason for our impatience is tied to sin. You see, NOT waiting is what got humanity into the mess it’s in now. Remember? Back in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve couldn’t wait for God’s best and instead bit into the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. We have all suffered ever since because of their actions. In fact, we have inherited that sinful trait—the inability to wait.
In fact, it’s affected our culture because society teaches us NOT to wait. Think about it. We live in a micro-waving, Fed-Exing, fast-food-eating, high-speed internet, free-wi-fi, same-day delivery society.
We don’t like to wait for anything or anyone—even something like KETCHUP. Have any of you been frustrated at how long it takes to get ketchup out of the bottle? WELL I HAVE GOOD NEWS! This week I read an article in Time about scientific attempts to speed that thick red stuff up as it makes its way to our French fries. Think of it—scientific studies—massive amounts of money spent to help us not have to wait for ketchup! The article says that ketchup flows out of a glass bottle at a rate of .028 miles per hour. By the way, that’s slower than a Galapagos tortoise, which, according to the San Diego Zoo, zips along at a blazing 0.16 miles per hour, or almost six times faster than ketchup. Well, Dave Smith, a PhD candidate at MIT, and a team of MIT mechanical engineers and nano-technologists have offered a possible solution to this ketchup flow impatience issue. After months of research, Smith and his team developed LiquiGlide, which they define as a “kind of structured liquid [that’s] rigid like a solid, but lubricated like a liquid.” The researchers say that coating the inside of a bottle with LiquiGlide will cause ketchup and other sauces—like mustard—to slide out FASTER than a Galapagos tortoise. Smith claims that the sauce industry, which rakes in $17 billion a year, would love to get their hands on the invention. The article concluded: “Let’s hope some big [ketchup] companies bite. I’m tired of waiting for ketchup to land on my cheeseburger.” Think of all the time LiquiGlide will save you! I mean fast food will get even faster!
We chuckle—but let’s be honest. We are not very good at waiting are we!? To show you what I mean:
- How do you feel about the traffic jams that frequent Muncaster Mill Road? Ever read a book while you wait to leave church on a Sunday morning?
I remember a business meeting here at Redland back in the early ’90’s when we were dealing with some serious financial issues as a church. We were making cuts in the church budget everywhere we could. It was almost to the point of cutting staff. Well, one person suggested eliminating the crossing guard that helps us exit onto Muncaster Mill on Sundays. Sure, we’d have to wait longer to exit our campus but it would have saved thousands of dollars. But the people unanimously said, “NO—cut anything but that!” They didn’t want to have to wait to exit!
Here’s some other examples:
- What about those times when you’re at a stop light behind an “accelerator-challenged driver”—who is so absorbed in checking his e-mail or text messages that he causes you to miss the green arrow?
- How about those times when you hurriedly pull into a gas station and all the pumps are occupied—and you have to WAIT for someone in front of you who has already filled his tank—but before moving his car so that you could gas up, he decides that he simply must go inside to purchase a pack of gum or something?
- How well do you handle how long it takes to get into the parking lot at Costco—I mean, you have to wait for people crossing the road from every direction. Sometimes drivers waiting for a prime parking place bring all parking to a halt.
- How good are you at waiting for your kids to come home from college for the holidays?
- How good are you at waiting for them to go back to college after the holidays?
Okay—let’s get a little more serious. What are you having a hard time waiting for now?
- Medical test results?
- A prodigal child you pray will come home to you and the Lord?
- Maybe you struggle with anxiety and wonder if the fear will ever go away.
- Maybe you’re single and you’re waiting for marital bliss.
- Maybe you’re battling depression and you feel like you’re always waiting for the “dark clouds” to finally part in your life.
- Maybe you have a loved one in Afghanistan and you’re counting the days until they return.
The truth is all of us experience difficult WAITING times in one form or other. Perhaps this is what inspired Lewis Smeades to write:
“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 we cannot write. We wait for a ‘not yet’ that feels like a ‘not ever.’ Waiting is the hardest work of hope.”
Well—I’m sorry to make you WAIT so long to hear why I bring this up—so here’s why. I’m talking about waiting because in the next chapter of our advent sermon series—-we focus on the life of an individual who was obviously VERY GOOD at waiting. His name is SIMEON and Luke’s gospel tells us that he was a very old man who had been waiting ALL HIS LIFE for the Messiah to come. And Simeon was not alone—because there were several people like him in his day who were watching and waiting for God to fulfill His promise. They were referred to as, “The Quiet in the Land” and they believed in living a life of constant prayer and quiet watchfulness until God should send His Messiah. The prophetess Anna and the Pharisee Joseph of Arimathea were part of this group of godly people. All their lives they waited quietly and patiently for God. These QUIET ONES believed God’s promise in Proverbs 8:17 when He said, “…those who diligently seek Me will find Me.” And as a result, they reaped an incredible benefit—for as the psalmist says, God, “…teaches the humble His ways.”
Well, Simeon was constantly watching—watching for the sign that would tell him that the Messiah was born. He was always looking for the coming of the Lord’s Christ. I can imagine that every day as he went into the Temple area he must have pestered new parents looking at their babies—-to see if the Messiah had come, praying, “Is that the One?” “NO.” “Is that the One?” “NO.” And finally, one day it happened! As Simeon squinted through his cataract-covered eyes he saw that the Light of the World had indeed come! He saw Him Who he had been waiting and watching for all his life! Take your Bibles and let’s read about this together.
Turn to Luke 2:22-35.
22 – When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord
23 – (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”),
24 – and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
25 – Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.
26 – It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
27 – Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for Him what the custom of the Law required,
28 – Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 – “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss Your servant in peace.
30 – For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
31 – which You have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 – a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”
33 – The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about Him.
34 – Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This Child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
35 – so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
You know, one thing reading the Bible teaches us is that God seems to LIKE to make us wait.
I mean, in the Old Testament alone, on 43 different occasions God’s people are told wait. For example, God comes to Abraham. Abraham is 75 years old and God says, “Abraham, you’re going to become a father. You’ll be the ancestor of a great nation.” But it won’t happen today, it won’t happen tomorrow.” You know how long it was before that promise came true? Twenty-four years. Think about being 75 years old and being told you’re about to become a parent—and then waiting 24 years. Waiting 9 months for a grand-child to arrive is almost more than I can stand. Abraham had to wait 24 years.
God told Israel, His people, that they’d be a nation, able to leave the slavery of Egypt and be independent, but they had to wait 400 years. And then God told Moses he would lead the people to the Promised Land, but they had to go to the wilderness and wait 40 years.
Then came the great promise that the Messiah, the Savior, the Redeemer from God, would come.
God’s people waited. They waited generation after generation, century after century, when God seemed silent.
Why do you think God does that? Why does He make us wait? I mean, God loves us—and He can do anything—so why doesn’t He bring us relief and answers instantly? Well, I certainly don’t understand all of this, but I believe at least in part, to paraphrase Ben Patterson, what’s going on is this: “What God does in us while we wait is as important as what it is we’re waiting for.”
Paul understood this principle. Remember? He said that while we’re waiting for God to set everything right, we suffer. But he says that’s okay because suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. God is using our “waiting times” to produce these qualities in us. What that means is that biblically, waiting is not just something we have to do until we get what we want. No—waiting is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be.
Before we get back to Simeon, I want to spend a few moments talking about what it means to wait on the Lord. And first I want to underscore what biblical waiting is not. Biblical waiting is not passive waiting around for something or someone to come along that will allow you to escape from your trouble. People sometimes say “I’m just waiting on the Lord” as an excuse not to face up to reality, not to take appropriate action, or own up to their responsibility. That is not what waiting on the Lord is.
I’ve heard of people with horrible financial habits—impulsive spending or refusal to save money—get into a huge money mess and say, “We’re waiting on the Lord to provide.” That’s not biblical waiting. Waiting on the Lord does not mean sitting around hoping you will get a letter from Capitol One, “Bank error in your favor, collect $200.” No—waiting on the Lord in this case could mean going to a seminar and learning about biblical principles for a life of stewardship. My point is that Biblical waiting is not passive; it’s not a way to avoid an unpleasant reality. Waiting on the Lord is a confident, disciplined, expectant, active, sometimes painful clinging to God. Waiting on the Lord is the continual, daily decision to say, “God, I will trust you and I will obey you even though the circumstances of my life are not turning out the way I want them to—and they may never turn out the way I want them to. I’m betting everything on you, God, and there is no Plan B.” That’s waiting on the Lord. As Smeades says, “It is the hardest work of hope.” So, what does it take to wait well? That’s what this story in Luke 2 about Simeon shows us.
(1) The first thing we see in Simeon’s life that is required for us to WAIT well is KNOWLEDGE.
And—I’m referring to knowledge of the Bible—God’s written Word. As we say each Sunday at the end of the service, to wait well, we must “let the Word of God dwell in us RICHLY.” And Simeon is a great example of this principle because in the impromptu son he sung the day he finally saw Jesus—he quoted the Old Testament several times. This tells us that, like we learned about Mary two weeks back, Simeon had meditated on God’s written Word. He had read of the ways that God had worked through His people in the past. He had studied the Messianic prophecies—and all this made it was easier for Him to see where God was at work. It also helped Him to better understand God’s ways.
Do you guys remember “deflate-gate?” This was a few years back when the New England Patriots were accused of deflating the football so they would be easier to grip and pass. I’m not sure how that worked out—but I read this week that there were other ways the Patriots have cheated. One was back in the early “2,000’s.” I believe it was called “SPY-GATE.” During pregame warm ups—a low-level Patriots employee would sneak into the visiting locker room and steal the team’s play sheet—a piece of paper that listed the first 20 or so scripted plays for that team’s offense. This told the defensive coach what the other team was up to. They got away with it for a long time—but eventually other teams learned about this subterfuge and would put out fake play sheets for the Patriots to snag. But before they caught on this sheet gave the defense the knowledge to be sensitive to the other team’s plans.
Well, the Bible makes us more sensitive to God’s tactics. We don’t have to steal it—God has given it to us outright. And, if we are to SEE God at work as SIMEON did—if we are to tune our spiritual insight to God’s wavelength—-then we too must be students of God’s Book—The Bible. This is what Paul is referring to in Romans 12:2 when he says that in order to know what God is up to—-if we are to better “understand what the will of God is”—we must “renew our minds.” And, as I said, Simeon lived by this principle. He was well-acquainted with the written Word of God—and that helped Him to understand and SEE things that others missed. He learned that as 2nd Timothy 2:7 says, when we study God’s Word, “…the Lord will grant full insight and understanding in everything.” Simeon was like the psalmist who wrote, “Oh how I love Your law! I meditate on it all day long. I have more insight than all my teachers for I meditate on Your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders for I obey your precepts.
How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:97ff)
In short, Simeon’s careful study of God’s written Word, helped Him develop a close walk with God Himself that gave him the inside track to truth that others missed. We see evidence of this relationship in verse 26 where Luke tells us that God had revealed to Him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah—and all this helped him to wait for God’s best. You see, the truth is God is always at work around us—but only those who deepen their relationship with Him through Bible study and prayer are able to see Him at work. I mean, there are a lot of people—even Christians—who don’t embrace these essential spiritual disciplines and as a result they are spiritually blind—which tends to make them impatient.
Think about it—isn’t it easier for you to wait if you can see what is up ahead? When I’m in a traffic jam I hate being stuck behind one of those huge semis because I can’t see. I can’t understand WHY I’m waiting. But if I’m able to see that it’s an accident that is causing my delay it’s easier for me to be patient and wait for ambulances to arrive. If I can see that it’s road work and that they’re letting one lane at a time through, I can be patient and wait for my turn.
But if I can’t see—it’s very hard for me to wait.
Well, the same is true of spiritual things. If I’m familiar with God’s Word and the prophecies it contains—if I’m walking close with God and am therefore familiar with His still, small voice—well then I have a better understanding of His ways and that makes it easier for me to wait. But if I’m going through life spiritually blind—then I usually make mistakes based on my own impatience. And this leads to the second thing we must do in order to deal with those times in life when we are force to wait—and I’m referring to:
I’m referring to trusting that God’s perspective on our lives is more accurate than ours. To use Simeon’s phrase in verse 29—this is part of what it means to means to humble ourselves and acknowledge Jesus as our “SOVEREIGN LORD.” And, it’s obvious that Simeon humbled himself in this way, because Luke tells us that he always allowed himself to be moved by the Spirit of God. He literally walked where and when God told Him to walk. By the way, Simeon’s name means “hear and obey” and it suited him well because that’s the way he lived. He let God run every step of His life. Not only was he sensitive to the voice of God—he also did what God told Him to do. In short, Simeon humbly trusted in God’s perspective, no matter how long he had to wait to understand it. And we must learn to do the same. We must remember that God is the Creator. We are His creation. He is the Potter. We are the clay. God is infinitely more intelligent and loving than we are—so it only makes sense to trust His perspective on everything we deal with in life. Romans 11:33ff says, “Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” God sees and knows all things so, as we watch the calendar slowly drag by we need to learn to patiently wait and trust His timing instead of our own.
And, this is easier to do if we can come to realize that, whereas we exist IN time, God lives ABOVE or OUTSIDE of it. In other words God sees all of our lives at once unlike you and me who only see one slowly moving moment at a time. So, the days and months and years of waiting that we suffer through look different from God’s eternal perspective than they do to us. He sees more than we do. He knows the whole picture. He knows what lies ahead.
I’ve never been able to attend Kevin’s Corn Maze family event—but someday I hope I can. It sounds like a lot of fun. When I DO get to go—I have a plan to get through the maze. I’m going to go to the GOOGLE EARTH website and print out a bird’s eye view of the maze. With that perspective I’ll be able to see how to get out. Don’t tell anyone—I want to impress the others with my sense of direction!
Just kidding—my point is God sees our lives in that “Google-earth” kind of way. He sees the end that we can’t from our perspective so it only makes sense to trust Him to guide our steps. To endure times of waiting—like Simeon we must trust His all-knowing perspective. That leads me to mention one more thing that helps us wait.
Like Simeon we need to embrace that caliber of faith that enables us to believe that God WILL keep His promises to us—in His perfect time. This FAITH-filled HOPE enabled Simeon to wait for when God would—in His time and in His way—bring about the birth of the Christ. The apostle Paul says in Romans 8, “Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” The reason Simeon was able to wait so well was because he had the hope that Christmas was coming. He believed God’s promise that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Messiah. That faith is why Simeon spent his days walking through the temple pestering new parents—looking at every new baby. You know, many of us are excited about family coming to town and the presents we’re going to get, the fun we’re going to have. But for a lot of people this is the most difficult time of year.
- Singles who want to be married but aren’t yet—feel the pain of their loneliness more.
- Siblings who have been estranged—brothers and sisters who used to spend Christmas together but haven’t enjoyed that kind of closeness in a long time—-well, Christmas makes them feel this separation more.
- People who suffer with emotional illness feel their maladies more intensely as they watch the joy of others.
- Many of us miss loved ones who are no longer here—their absence makes this holiday—and all holidays hard.
Well, Jesus’ coming changes all that. I mean, as a Christian—-as someone who has put his faith in Jesus—I can endure physical and emotional pain because I know someday there will be no more pain. I can get through time of anxiety—because I know a day will dawn when there will be no more fear. We can deal with times of unfairness—because we know that one day perfect justice will rule. I can get through times of being separated from those I love because I know that one day we will all be together. I can wait through times of deep grief because I know some day I will join my loved ones who have died—those who have put their faith in Jesus—in Heaven.
You know, some of the most powerful words in the Bible make up the oft-repeated phrase, “this too shall pass!” Thanks to our faith in the saving work of Jesus we know that life won’t always be like this! Painful times—times when we are treated unfairly—lonely times—grief-filled times—because of Jesus, they all will PASS! And, as I said, Simeon understood this. That day in the temple courts he took that little baby Jesus and held Him in his hands and saw in Him the hope of humanity’s eternal salvation. In fact, his brief impromptu chorus celebrates one wonderful truth: GOD’S SALVATION HAS FINALLY COME!!! He basically said, “God, You can end my life now! I’m ready for eternity because Your Redeemer has come!” The main point I want us to get this morning is that Simeon teaches us FAITH helps us to see that our waiting will one day be WORTH IT!
Scott Wenig shares the story of some friends, Marshall and Susan Shelly who sent out the following Christmas letter one year: “On March 14th of this year our daughter Mandy was born, and before she had completely emerged the doctor said, ‘We need to measure her head,’ When I asked if something was wrong, he said, ‘It looks small, possibly micro cephalic.’ That was the first time we heard that word, but it wasn’t the last. Mandy indeed had a microcephala condition, which means her brain was not fully developed. The first three months of life led to her also having seizures and developing cataracts in both eyes. Surgery removed the cataracts and medication has the seizures basically under control, but her brain is still not and probably never will be normal. Mandy is a precious child, a gift from God, but one who will need special care for whatever years God sees fit to allow us to have her. We still don’t know if she can see or hear and the chances that she’ll learn to walk or sit up are remote. The first few months were filled with an aching loneliness. Where was God in all of this? What possible good could come out of this?”
Wenig reports that things got worse. The year after Mandy was born, Susan got pregnant again. Early in the pregnancy they realized something was wrong with this baby. The following November she gave birth to Toby and he had so many problems he only lived outside of the womb for a few short minutes. Four months later, his big sister, Mandy, died—so this couple lost two kids in less than four months. Can you imagine what that must have been like for them? A few years later as Marshall looked back on the experience of losing two kids he wrote this: “Before my children died, I considered the doctrines of resurrection and heaven pleasant but remote, a bit quaint. Now they’re central and strategic. As I held both Toby and Mandy within seconds of death, I was overwhelmed by a sense of how close every one of us is to eternity. I was cheek to cheek with a child now entering everlasting life. Now that sense, though sometimes overshadowed by the busyness of life, is never far away. Many times now heaven seems so much more substantial than earth. My wife Susan sometimes says, ‘I have one foot in heaven and one foot on earth.’ We’ve already sent part of ourselves on ahead, and we can understand better what Jesus meant when he said ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’”
Friends, Jesus is our only hope for healing in a hurting world. It’s our hope in Him and the salvation that only He provides that ENABLES us to wait—especially in tough times.