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According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man’s feet and gave him food and drink.
The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So Abraham asked him, “Don’t you worship God?”
The old traveler replied, “I worship fire only and reverence no other god.”
When he heard this, Abraham became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out of his tent into the cold night air.
When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, “I forced him out because he did not worship you.”
God answered, “I have suffered him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not be patient with him one night?”
“Patience is a virtue,
Possess it if you can.
Found seldom in a woman,
Never in a man.”
Personally, I think I’m doing better with being patient, except for bad drivers and stupid. You all know that bad drivers make me crazy, but stupid also has a way of putting me over the edge. God, as Abraham learned, is patient. The Psalmist wrote:
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Psalm 103:8)
However, we, like Abraham, even when it comes to being patient on the Lord, could use a bit of work. “Dear Lord, make me patient, and do it now!” What does being patient on the Lord look like?
Luke does not tell us how old the Prophet Simeon was when he encountered the Holy Family, but there are several indicators that he was quite aged. Orthodox tradition even states that he was over 200 years old. Unlike Simeon, we are told the age of the Prophetess Anna, eighty-four. I think it would be fair to say that Simeon was at least as old or older.
So, let’s do a bit of math (not my strong suit). As we are celebrating the Presentation of Our Lord, which is also the ritual Purification of Mary following the birth of a child, then we know that at this stage Jesus is forty days old. What year was Jesus born? Most scholars place it at around 4 BC. Four years before what is considered year 0 AD. All that to say, if we place Simeon and Anna at close the same age, then we can agree that they were born in 88 BC, approximately. Who ruled Israel at that time? The Maccabees/Hasmoneans. Anna for sure and most likely Simeon were both born in an era when Israel was free from foreign rule. Under the Hasmoneans, Jerusalem grew from a city of 5,000 to 25-30,000. It was prosperous, important. The point being that Simeon and Anna had seen a time in the life of Israel when God reigned, when God was King, but the pendulum swung and in 63 AD the city was sacked by the Romans, so for almost sixty years, Anna and Simeon had observed all the suffering of the people brought about by occupying forces of Rome. From one extreme to the to the other they were witnesses. Yet, instead of simply giving in, crying defeat, and lamenting the past and the current state of their lives, they did the one thing that would actually make a difference: they prayed. Simeon “was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.” Anna “never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day… looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Like so many others, they could have given themselves over to despair, but instead, they chose to have hope, always looking forward to the consolation, the comforting after the defeat, the redemption, the saving of Israel by the hand of God. But not only did they believe that the Lord would save, they knew the Lord would save, so with hope they patiently waited on the dawning of God’s light:
“a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
Today your life may be rosy and beautiful, but for all of us, just like with Anna and Simeon, the pendulum will swing; maybe for a short while, maybe for a season, maybe for much longer, and that swinging is not a matter of if, but when. So the question is: how will we respond? How do we wait for God in the dark days?
Henri Nouwen wrote a beautiful little daily devotional, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith. For November 20th he wrote, “How do we wait for God? We wait with patience. But patience does not mean passivity. Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or the sun to rise. It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for.
“The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means ‘to suffer.’ Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants. Waiting patiently always means paying attention to what is happening right before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God’s glorious coming. Source
That describes Anna and Simeon. They were ones who were looking for consolation, looking for redemption… looking for God in the most difficult of times… and because they were looking for him, they saw him, encountered him, embraced him.
Last week, Ashley shared a lovely sermon and as part of it she read to us the opening verse of Genesis, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” (Genesis 1:1) Ashley added, “God has always provided that light for us.” That and what Nouwen said truly resonated with me. When we see the world as dark, when we witness or experience suffering, if we will have this patient hope that Anna and Simeon portrayed, if we will spiritually ‘look to the east for the rising of the Son,’ then as Nouwen says, we will see “the first rays of God’s glorious coming.” God has always provided light and he will continue to do so until the full light of his glorious coming is upon us, therefore, let us also be patiently hopeful for the coming of God’s light, for it is in that light that we too will see him, encounter him, and embrace him.
Let us pray: Father in heaven, our hearts desire the warmth of your love and our minds are searching for the light of your Word. Increase our longing for Christ our Savior and give us the strength to grow in love, that the dawn of his coming may find us rejoicing in his presence and welcoming the light of his truth. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.