Is it worth the wait?
There were lots of thing to look forward to with springtime in the south. Everything starts to come into bloom around the end of March or the beginning of April. The still, silent gray of winter gives way to a rainbow of colored leaves, flowers, and birds. For me, baseball season started and that meant the smell of fresh cut fescue and bluegrass every Saturday morning at Woodrow Wilson park. Spring break, the end of the school year, there were so many things to look forward to as the calendar tumbled away from January and February toward June.
But there was one treat that I looked forward to every spring as much or more than any. Usually around the third Friday our family would take a short little drive down Interstate 20 toward Atlanta. We would get off the highway one exit before the Atlanta city limit sign, wind our way down the off ramp and enter the gates. For nearly thirty years my father worked for a company called Printpack, a flexible packaging company. And every year, Printpack would collaborate with another company like IBM and rent out Six Flags Over Georgia for an employee picnic.
We always started in the same place, the picnic grounds. The companies would have a local business like Chick-Fil-A or one of the local barbeque restaurants cater the event. My father would talk to his co-workers and they would pat my sister and I on the head and tell how we had grown from last year. Usually, Karen and I would finish our food in a hurry and start the sleeve tug, “Can we go now? Can we go now? Other people are going, can we go now?” Finally, my father would finish eating and we made our way to the entrance and into the park.
We almost always went to the newest ride first. Every year, it seemed like the park created some new, bigger, better, faster, scarier something for park patrons. I have seen line wait times for some new rides as long as three hours and invariably the more complicated the ride, the more likely it was to break down and make people wait even longer.
I remember the year that the Monster Plantation was built in the park. It is a simple water ride, you sit in a boat and float past a lot of animatronic characters who tell a story about a southern style celebration. Think of it as something like Splash Mountain at Disney World without the roller coaster drop and splash at the end. We got there early enough to get through the line in about an hour and by the time we got off the ride, the line had doubled. When we were getting ready to leave the park with the early birds, the line was still about an hour and half.
Regardless of what new ride Six Flags came up with – and whether I had the nerve to ride it – there was an anticipation that came with the annual trip that became a yearly tradition. As soon as the calendar was flipped over to April, I couldn’t wait to go to the park. As I got older, it was an even bigger deal because I got to walk around with friends or by myself, walking in some sense across a long bridge to being my own person.
As we come to our scripture in Luke this morning, that is the crux of Simeon’s story, a story of anticipation, a story of waiting for something well worth the wait.
Waiting for a Song
It was an off day for Simeon. I’m not sure what that meant for priests of the Temple in Jerusalem during the first century, but I can imagine that it was probably something like it is for the rest of us: a day to rest, to catch up on things around the house, to enjoy a little time with the family. Simeon, as a priest, was on a rotation; he spent around a month serving in the temple area and then returned home. So, when he was off duty, Simeon had a long period of time to relax.
According to Luke, Simeon was, “righteous” and “devout,” characteristics that the writer of Luke and Acts also attributes to Elizabeth, Zechariah, Joseph of Arimathea, and others in the two narratives. Simeon was also a man who “anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.” (Luke 2.25) Even on an off day, Simeon would have still been attuned to the Spirit and it should be no surprise that when the Spirit of God spoke, he would be listening.
I have wondered what that must have been like, the waiting all those years for restoration of Israel. Was Simeon like others who saw this as a political and social restoration where the foreign invaders would be driven out as in the days of the Maccabees? Or did he have a keener eye for things of the spirit and realize that the restoration talked about was one of spiritual restoration and reclamation, where God would once again be the center of the Jew’s hearts and life, leading them, “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with their God” as it says in the story of Micah (6:8)? What version he was looking for we don’t know, I tend to think the later, but the greater point is that he was looking and he was listening.
Simeon is minding his own business, enjoying an off day when he feels the Spirit of God leading, drawing him to the temple. I imagine Simeon may have been cautious, maybe wary, perhaps excited, or curious, in any event, he recognized the tugging on his heart as the Spirit and followed as it directed him to the temple. I would think there were people wandering about in the temple area, having their currency changed, buying sacrifices, listening to teachers and sages teach, discuss, argue about the theological ideas and thoughts of the day.
Then he sees the child. Not just any child, but the child of promise, the child who would become the man to bring the salvation of God to the world. I imagine the prophet is awestruck, overwhelmed, as he goes to the cautious young family, a family still worried about potential stigmas of poverty (they could only afford a dove or pigeon to sacrifice) and honor (some thought of Jesus as the child of a Roman soldier not the holy child of God). In the presence of this priest, God takes away these worries. Simeon takes the baby in his arms and I can’t help seeing a painting in my mind by Ron DiCianni. In the image, Simeon holds gently the newborn to his chest, his mouth open in speech or song, and a single tear falling down his cheek. This affectionate display is born of a great truth that the priest has held onto for a long time and now is seeing.
Let’s look at some of the verses here and try to see what Simeon saw.
The big picture: Jesus is the restoration of Israel (2.25-26)
The setup for the story of Simeon is that of promises and hope. The writer of Luke says,
“25 A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”
Throughout the Old Testament, the prophetic call is one of restoring Israel to the proper worship of God and the proper view of God. While there were many, if not most, in Jesus time who took this to mean that God would restore the physical and political land of Israel, there were others, and I believe Simeon to be among them, who saw this as a restoration of the soul and Spirit. In the Old Testament, from Micah that we quoted earlier, God says to his people,
“With what should I approach the Lord and bow down before God on high? Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings, with year-old calves? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with many torrents of oil? Should I give my oldest child for my crime; the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit? 8 He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6.6-8
In this and other passages, what we see is a God who is not interested in outward religion but inward, spirit led faith that leads to the display of good as it’s fruits. Throughout his earthly ministry as recorded in the gospels, Jesus refers repeatedly to the idea of being ‘born of water and the spirit’ (John 3.1-17), worshiping God in spirit (John 4.24), and being born anew (1 Peter 1.3). The emphasis on the spiritual over the physical and political is unmistakable, the restoration that is sought in both testaments is one of the spirit.
This brings us to the how, how is God going to restore Israel and for that matter ‘all nations’? Through Jesus. Notice what is said in the Song of Simeon,
“my eyes have seen your salvation. 31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples. 32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for your people Israel.” – Luke 2.30-32
Jesus is the salvation – the deliverance – of man by God. In Jesus, Simeon see the salvation, the deliverance of his people from their complacent spirituality of the past, to a newness of life. Jesus brings the promise of worshiping God in the spirit, not just in the temple but anywhere. He is the teacher of the way, the true way to being at peace with God and with neighbor. This is a spiritual reliving of God’s salvation – his rescuing and restoring them – as he did in the Exodus and the Exile. The greater point here being that God desires to see all of his creation delivered and through Jesus, a final act of salvation can be set in motion.
Jesus was prepared – made ready – in the presence or ‘in the face of’ all people. Simeon did not rush out to have Mary and Joseph take the child to alcove in shame or fear. He held the child in full view of everyone there in the temple area. This is a public salvation, not to be hidden but to be declared as the angels did before the shepherds and as Simeon and Anna do now in the temple. This was a declaration of the child’s importance that the priest and the prophetess Anna make public statements to all about who Jesus is.
Jesus is a ‘light for revelation’ – the means to see clearly that which is being shown – to the Gentiles or non-Jewish people. When you walk into a room and it’s dark, what do you do? If you want to see, you flip the light switch. With the phrase, “light for revelation,” Simeon is saying that Jesus is the light switch flip for the entire world, Jews and Gentiles, those who have known a special relationship with God already and those who will come to know no matter their ancestry. Simeon makes the bold pronouncement that Jesus is the one to bring spiritual unity to all that are a part of creation itself.
What are you Waiting For?
When I was a kid, it seemed like forever to wait in line to ride the ‘good rides’ at Six Flags. With Jesus, there is no line, no waiting, no standing there peeking around the corners or impatiently sighing at the mass of people in front of you. There is only the need to seek Jesus and you will find him, to choose to orient the direction of your life toward God as Jesus taught us and we are no longer waiting for restoration, for revelation, for salvation, it will be given to us. And we don’t to wait from year to year for God to show us something new, bigger, better. We simply have to walk, as Jesus walked, and God will show it to us.
In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit, amen.