Welcome to the Season of Advent. Over the past years I’ve really appreciated the this season-before-the-season because I think it’s a wonderful tool and jumping off point for what Christmas is all about. I appreciate the Advent wreath that has one candle lit each week – and having to wait seven days to see the next… and then another seven days to see the next. I think it’s good practice. That’s what Advent means… it simply means “coming”. Something is coming and we are to wait for it.
I think what I appreciate most about the Season of Advent is that instead of jumping straight into the craziness of Christmas, our forefathers had the foresight to set aside four weeks where all believers could take some time the practice something that many of us are not very good at: waiting.
I created a little video the other day this week to help illustrate this point.
Black Friday vs Advent
We, as a culture, are not very good at waiting. In fact, we’ve almost turned waiting into a dirty word. While the Christian church is talking about the people who waited whole life-times to see Jesus – after waiting for hundreds of years between prophecies, and thousands of years since Adam and Eve were promised the coming of one who would “crush the serpents head” – the culture around us is ramping up to higher and higher speeds.
This year was even more ridiculous as I noticed more and more pre-black-Friday sales. We can’t even wait for Black Friday anymore! That’s nuts by even the world’s standards. A presale for the big presale to kick off the Christmas sales season.
The Christian church talks about slowing down and reflecting, preparing ourselves to meditate over the story of Jesus Christ’s birth and life; taking a whole month to get our homes and hearts ready. I feel like, as we sit here today, we’re in the eye of the storm. It’s calm right here, but everything around us is swirling with as much noise, lights and commercialism as they can muster. It’s quite a dichotomy.
We sit here and say “wait for the coming of Jesus”, while everyone else says get everything you want right now! Black Friday is all about “getting it now”. Don’t wait until Christmas! Don’t even wait until the store opens! Camp outside and we’ll open extra early for you, so you can stampede over your neighbours to get things you don’t really need for the same price they’ll be in two weeks and then again on Boxing Day. And then go home and sit in front of your computer all night, credit card in hand, so you can get the best of Cyber Monday. Sure, get people some gifts, but you know you’re not going to get what you really want for Christmas, so use this day to buy those things for yourself!”
Not exactly the true meaning of Christmas, is it?
Advent is the time where Christians are encouraged to remember that waiting is a good thing, that patience is a godly virtue, and that being first and getting the most is actually not good for our souls. Advent tells us to stop for a while, listen to what is going on around is, reprioritize what matters: our relationship with Jesus and others. It reminds us that a relationship with God, with Christ, with the Holy Spirit, or with anyone else, isn’t built with speed – but requires time and patience.
I recognize – because I’ve felt it in myself – that there is a temptation to start ramping up for Christmas. It’s hard not to leave the eye of the storm and get sucked into the whirlwind of activity. But I want to encourage you to relax for a moment this morning, realize where you are, appreciate a moment dedicated to God – and then consider extending this moment for the rest of the season. We are here, today, worshipping Jesus, remembering His coming, His birth, and our salvation. I just want us to hang onto that and let it fill the rest of the season.
Let’s talk a little about waiting. Have you ever had to wait for something? We all do. What kind of waiter are you? Are you the kind that can sit and wait, or are you more like the people in the video that mash on the button over and over and over until it changes? Can you wait for an elevator without hitting the button two or three times? Can you send a text to someone and then turn off the phone and wait for a reply, or do you have to text them back a few times to remind them that you texted them?
What about waiting in line at the grocery store, or a theme park? Do you size up the lines and see if you can find the fastest one? If your car or something else in your home breaks down, do you need it fixed that day? Have you ever had to put off a project wait for a replacement part? How well did you do then?
Christmas is a time when there is an inherent impatience built in. Some of us even have an advent calendar where we count down the days. We wait for the Christmas season to come – some of us start waiting in August. When do you start playing music? I started before Remembrance Day. I couldn’t wait anymore. We order gifts and then have to wait for them to come. We have relatives that we want to see, but we have to wait until they arrive. There’s a tonne of things that Advent, that “Come”, during this season, that we have to wait for, isn’t there? And sometimes that waiting is hard.
God Plays the Long Game
God doesn’t seem to have a problem with being patient – nor does He seem to have a problem making people wait. He seems to really like the “long game”, where everything takes much, much, much longer than we would ever expect or desire.
He had the power to create the universe in an instant – but He took six days whole days (unless you’re an evolutionary creationist, in which He took considerably more time), and then took a day off! He told Noah there would be a flood coming 120 years before the flood came. God told Abraham that he would have a son 15 years before he fulfilled the promise . God’s people were in slavery in Egypt for 400 years before He raised up Moses. And then God sent Moses away for 40 more years, and then had his people wander the desert for 40 more years.
David spent years waiting for God to fulfil his promise that he would become King of Israel. God established dozens of Kings in Israel after that, over more than 200 years, each getting worse than the last, and then God sent the Israelites into the Babylonian exile for 70 years!
It was over 700 years after Isaiah prophesied about the coming of the Messiah, and 400 years after the last Old Testament Prophet, Malachi, died that the prophecies about Jesus started to come true.
God has absolutely no problem with waiting. He always comes through, but it’s always in His own time. He never rushes. It’s almost as though He believes that the act of waiting itself has benefits! Strange concept for us today, isn’t it?
Today, I want to take a little time to look at a man in the Bible who is known as the man who waited. God gave him a promise, but he had to wait for his entire life – almost the very, very end – before he saw it fulfilled. He waited for decades before the promise came to light.
His name was Simeon and his story is found in Luke 2:22-35. This story occurs forty days after the shepherds have come to see Jesus in the stable, right after Jesus was born:
“And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.’ Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’”
A Brief Bio
We don’t know a lot about Simeon. For example, we don’t know how hold he is. He could be 30 or a hundred. But, judging by him statement of “departing in peace”, most people assume that he lived a good many years and died shortly after seeing Jesus.
We don’t know his job, either. He may have been a priest, or he may have been a spiritual layman who listened well to God.
One thing we do know is that he was a good waiter. The descriptors we have of this man talk mainly about his attitude and spiritual understanding. He “was a righteous and devout” man, who was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (meaning the time when God would rescue His people) and had “the Holy Spirit upon Him”.
He was a man of good integrity with a bona-fide faith in God. He didn’t come to temple out of habit or religious duty. He came because he took his faith seriously, loved God and God’s people, and wanted to live it out every day. He lived every day in eager anticipation that God would speak, act and help His people.
Of course, he wasn’t alone. A lot of people were waiting for the Messiah. King Herod was a cruel dictator and the Romans made life miserable for the defeated Israelites. Even their religious leaders made life miserable. Pharisees had turned their religion into a grueling set of rules, regulations and tasks, and their love for God had run cold. The Sadducees spent their time reinterpreting the scriptures, denying the miracles God performed, and rejecting the prophets.
A corrupt government filled with unbelievers and a corrupt religious system that made one choose between overwhelming rules or a powerless, spiritless, sterilized God. But there were still some who had faith – and they waited hopefully for a time when God would finally straighten it all out. Simeon was one of these people.
What I want to do with this story is to pull out one simple truth: there are two different ways to wait for something… worthwhile waiting and worthless waiting.
Waiting does have value, as clearly God thinks it does, but we can negate that value by refusing to accept the value that comes during the waiting time. Worthwhile waiting is the kind where we use the time to prepare ourselves for the advent, or coming, of the thing we are waiting for. Worthless waiting occurs when we allow that time to turn our hearts towards things like bitterness, sloth, procrastination or greed.
Me encouragement to you today is to embrace waiting, and allow the time in between to build your character, skills, faith, and heart. Don’t waste it.
I know there are people here that are waiting for something. You’re waiting for healing, for love, for a relationship, for forgiveness, for release from pain, for your next position, for an answer. You’re waiting until you are old enough to do something, or strong enough, or wealthy enough, or brave enough. You’re waiting for someone to respond to you, or waiting for the right moment to do something. You’re waiting for marriage, a baby, for your kids to grow, or your parents to finally see how much you’ve grown. You’re waiting for retirement or a new job. You’re waiting for the government to fulfil their promises, or the next election cycle so you can hear all new promises.
We all here, today, are waiting for something. Christians here today are waiting for Jesus to return. We can sympathize with Simeon who saw corruption in his leadership, corruption in his church, his family, and his own heart, corruption all around him, and longed for the time when God would send the Messiah. We’re there too. We can’t wait until Jesus comes again to make it all right.
But right now… we wait. We wait for big things and small things, relational things and practical things, life-changingly important things and mundane things.
So my encouragement to you, on this first day of Advent, is to wait well.
Simeon waited well. Consider those descriptors again. He was “righteous and devout” and “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” He was given the promise that something would happen – he would see the Messiah – buy year after year, as he waited, his waiting didn’t lead him to sin, but to faith. His waiting was worthwhile because it was focused on God.
He didn’t hold himself up in a cave and wait for God’s promise to come true – he continued to go to the temple and do what was right. He didn’t spend his life bragging gthat he had some kind of special knowledge – instead he allowed that knowledge to spur him in to righteous and devout actions.
Waiting for God to fulfill his promise didn’t make him bitter, but drove him to a closer relationship with the Holy Spirt. Waiting for the promise didn’t make him doubt his faith, but drove him to a greater commitment.
Above all, his waiting was active – not passive. He kept doing the good things he was supposed to do – praying, serving, attending, giving, studying, caring for others – while he waited!
That is my my simple application for today. Waiting is a spiritual exercise. Waiting is a gift from God. Whatever God has given you to wait for, the gift isn’t just the receiving at the end, but the entire time of waiting in between. Use that time to grow closer to God. Don’t waste your waiting time.
Sometimes we sit there and hammer God with the desire for instant gratification. “When God? Why not now, God? How about now, God? Now? What about now?” It’s like banging on that button over and over as though it is going to make the light change – make God act faster. It’s not. All it’s doing is creating bitterness and anxiety in our hearts.
And God does what that little crosswalk sign does. He says, “Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait.”
This world hates to wait. They won’t wait for marriage before they take the benefits of marriage, which causes them much trouble. They won’t wait until they have the money before they buy things, which puts them into debt. They buy lottery tickets hoping for an instant fix to all their problems. That’s not how it works. That’s not how God designed it.
No, instead, God wants us to build our faith and dependence on him. He says in Hebrews “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Waiting gives us the opportunity to build our faith. And it is by faith that we are saved, and by which the next verse in Hebrews says, “we receive our commendation” from God, and “understand that the universe was created by the word of God”.
At the end of that chapter in Hebrews, after giving a list of people who lived by faith alone, it says, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us they would be made perfect.” (Heb 11:39-40)
If we want that “something better” – which is a strong faith in Jesus Christ, and a commendation from God – then we must learn to wait.
Let us, as we wait for Christmas, (or whatever you are waiting for), be like Simeon, and trust in the God who makes us wait.