Waiting

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Eight days, more or less, after Christ came into the world…

…eight days after Mary stayed with the livestock… and met the shepherds… and pondered

…eight days after Mary looked at her son for the first time and thought, “This is my son, loved and worthy of love. Glory to God in the highest!”…

Mary is a new mother… and Joseph is a new father… and there are doings to be done.

Someone needs to circumcise this child as a sign of the covenant between his God and his people. And Joseph needs to name this child according to the instructions that the angel gave to Mary. And Mary and Joseph need to dedicate this child—their firstborn son—to the Lord their God according to the law of Moses; they need to redeem him with a sacrifice.

And Mary… needs a bath. A special bath. A ritual bath. She has touched the boundary between life and non-life, and she needs to be restored.

So they go to the temple.

Now, one of the things that I love about churches—in normal times… in pandemic-free times… when we’re meeting together in the sanctuary and in fellowship hall… when we’re not afraid of spreading a virus—is how easily babies get passed around.

We are eager to welcome new people into the world and into our community. And new parents are eager for a break. And so babies get to meet the world… one person at a time… one stranger at a time… in the safety of their church family.

And there aren’t very many places where that happens. People don’t pass babies around at grocery stores or post offices. We only do that in places where we really trust the people around us. And it is beautiful that that can happen at church.

But I still think that Mary and Joseph must be absolutely shocked when an old man comes into the temple… and takes their eight-day-old son out of their hands… and lifts him up… and says,

Finally! I can die! For I have seen God’s salvation… a light for revelation to the nations… a glory for Israel. And you! The parents of this child! Bless you! Your child is destined for the falling and rising of many. And he is destined to be a sign that will be opposed, so that people’s inner thoughts will be revealed… … …and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.

There’s this… story… about Simeon. It’s not in the Bible. It’s a bit of folklore. It’s a bit of fan fiction. It’s one of those stories that gets created to fill in the gaps. But some people tell it.

It goes like this:

Once upon a time, the king of Egypt called together seventy-two Jewish scholars, and put each one in a separate room in his palace. And then he went to each of them, and said,

Your holy scriptures are in Hebrew, your own language, that only you speak. And I would like to include them in the library at Alexandria, which holds all of the great books in the world. So I would like you to translate your holy scriptures from Hebrew into Greek, which everyone speaks. And I trust that your God will put it in your heart to translate it exactly the same as each of your colleagues. And when I see that they’re all the same, then I will know that the translation is accurate.

And Simeon was one of those scholars. And he came to this passage in Isaiah: “Look, the almah is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

And he struggled with that word, almah. Part of him said that he should write neanis (young woman). After all, he had already written that word several times. But part of him said that he should write parthenos (virgin). After all, he had written that word once already. And he just. wasn’t. sure.

And while he was sitting there struggling—while he was sitting there running through the pros and cons of each translation—the world opened and an angel appeared. And the angel said, “Simeon. Write parthenos. For you will not die until you see the messiah born of a virgin.”

And again, this is not a story that’s in the Bible. It’s a bit of folklore. It’s a bit of fan fiction. It’s one of those stories that gets created to fill in the gaps.

But here’s the thing. That legend is about the Septuagint, the first Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures. So, if it were true, it would mean that when Simeon walked into the temple that day and saw Mary and Joseph and their son, he would have been something like 250 years old. He would have been waiting for a long time—almost as long as a single 2020—for God’s promise to come true.

Advent is over. The season of holy anticipation is done. Except that we’re still in a strange amorphous wibbly-wobbly moment… a strange amorphous wibbly-wobbly era… a strange amorphous wibbly-wobbly eternity.

It is three days since love came down on Christmas Day. And it is eight days since Christ was born among a dispossessed people in an occupied land, amid the animals and shepherds, to a young woman who couldn’t find a room for the night. And it is two thousand years after God came into the world as one of us.

And we have been waiting for so long—foralmost a whole 2020… and even longer—for Christ to return and usher in the fullness of the kingdom of God. And I can only imagine that our joy on that day will be something like the joy that the Simeon of legend felt, after waiting for so long, when he saw the baby that was promised. I can only imagine what our joy will be like when we see Jesus face-to-face, and we can say, “Finally! Everything that we have been waiting for is here!”

Of course, like the Simeon of legend, we don’t know when that will be. And, like the Simeon of the Bible, we can’t just sit around waiting. The season of holy anticipation is over. The season of holy waiting is finished. There are doings that need done. 

There are people longing to see hope and experience peace. There are people desperate to find joy and feel love. There are people who need to hear some good news—the simple words, “You are loved and worthy of love”—and to hear the story of the one who loved the world, and who came into it as one of us, to redeem and restore us all. 

So as we move through the season of Christmas and into a new year, may those of us who have seen God’s salvation go out and be a light to all the world!

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