Sometimes, it is nice to be made to wait. We live busy lives and having to come to a full stop, can remind us of the need for us to live balanced lives. To share our busy ness with equal amounts of rest.
However the reason it can be nice occasionally is because, for the most part we live in an instant world. We are not used to waiting. Our washing machine broke down this week, well more went up in smoke. What an inconvenience, and of course it waited until we had a full washing basket. But when it came round to getting a replacement, the most time consuming part of the process was choosing a new one from the ridiculously large range available. Once the model had been chosen, clickety click and less than 24 hours later I was plugging it in.
I remember a world of writing letters, I am not saying I wrote many, it was however a painful enough experience that it seared into my memory, writing things out by hand, painfully slowly, having to take time over it to make sure you didn’t make a mistake, if you did make a mistake do you screw it up and start again or cross it out and accept it looking messy, and then waiting days for someone to get the letter, let alone get a reply. Now we have email, where the biggest problem is that it is so fast to write and sent that we forget to check it thoroughly, and we end up sending a half finished email, or the dreaded email that says ‘please find attached’. Often the person we are sending it to is is quicker returning an email to letting us know we have forgotten the attachment than we are at realising our mistake.
God’s way is to take time over things, to take the scenic route, to stop and smell the roses. We don’t know why necessarily, but it is clearly how God likes to do things. How do we know this?
When God chose to save the world he waited, he took his time over it, thousands of years even. And even when the time was right, he started with a baby. The divine God, became a human baby, and took the very slow route that all of us have taken, or are still taking, in growing up.
In Noah and the Flood, we see the instant response to solving problems, and the devastation it causes, in the incarnation, in Jesus sharing our human nature, we see the slow route, the gradual recapitulation of sinful humanity through a slow transformation. God became like us, went through childhood, adolescence, grew up. He was like us in even way so that he could redeem us in every way. This was no flash in the pan magic trick, God pops down to earth for the day and solves our problems and then disappears back up to heaven unscathed, this was the real deal, the mind numbingly boring task of actually having to wait. Sharing our human nature, so that he can help us. This was the only way to redeem humanity. The only way to silence Satan once and for all, through a life lived in service to God.
But this also shows us how we are to be, how we are to approach life. We have to be ready to wait for God, for God’s timing. We don’t know how long Simeon and Anna waited, we don’t even know if they knew exactly what they were waiting for, but wait they did. And then it happened, the prophets Simeon and Anna are led to the temple while the young Jesus is being dedicated. They are both drawn by the Spirit and become aware that the waited promise has come, the messiah who will rescue the people, not only Israel, Simeon in particular points to God’s promise being for all nations, a light to the gentiles.
Simeon and Anna are both led by the Spirit to be in the right place at the right time, but they are both very old, and we have to remember the in between time, the gap between them knowing they will see God’s promise and it actually being fulfilled, what are they doing in the inbetween, they are praying and they are waiting. It can be difficult to appreciate that what God has promised for us may only come about in our later years, we like to thing in terms of instant fixes, but for many of the people in the Bible, this is exactly what happens. But the key to all of this is that they are faithful in the waiting.
The question for us that I would like to put to you today is, What are you waiting for? What has God promised for, what is it that God has placed on your heart. What dreams have grown cold over time? God has not forgotten, his timing is slower that we think. Keep waiting, keep hoping, God will achieve what he has promised.
There are two separate actions going on in this story that we need to be aware of. After giving birth Mary would have been considered unclean for seven days, and would have needed to remain at home for another 33 days, on the fortieth day the purification sacrifice needed to be made, and this could only be done in the temple in Jerusalem, The sacrifice offered here was the one permitted only for poor people, so we know they were not well off, they had a humble status. The second action is the redeeming of the firstborn child, which would require 5 shekels, however this did not need the child to be present.
Jesus did not have to be at the temple, the purification applied to Mary, not Jesus and the redemption payment was a simple transaction. Mary was following the Spirit in taking Jesus with her, most likely as a special dedication in a similar fashion to Hannah giving Samuel to God. As such Mary was also responding faithfully to the promises given to her about Jesus by the Angel Gabriel.
Part of receiving God’s promise is to continue to live and act in a manner that speaks about our hope for its fulfilment.
I would encourage you do three things today: Firstly remember the promises that you are hoping for from God. Secondly Remind God about them, remind him that would are waiting faithfully for them, and thirdly act out the hope that they will be fulfilled.
· God leads us in ways we cannot anticipate, we need to cultivate an attitude of waiting
· We need to spend time seeking the Lord, and we need to listen to the prompts of the Spirit.
· We don’t know the fullness of the purposes of God in our lives, we can’t always see how God is bringing about His purposes, but if we have received a promise from God then we need to hold on to it through thick and thin, regardless of how long we have been waiting. We need to put ourselves at the disposal of our God.
Let me finish with a Prayer by Thomas Merton
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.