“But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
In the Spanish language the verb esperar means both “to hope” and “to wait.” It is a beautiful Advent verb, capturing the essence of the season that we have journeyed together these past four weeks.
This waiting, essential to the spiritual life, is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting bathed in hope and a promise that makes present what we wait for. When architect Frank Lloyd Wright was asked at the age of 83 which of his works he would say was his most magnificent masterpiece, he said, “my next one.” We have waited during Advent for the birth of Jesus. Our waiting has now been fulfilled, and we celebrate the birth of he who has been the object of our pregnant hope:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given….”
In the Gospel reading this week (Luke 2:22-40), two old folks happen upon a couple carrying a child. Luke describes Simeon and Anna in terms that he will use later of the early Christian movement. Simeon is “righteous and devout and the Holy Spirit is upon him.” Anna is a prophetess and a long-time widow who spends every waking hour in worship and prayer. Both spend their final days “esperando” (hopefully waiting) for the “consolation of Israel”(Simeon) and the “redemption of Jerusalem” (Anna).
Simeon and Anna both saw the Christ and welcomed him because they were longing for his coming and his redemption. What have you been waiting for this Christmas? What have you been longing for? What have you been expecting to receive? Did you see Jesus? In whom? How? When?
I am fascinated with the person of Simeon. My mind races to what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph to have their baby taken out of their arms by a strange, old man. What did the face of Simeon look like as he held in his arms the “consolation of Israel” for whom he had been waiting his entire life? Oh the joy that must have enveloped him – a sense of utter fulfillment, coming as it did after a long time of waiting, impregnated by hope. How do Simeon and Anna’s lives at the time of meeting Jesus speak to you having just had the same experience this Advent?
How are we to wait for God? We wait in hope, patiently. But patience does not mean passivity. Waiting patiently is not like waiting for your date to pick you up, the snow to stop, or the sun to rise. It is an active waiting, one in which we embrace the present in order to experience here and now the signs of the One for whom we wait. The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior, which means “to suffer.” The art of waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, marinating within the juices of current reality, all the while learning to see life through the lens of unbridled hope.
In a recent e-mail to the organizational directors with whom we serve at Street Psalms, Kris Rocke quoted Paula D’Arcy who said, “God comes to us disguised as our own life.” He then went on to explain that in D’Arcy’s words, we find a poetic way of saying that the Incarnation reveals itself most powerfully not only in the past or in the future, but also in the present reality of everyday life. “Jesus is coming to us whether we have raised lots of money for our organizations or find ourselves in the hole,” Kris wrote. These are merely the circumstances into which Jesus comes… either way, he comes!
Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote in a 1943 letter that “a prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, does various seemingly unessential things and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”
Our time of hopeful waiting, like Simeon and Anna’s, has led to the opening of the door to freedom in the birth of Jesus. We hold in our arms the new birth of promise, we gaze in wonder at the mercy, grace, and love of the Almighty, and we revel in the words of the Old Testament prophet whose vision has been fulfilled:
“Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come, says the Lord Almighty.” (Malachi 3:1)
At the conclusion of this Advent season may you, like Simeon and Anna, have in your arms and in your heart the One who has come – the object of your deepest longings and most profound desire.
Merry Christmas, and may you have a hope-filled 2015!
Joel Van Dyke