Hoping for Change
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.”
December 25, 2020, Words By: Joel Van Dyke, Image By: Unknown
In the Spanish language the verb esperar means both “to hope” and “to wait.” It is a beautiful Advent verb, capturing the “hopeful waiting” of the season that we have journeyed together these past four weeks.
This kind of waiting, essential to the spiritual life, is not an empty waiting. It is bathed in the waters of hope and enveloped in the promise that makes present what we look forward to—the desire for transformation and new life. Our waiting has now been fulfilled:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given….”
In our Gospel reading this Christmas morning, two seasoned souls happen upon a couple carrying a child. Luke describes Simeon and Anna in terms that he’ll use later when describing the early Christian movement. Simeon is “righteous and devout” with the presence of the Holy Spirit resting upon him. Anna is a prophetess and long-time widow who spends every waking hour in worship and prayer.
Both are in the sunset of their lives, having lived through the ravages of war, social injustice, disease, political discord and religious strife. And in the midst of it all, we find them “esperando” (waiting hopefully) for the “consolation of Israel” (Simeon) and the “redemption of Jerusalem” (Anna). They long to see a world that reflects the goodness of its Creator.
Simeon and Anna both recognize and welcome the Christ child because they have been attentively waiting in great hope for the redemption of the world. It makes me wonder, what was so different about this kind of “waiting” that gave them eyes to see what so many others couldn’t—God at work in the most unlikely and counterintuitive ways.
What have you been attentively waiting for this Advent season in the midst of the disorientation and discouragement of 2020? What seed of new life have you been longing for? And how are you looking for it to show up?
I am especially fascinated with Simeon. Imagine his expression as he held the “consolation of Israel”—that for which he had been waiting his entire life? Oh the joy and sense of utter fulfillment he must have experienced.
And yet, it strikes me that this child, who carried all of Simeon’s hopes for change, had none of the salvific trappings one might imagine. He didn’t have an entourage, wealth or political power like Alexander the Great, Herod the Great or Augustus the Great. Instead, he was born in obscurity and utter vulnerability with nothing “Great” to speak of. How could Simeon and Anna see God in a place and person that didn’t fit social or religious expectations? How can we?
While in prison, Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his wife from a Nazi prison during the Advent season of 1943. A sentence from that letter has profound significance in light of all that has transpired during the challenges, heartache and discouragement of 2020.
“A prison cell where 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 all of us, like Simeon and Anna, have in our arms and in our heart the Prince of Peace. May we see him at work in the most unlikely places of our lives and of our world. May His birth today be the object of your deepest longing and most profound desire. Let it be so.
Joel Van Dyke