Advent, the season of waiting, feels like the last thing we need in a year marred by waiting. At every turn of 2020, we’ve waited: waited for lockdowns to end, for hospital beds to empty, for what the summer, fall, and holiday season would bring. We’ve waited for social justice, for economic relief, for election results. We’ve waited for sports to return, for schools to reopen, for in-person worship to resume.
We’ve waited and waited and waited and waited. All the while, we’ve hung on every whisper of hope that this way of life would end and a new one would rise to take its place. As I read about Simeon in Luke 2:22-35, I wonder how he felt about waiting.
Luke tells us, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolations 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” (Luke 2:25-26).
Simeon waited. But did he jump at every whispered coming of the Lord’s Christ? Was he disappointed by every rumor that turned out to be false? Simeon’s waiting parallels ours in an instructive way. It teaches not only how we wait, but who and what we wait for.
Like Simeon, we too wait in faith and righteousness. Like his forefathers’ before him going back to Abraham and Noah, Simeon’s righteousness was credited to him by God through faith. Not the result of any work of his own. His faith and righteousness were gifts given to him by God, just as God gives us our faith and righteousness. Any devoutness he demonstrated, any devoutness we demonstrate is the consequence, not the cause, of the righteousness and faith God gives us.
Like Simeon, we do not wait alone. He waited with the faithful believers of Israel—those who trusted in the promised coming of salvation. We wait together with the church—members of the body of Christ who believe in his promise to come again to bring life everlasting.
The Holy Spirit also waits with us as he did with Simeon. He waits with us in answer to the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer, fulfilling God’s good and gracious will. As Luther explains in the Small Catechism, “God’s will is done when he breaks and hinders every plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let his kingdom come; and when he strengthens and keeps us firm in his word and faith until we die.”
The Holy Spirit also waits with us as he did with Simeon.
This is the kind of God for whom Simeon waited and for whom we wait. One who does not leave us to wait alone. One who sustains us in this life with a foretaste of the feast to come. The foretaste is his promise, and by his promise, he calls us. Furthermore, “he who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess 5:24).
In addition to teaching us how we wait and what kind of God we wait for, Simeon’s story teaches us what we wait for. Luke writes that Simeon was waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” Consolation is the comfort received in disappointment, loss, and suffering. Though Luke does not give many details about Simeon’s life, the consolation he waited for was more than comfort for the national suffering of Israel under the rule of Rome. Simeon suffered because sin lived in his neighborhood, in his home, and in his heart.
Like Simeon, we suffer under the rule of our own sinful nature and reign of sin in this world. We wait for consolation in the midst of our suffering. We hope for that comfort.
The Christian life does not turn a blind eye to suffering or cover it in clichés in the hope of outlasting it. “Good things come to those who wait.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “Time heals all wounds.” “This will make you a better person.” These platitudes propose to justify the unjustifiable, but they only succeed in demanding that the sufferer gets over the one thing no one can overcome: death.
The Christian life does not turn a blind eye to suffering or cover it in clichés
But there is one who can and did overcome that last enemy. Jesus of Nazareth, the son of the Most High God, promised Savior of Israel, came. He entered the world, his world, which had been invaded by sin and death to take it back and redeem those in it. He entered into the world’s suffering by taking on the cause of its suffering, by becoming our sin (2 Cor 5:21), and by defeating death through his resurrection.
Like Simeon, we wait. Only this time, we wait for the promised one to return and once and for all bring the fullness of his life and death for us: the resurrection of our bodies no longer held by death and life everlasting.