Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Waiting for Christmas


The Gospel of Luke tells us of Simeon and Anna, two elder saints overjoyed by the arrival of the Messiah. Simeon is sometimes seen as the lesser of the two because his response did not include evangelism. However, that is not the point of his story. He is a model of how to wait for God to move in our lives, and it would be wise for us to learn to do the same.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of giving the devotional for the senior citizens’ group at my home church. I chose to focus on the story of Simeon and Anna from Luke 2:25–38, given that it is part of the story of Christ’s birth and because it ties into age not being a limitation to service in God’s kingdom. However, I spent more time on the comparison between Anna and Simeon. I have always been fascinated by it, especially by the way it is often made into a negative contrast. It is interesting enough that I thought it would make a good article for this week.

Simeon vs. Anna

It is best to read the passage in the link above, but briefly, Simeon and Anna were two elderly people who served in the temple at Jerusalem two thousand years ago. One day, the baby Jesus was brought there for His dedication offering. Simeon had been promised by God that he would not die until he saw God’s Messiah, and when he found Jesus, he offered the Lord praise for keeping His word. Anna likewise gave God glory for the coming of the Anointed One, but she also went out and immediately began to tell others of what had happened.

There is a good deal more there, but that provides enough of a summary for my purposes. The point sometimes made when discussing this passage is that Anna acted best. She was most likely over 100 years old and certainly could have been excused for seeking comfort in her final days. Instead, she spent all her time serving in the temple. And when Jesus came, she was not satisfied simply to express gratitude for what she had seen. Instead, she evangelized. In doing so, she used her age as an opportunity rather than a liability. Her years of faithfulness had given her an excellent reputation so that when she talked, people listened. She took holy advantage of that, providing a wonderful example of the fact that God’s children can always find ways to advance His kingdom if they are willing to look for them.

In a head-to-head matchup, many people feel that Simeon comes up short. There is no question that he was a man of great faith. However, his response to the Messiah is largely turned inward. In the passage, he thanks God but he does not share the good news. As a result, his devotion feels incomplete.

Simeon's Example

I do not think that view is entirely fair, however. It depends upon reading something into the text that isn’t there. Now I will admit, sometimes you have to do that. This is a fairly minor case in comparison to passages on which weighty doctrinal interpretations hang. I simply think it is unnecessary here in Luke 2. Yes, Luke does not say Simeon told anyone else about Jesus. But Luke does not say Simeon never told anyone about Jesus, either. The topic is completely absent. Beyond that, there is nothing in the words of the text to suggest Simeon failed to do as God willed. We just have the absence of evidence here, and that is not evidence of absence.

As a result, I would not consider this to be a matter of right or wrong. Instead, it shows two different ways to faithfully respond to the works of God. Anna’s is active, and I think that is why it is usually seen as the “good” one. She went out and did something. Of course that would resonate with us. Productivity is one of the highest virtues of American society. We take pride in working hard, to the extent that we are actually obsessed with being busy. It is easy to look down on Simeon because he did nothing.

If that is what we think, we need to be challenged to look again. First of all, Simeon did not do “nothing” because, as I already mentioned, the description of him in this passage is not meant to be comprehensive. We are not supposed to imagine him sitting in the temple all day just staring at the stone walls. More importantly, however, what he is described as doing is not “nothing.” Rather, it was contemplative. There is great value in that, and we would do well to rediscover it.

Waiting for God

Simeon is a reminder that sometimes our highest responsibility is to wait on God. There are occasions when we must receive goodness, not force goodness to happen. Maybe that sounds odd, or maybe it even sounds obvious, but we constantly do the opposite. How often do we question God, wondering why He does not do what we want when we want Him to do it? How often do we try to work out the formula for accelerating His timetable, or attempt to get for ourselves what He will not give us yet? How often do we get impatient to fix things, only to end up making them worse?

Simeon did not do that. He had God’s promise, and from all we can tell that was good enough for him. He was able to savor that promise when it was fulfilled because he had been able to relinquish control.

Perhaps an even better example is the OT prophets, because they were able to wait for what they never even received. Consider 1 Pet. 1:10–12. The biblical prophets looked ahead to the coming of Christ, but the last of them died centuries before He arrived. It did not matter because they had faith in the Lord. They knew their lives were short in comparison to God’s plans. In the same way, we now wait upon Jesus’ return. But there are any number of other, lesser things in our individual lives that are not under our control. Whatever they may be, we should desire the faithfulness and the patience to look to God for them and trust Him for whatever timing He chooses to use.

Simeon did so, and he was blessed for it. I do not think we have the license to blame him for that. Instead of seeing him as coming up short of Anna, we should recognize how we tend to come up short of him. They are both saints for us to emulate. That is why God recorded both of their stories in His word. We should live in a way that allows us to follow both examples.

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