What Are You Waiting For?
Passage: Luke 2:21–2:40
Have you ever considered how much waiting is a part of our lives?
We wait for packages to arrive. We wait for Christmas to come so we can open our presents. We can put ourselves on a “waitlist” to get a table at a restaurant or to get a product right when it comes out or gets back in stock. We wait for a raise or a promotion. We wait in lines for food or movies or rides at the fair. We say, “I can’t wait” to do or to get whatever it is we are looking forward to. We say, “It was worth the wait.” Kids will ask “are we there yet” because they are tired of waiting. Hudson will ask for something and we will say, “No not now.” Then he tries to schedule when we can get it, “Have to wait...later...after nap?”
We have even built special places for waiting called “waiting rooms”. I went to a doctor appointment last week. I was at the doctor’s office for about 45 minutes. A nurse or doctor interacted with me for about 10 minutes of that time. The rest was spent waiting.
This experience at the doctor is pretty typical. Timex did a survey in 2012 that included the time people spend waiting. On average, Americans spend 32 minutes waiting for the doctor. They also spend 13 hours each year waiting on hold for customer service and 38 hours each year waiting in traffic. That’s a half day on hold and a day and a half in traffic! People on average spend 7 minutes a day waiting for a cup of coffee. Here’s one that may interest married couples: Americans spend on average 21 minutes waiting for their significant other to get ready to go out. But they themselves take 32 minutes on average to get ready.
Some of our waiting just happens and we don’t choose it, like waiting in traffic or for Christmas to come. But many times our waiting is for things we want or need. We might decide not to wait if we don’t think it’s worth the wait, like picking a different restaurant because the wait is too long at the first one. But if something is worth the wait, we will wait a long time.
This means that what we wait for can reveal what we want and even our deepest needs and values. We wait in line at the drive-thru because we have a need for food and perhaps because we really like the food there. We wait in line at DisneyWorld because of the experience the ride will give us. I remember waiting in line for like 45 minutes at a ride in DisneyLand. We will wait on hold with tech support because we need their help to fix something. We might wait for the perfect person to marry. We might wait to have kids. We choose to wait for things that are worth it - that meet a need or desire.
What’s something you find yourself waiting for? Do you keep waiting for life to be less stressful? Are you waiting for COVID to be done with? Are you waiting to have enough money? Are you waiting for your kids to start acting differently? Are you waiting for retirement? What are you waiting for? Take a few moments to write it down.
In every case, what we wait for reveals what we want and what we value. Because of this, it reveals where our hope is placed. Waiting is connected to hope because hope is always about the future. I’m going through a daily devotional called New Morning Mercies and the author says this, “Hope always includes an expectation and an object. I am hoping for something and hoping that someone or something will deliver it” (New Morning Mercies, day 20). What we wait for shows us a desire or need that we have and shows us what we are placing our hope in. What we are willing to wait for reveals what we want or what we need. And what we hope for in the future shapes who we are in the present.
Today we are continuing a sermon series in The Gospel According to Luke called “To Seek and Save”. This series is going to give us an up-close picture of who Jesus is and an inside look into his teachings and what it means to be his disciple.
When we covered Luke 1 and 2 leading up to Christmas, it was like reading a Disney musical. Events would happen and then the characters would break out in song praising God about those events and telling us their significance. This week, we will hear the last song in the musical. It is sung by a man who’s been waiting.
Turn with me to Luke chapter 2 verses 21 through 40. The main point of this story is right in the center so we will walk through it to the center then walk back out.
Joseph and Mary Travel to Jerusalem (2:21-24)
Let’s start reading in verse 21:
21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:21-24)
This passage is bookended by Mary and Joseph’s travel journey, first from Nazareth to Jerusalem then from Jerusalem back to Nazareth.
These first verses highlight the character of Mary and Joseph, demonstrating their obedience to God. They gave their baby the name that the angel Gabriel told them to give him: Jesus. It’s emphasized three times how they did everything according to the Law of Moses or of the Lord. They circumcised Jesus on the eighth day after birth. Thirty three days after that they followed the purification ritual for women after childbirth. They dedicated Jesus to God because he is their firstborn, which ties back to the sparing of the firstborn in the tenth plague of Egypt called the Passover. You could say that Mary and Joseph do everything “by the book”.
These ordinary acts of obedience create the occasion for a remarkable encounter with two different people at the temple. First we are introduced to Simeon. Look at verse 25.
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 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, we are told, was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel. The “consolation of Israel” is the same as “the redemption of Jerusalem” mentioned in verse 38. Simeon was waiting for Israel to be consoled or comforted. A foreign nation, the Roman Empire, had taken over their land. They no longer ran their nation how they wanted. They were paying taxes to Rome. They weren’t free.
The “redemption of Jerusalem” takes us back to the exodus. Israel lived under Pharaoh in slavery. In the exodus, God defeated Pharaoh and the Egyptians, leading Israel out through Moses. God redeemed them from slavery by rescuing them from their oppressors. The future hope that the prophets spoke about was that God would perform another exodus, redeeming his people from whatever foreign nation had overtaken them. God promised he would raise up a king in the line of David to redeem Israel from slavery to her enemies. They would no longer be in exile with foreign nations ruling their land. God would give their land back, his presence would return to the temple, and their enemies would be defeated. Others wouldn’t be ruling over them and taxing them. They’d be free. The expectation was for God to lead the people in a new exodus through the Messiah.
The people of Israel had been waiting on God for a long time to do what he had promised. God had revealed to Daniel in the Old Testament that the exile would last for 490 years (Daniel 9:24-27). This countdown began around 440 B.C. From this date, if you add 490 years, it brings us to around 30 AD, which is the time of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We saw in Mary’s song and Zechariah’s song in chapter 1 that they believed Jesus was the Messiah God had promised to lead the people in a new exodus. They had waited and the day had finally come. Simeon was also waiting for this day.
The Holy Spirit is at work in Simeon’s life. We are told the Holy Spirit was upon him. Then we are told that the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ, the Messiah. In other words, Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel and would not die before he saw the one who would bring it about, the Messiah. This was a personal revelation to Simeon and it was no doubt very special to receive this from God. Then we are told that Simeon came in the Spirit into the temple. Look at verse 27:
27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:27-32)
This is parallel to what happened after John’s birth. After John was born, he was circumcised and given the name that the angel Gabriel told his father to give him. Then Zechariah, his father, was filled with the Holy Spirit and sang a song of praise. Now after Jesus’ birth, circumcision, and naming, another man with the Spirit praises God with a song.
What does Simeon sing? He praises God for keeping his personal promise to Simeon. The Spirit had revealed he wouldn’t die before he saw the Lord’s Christ and now that has been fulfilled. He calls Jesus God’s salvation. God’s salvation is a person.
And what else does he say? He says God has prepared his salvation in the presence of all peoples. Jesus is a light for revelation to the non-Jewish Gentiles and a light for glory to Israel. Jesus will come from Israel so he brings them glory. Mary and Josephs’ songs focused on what the Messiah would do for Israel. God would lead the people in a new exodus through Jesus. But Simeon emphasizes how Jesus isn’t only the Messiah for Israel, but he will also be a light to the Gentiles. God’s salvation has been prepared in the presence of all peoples. Jesus won’t only rescue Israel in a new exodus: he has come for humanity.
Simeon doesn’t just make this up on his own. Simeon has been reading his Bible. His song is a mixture of four different passages from the prophet Isaiah. In the book of Isaiah, the prophet talks about a figure called “The Servant of the Lord.” This person is chosen by God to bring his salvation. In Isaiah, there are four passages called “Servant Songs” which describe what the Servant will do and what he will be like. Two of Simeon’s quotes are from these Servant songs. One is from right before the fourth Servant Song. The fourth Servant Song contains the famous Isaiah 53. From this chapter we get these well known verses:
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)
A theme in the passages that Simeon quotes are: the servant, salvation, light, and the nations. The Servant will bring salvation and be a light to the nations.
Verse 33 of Luke 2 says:
33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. (Luke 2:33)
Marveling doesn’t express faith or a lack of faith. It’s a reaction to what they have just been told. They are astonished that God’s salvation will extend even to other nations. Jesus isn’t only the Lord and Savior for Israel: he is the Lord and Savior for everyone. This was an often missed part of the Old Testament predictions. The people of Israel were very focused on God defeating the nations, not saving them.
But not all will come to this light, not even all in Israel. From holding the child and blessing God, Simeon now turns to Jesus’ parents and blesses them. Then he speaks a personal message to Mary. Look at verse 34:
34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)
He tells her that this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel. He will lift some up, but others will fall because of him. Yes, Jesus is the consolation of Israel, but some in Israel won’t embrace him and will oppose him and will fall because of him. Jesus will reveal what is really in people, showing their true colors. He is a saving light, but he is also a revealing light. There will be conflict and opposition as he fulfills God’s purposes. Jesus both rescues and reveals.
He also tells Mary that a sword will pierce through her own soul. She will experience pain. Jesus will go a direction in life that will be difficult for her. This could refer to his departure from his family to go on the road, the rejection and ridicule he experienced, or his suffering and death. If Simeon has Isaiah 53 in mind, he knows what the Servant of the Lord will go through.
Jesus is perhaps the most famous person in all of history. There are other famous people that most everyone knows about, but how many books of their life and teachings do people read? The Bible is the most widely printed book. Even if people have never read the Bible, they still might know about Jesus. The story about this Jewish man has been told over and over again for the past 2,000 years in many languages and many countries.
While he’s probably the most famous person, he’s also one of the most controversial. Many people would be happy to talk about God in general or spirituality, but if you start talking about Jesus, it forces people to make a decision. They are confronted with a historical person and must decide between their own kingdom and his, between trusting in him or themselves. Yes, Jesus is whom we’ve all been waiting for. He’s what all humanity needs and wants. But not everyone is going to receive him. Jesus will create division.
Next we are introduced to a second character named Anna. Look at verse 36:
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)
Anna had been married to her husband for seven years before he died. Now she’s 84 and hasn’t remarried. Upon becoming a widow, she devoted herself to God, spending her days and nights in the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer. She is called a prophetess, which means the Spirit speaks through her.
Anna came to the temple at the very hour that Simeon pronounced his praise to God about Jesus. Upon hearing it, she gave thanks to God and began to speak of Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel. Like Simeon, she waits for God’s rescue, his act of salvation by which he rescues his people. She becomes the first person to spread the good news about Jesus to others waiting! She’s the first witness and missionary.
Return to Nazareth and Jesus’ Growth (2:39-40)
Verses 39 and 40 wrap up the story:
39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:39-40)
Again, the obedience of Jesus’ parents is highlighted. And the presence of God in Jesus’ life is clear.
Let’s focus back on Simeon’s words. Probably almost every Israelite at the time would have been waiting for the Messiah and the new exodus. It was a core part of their faith. But even after Jesus’ coming, many kept waiting. They didn’t see Jesus as the fulfillment of what they had been waiting for. In fact, some believed so strongly that Jesus wasn’t what they had been waiting for that they had him killed. Notice that they are absent from this story. They don’t come to Jesus in this story because they will be the ones who oppose him and fall because of him.
What they were waiting for arrived but they rejected him. Why is that? Jesus was offering them everything they’d been waiting for: freedom, justice, mercy, forgiveness, salvation. But they didn’t receive him as their Messiah because it was in a different package than they expected. It shows their hope was not in God’s kingdom but in their personal vision of what God’s kingdom should look like and Jesus didn’t fit into that.
We do the same thing. We think God’s work in our life should look a certain way. We think if God were really doing his will in our life, it would look a lot different. So we miss out on the fact that what we have been waiting for has arrived.
The issue here is about whose kingdom we are living for and whose kingdom we are waiting to come. What’s your vision of the good life? If everything were as it should be, what would life be like? And does that include Jesus? We can only live for one kingdom. Jesus is divisive, controversial, and challenging because he is a King inviting us to be part of his kingdom which means he forces us to make a choice: his kingdom or ours, his will or ours, his rule and reign or ours.
This conflict surrounding Jesus that Simeon describes plays out in our life as disciples as we are confronted with Jesus’ kingdom or ours. Simeon’s words mean this gospel account is going to challenge us. Are we willing to take Jesus as he is and do what he says? Jesus reveals what is in our hearts.
Surrendering all of life to Jesus is not a one time thing. Just like saying “I do” on the wedding day is not the finish line but the starting line. We surrender our lives to Jesus but then we are in a continual process of learning to surrender our lives to him more and more over time. In Martin Luther’s 95 Theses that began the Protestant Reformation, the very first one said this: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Jesus will keep challenging us by revealing parts of our lives we still hold onto for ourselves and where we’ve placed our hope in things other than him. If Jesus doesn’t sound like good news to you, it probably means your hope is in something else. If you aren’t going to him, it means you don’t think he can give you what you want.
Are you still looking for your messiah? For someone or something to save you from what’s wrong in your life? For something or someone that will lead you into life as it should be? Are you searching for something that will give you the love, joy, and peace that you long for? Many times we are waiting for a Messiah and Savior who has already come. We are waiting to receive something that we’ve already been given.
Every time we come to Jesus, he will challenge us. He will reveal where we have not surrendered to him and what our hope is in. He shows a path to the hope he offers. But many times we choose a different one.
You can find out what you are waiting and hoping for by thinking about your “if onlys”: “if only my kids would behave”, “if only I had more free time”, “if only I had more money”, “if only I could get more done”, “if only this person would respect me, forgive me, love me, appreciate me, start acting right, believe in Jesus”, “if only I could get my act together”, “if only work wasn’t so stressful”, “if only I didn’t have so much to do”, “if only my kids would get their homework done”, “if only I could get a break or a vacation”. Perhaps it’s one of those things you wrote down earlier.
That’s what you are waiting for. The question is: If you got that "if only', what would it give to you? We want love, peace, fulfillment, security, safety, purpose, joy, happiness, healing. We wait for and hope in something that will give us that. “If only my kids would behave, then I’d have peace.” “If only I could get my act together, then God would love and accept me.” “If only I had more money, then I’d feel safe and secure.” “If only I had less to do and more free time, then I’d have joy and peace.” “If only this other person would do [blank], then I’d be happy.” “If only I could do everything right, then I’d know I’m good with God.”
You can already have what it would give you. Jesus offers all those things. Ask yourself: How has Jesus already given that to you in his kingdom? We experience it now and in full when he returns to complete his kingdom mission. What are you still waiting for that you can already have in Jesus?
As a community, we show the world what it looks like to be citizens of a different kingdom by having a hope that transcends our current situation and circumstances. What we hope in shapes who we are.
The central focus of the story is Simeon's word about Jesus, but the story is filled with the ordinary, normal obedience of Jesus' parents. This ordinary, normal obedience of Jesus’ parents creates an opportunity to experience God which wouldn’t have been experienced if they had just thought: this stuff isn’t very exciting so let’s just skip it. The trip they take to Jerusalem would have taken about four days from Nazareth. That was a big commitment!
One of the most important things we can do for ourselves, our spouse, our children, and anyone around us is to consistently engage in the normal, ordinary, everyday rhythms of obedience. There are many things that may seem like they aren’t worth it. It just feels like something we have to do or supposed to do. We may think it’s inconvenient or too hard. But it’s in the ordinary, normal, everyday practices of obedience that we can expect God to shape us over time and sometimes make himself known in big ways. Your habits tell you, your children, and others what is important and valuable. Don’t discount how powerful this can be in your life and in other people's lives.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Often people will fast during Lent or give something up during it. There are 46 days in Lent, 40 of which are fasting days and 6 of them are feasting days. Every Sunday during Lent you can break your fast. Lent lasts from this coming Wednesday until Easter Sunday.
I want to suggest that one way to respond to this message is to give something up for Lent. It doesn't have to be food. You can give up social media, or TV, or a certain type of food. Ask yourself: is there something in my life that I turn to for comfort and satisfaction? What do you turn to when you are stressed or anxious to relieve that feeling? Fasting is not about making ourselves into super Christians or about earning God's love or blessings. It is about giving up a good thing in order to make space in your life to focus on a better thing.
Today is Valentine's Day - a day of love. You can think of fasting as making space in your life to receive Jesus’ love and in turn to love others. How powerful could it be if as a church community we all took this season of Lent to more fully focus on Jesus?