Waiting: A Christmas Reflection

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It never ceases to amaze me how quickly our culture can move from holiday to holiday. Of course, most of this is driven by the incessant consumerism with which Americans are obsessed. In Fairbanks, Alaska, where I live, the average first snowfall is October 2. Christmas decorations, gifts, and retail specials are already on the shelves. Lights go up, Christmas music plays, and decorations abound—and Thanksgiving is still over a month away.

Then Christmas morning comes. Chaos ensues as gifts under the tree are ravished, wrapping paper flies, cardboard boxes are destroyed, and an ever-growing pile of unneeded and unappreciated consumer goods is piled in the closet, under beds, or in the garage. Meanwhile, by the evening of December 25, we are already making plans for New Year’s Eve—only 365 days left until the next Christmas!

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Christmas has largely become a disposable holiday—here today, gone tomorrow. Even amongst many Christ followers, the decorations, lights, songs, and sugar cookies are more important than the incarnated Christ. Oh sure, pithy platitudes of “Jesus is the reason for the season” or “the only gift I want this year is Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men” are bantered around to show at least a veneer of spirituality or Christian understanding. We throw a birthday party for Jesus, all the while stuffing our faces with cake and wallowing in unending consumer indulgence in gifts for ME, ME, ME!

Waiting Like Simeon

What if, instead, we were more like Simeon in Luke chapter 2?

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. 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. 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, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
            “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
                 According to your word;
            For my eyes have seen your salvation
                 That you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
            A light for revelation to the Gentiles,
                 And for glory to your people Israel.” (v. 25-32)

What a beautiful picture. Try to picture it if you can. There is no hustle and bustle. No last-minute dashes for one more stocking stuffer, one more carton of eggnog, and one more gift from the jolly man with the beard. Instead, silence—holy waiting—sacred stillness in an old man’s heart.

Simeon is an old man—well past his prime. Simeon was waiting to die, except—he had been promised he “would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” So he waits. Patiently. In the temple. Where he knows God’s Messiah will appear. One senses that a tree surrounded by colorfully wrapped gifts addressed to Simeon could not have pulled him away from his expectation of Jesus in the temple.

A Promise Fulfilled

And then…it happens. Joseph and Mary enter the temple with a helpless baby snugly, firmly, lovingly wrapped in Mary’s arms. Then, Simeon appears and unwraps this holy Christmas gift, the Messiah, the Savior, the hope and consolation of Israel. Perhaps the first line of his prophetic prayer is the most powerful, the greatest thank you card ever written for a Christmas gift received.

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace…”

Can you catch the significance? Instead of a pithy “I pray for peace on earth…,” Simeon holds up to the world the true Peace on Earth. His waiting, his expectation, is fulfilled in this babe. Simeon (and the prophetess Anna, the second half of this story) is the message of Christmas.

Waiting Like Anna

Anna is 84 years old. Like Simeon, she is waiting. Verse 37 of Luke 2 tells us that Anna is in “…the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.” Simply waiting. Expecting. Content and at peace. And when she saw the baby Jesus, the Messiah, the Expected One, “…she began to give thanks to God…” (v. 38). What a Christmas celebration—an epiphany—that both Simeon and Anna had on that day.

Bede, writing c. 735 ad, says the following about this passage:

“Simeon and Anna, a man and a woman of advanced age, greeted the Lord with the devoted services of their professions of faith. As they saw him, he was small in body, but they understood him to be great in his divinity. This denotes the synagogue, the Jewish people, who, wearied by the long awaiting of his incarnation, were ready with both their arms (their pious actions) and their voices (their unfeigned faith) to exalt and magnify him as soon as he came. They were ready to acclaim him and say, ‘Direct me in your truth and teach me, for you are my saving God, and for you I have waited all the day.’ What needs to be mentioned, too, is that deservedly both sexes hurried to meet him, offering congratulations, since he appeared as the Redeemer of both.”

Waiting For Christmas

In Anglicanism, the ebb and flow of the seasons and the Church year help keep a sense of purpose and time in everything we do. Leading up to Christmas, starting four Sundays before Christmas, is the time of Advent. Like Simeon and Anna, this is a time of both personal and community repentance. It is a time of prayer and fasting, for patient waiting and holy expectation.

It is a time to search the skies for the Bethlehem star, to begin the journey to hold the Christ child, to begin the journey to worship the Ancient of Days, now a helpless babe wrapped in cloth and laid in a manger. A time to fall to our knees in worship of the One who will redeem us from our sins. It is a time to recognize your need, my need, for the Lord of lords and King of kings to come down to earth, incarnated as a baby, to be “A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people, Israel.”

Staying With Christmas

Christmas morning comes. Christ is born and laid in a manger—to die that you and I might live. He comes that we might “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). I no longer want to rush through that. I want to live in that moment as long as I can. I want to snuggle deep in the loving arms of my Savior much as he did in the loving arms of his virgin mother. I don’t desire to tear off the wrapping paper of the greatest gift and then throw it aside for what is next.

I want to take my time; I want to discover this great gift for the rest of my life—be it as short as Simeon and Anna’s once they embraced the Messiah or for the next 100 years.

Waiting Through the Church Year

So, I wait…even after December 25 has come and gone. I wait for the martyrdom of Stephen on the day after Christmas. I weep with Rachel when Herod kills the innocent children. I celebrate the arrival of the Magi and the presentation of Christ in the temple. I fall to my knees and weep for my own sin as a cross of ashes marks my forehead. I weep as my Savior dies on the cross for the remission of sin: my sin, your sin. I peer into the tomb, bewildered that the body of my Savior is gone. I rejoice when I encounter my risen Savior on the road to Emmaus. I feast on his body and blood at the Eucharistic feast each Sunday and Holy Day. I accept the indwelling Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

And I wait. I wait as Advent comes around again for the coming of his kingdom, for the coming of his presence, for the coming of the Messiah to be “A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people, Israel.”

How about you? Will you wait with me, expectant to wrap your arms, my arms, around the incarnated Ancient of Days? Will you patiently be still with me, relishing the sacred silence of the shepherds as they watch their flock by night?

Will you pray—and fast—and worship—and wait with me for the birth, death, and resurrection of the world’s Savior? Will you fall to your knees with me, not at the altar of consumerism, but at the altar of the body and blood of Christ?

Waiting…

Be still…

Waiting…


Photo: “Vibrant sky reflected in ice in Alaska” by Elizabeth M. Ruggiero for Getty Images, courtesy of Canva.

Published on

December 30, 2023

Author

Craig Daugherty

Craig Daugherty is a Deacon at St. George Parish at Fort Wainwright (Fairbanks), Alaska. He serves as the Director Religious Education for the U.S. Army and is also the Director of Formation for the Order of Saint Cuthbert.

View more from Craig Daugherty

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