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Sunday, 3 February 2013

Why are we waiting?

“Why are we waiting? We are suffocating. Why, oh, why are we waiting?” Did you ever sing that as a child? Maybe you sang some variant lyrics, but we won’t go into that here!

The advertising slogan once used by the credit card Access – "take the waiting out of wanting" – illustrates how many people want to possess things the minute they decide they want them, whereas waiting is seen as passive and boring. At the time it was first used, that slogan would have seemed perfectly acceptable. Now, it seems to sum up all that has gone wrong with a culture built on credit.

Simeon (Luke 2. 22 - 40) had been waiting throughout his life to see Lord’s promised Messiah, as the Holy Spirit had assured him that he would not die before the promised event occurred. His wait had been and it must have felt to him like a long time. He was tired from waiting and so ready for death that, as soon as he had seen Jesus, he prayed, “Now, Lord, you have kept your promise, and you may let your servant go in peace.”

Why are we waiting? We don’t like it and we can’t see the point?

And yet the Bible is full of waiting. Abraham is promised that he will be the father of a great nation and that promise is fulfilled but only many years after Abraham himself has died. The children of Israel spend 40 years waiting and wandering in the wilderness before they enter the Promised Land. Later they spend 70 years in exile in Babylon waiting to return to Jerusalem. There were approximately 400 years between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New, with the birth of Jesus. Why so much waiting?

Anna was in the Temple every day looking and listening for all that God would reveal to her. Simeon, too, was alert to the prompting of the Holy Spirit who led him into the Temple to see Jesus. As we wait for God, are we looking and listening for all that God wants us to see and hear while we wait?

W. H. Vanstone wrote a wonderful book called The Stature of Waiting in which he argued that it is only to human beings as we wait that “the world discloses its power of meaning” and we become “the sharer with God of a secret – the secret of the world’s power of meaning.” For many of us because we don’t stop and reflect the world exists for us simply as a “mere succession of images recorded and registered in the brain” but when we do stop, wait, look and listen then we “no longer merely exist” but understand, appreciate, welcome, fear and feel.

Waiting can also grow the virtue of patience in us as to wait is a test of our patience and an opportunity to build patience. We would like God to solve all our problems right now, but our patience and perseverance is often tested before we find answers to our prayers. How would we actually practice patience if there were not times when we were called to wait upon the Lord?

Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and involves the ability to accept delay or disappointment graciously, to remain steadfast under strain continuing to press on and the showing of tolerance and fortitude toward others, even accepting difficult situations from them, and God, without making demands or conditions. Patience allows us to endure a less than desirable situation to make us better and more useful and even optimistic and prudent. It allows us to put up with others who get on our nerves, without losing other characteristics of grace. 

We all know the saying that good things come to those who wait. Waiting can sharpen our sense of anticipation and also our sense of relief and appreciation when we receive that for which we have been waiting. We can sense something of this in Simeon’s prayer:

“Now, Lord, you have kept your promise,
    and you may let your servant go in peace.
With my own eyes I have seen your salvation,
     which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples:
A light to reveal your will to the Gentiles
    and bring glory to your people Israel.”

Waiting reinforces for us that what is achieved is achieved through God and not primarily through our own ability. As a result, we learn to trust fully in him. If we will not wait, we will inevitably trust in someone or something other than God - usually our own abilities or righteousness.

We see this in today’s Gospel reading in Simeon’s emphasis on the work of God in and through the life and ministry of Jesus: “This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign from God …” Ultimately, all that Jesus is and does is the work of God.

I imagine all these to be thoughts and insights which became part of Simeon’s experience, as they can also be for us. I also imagine him finally saying something like this:

I have passed my days in expectation,
anticipation of a time which has not come.
Not yet come. Through long years of watching,
waiting, I have questioned my vocation,
understanding, calling, yet patience has formed
itself in me a virtue and I have been sustained.
And now in wintertime when the seed of life itself
seemed buried, my feet standing in my grave, 
at the last moment, when hope had faded,
then you come; a new born life as mine is failing -
now, Lord, let your servant depart in peace.
Hope, when hope was dashed. Wonder, where
cynicism reigned. Spring buds in winter snow.
Patience rewarded. Divine trust renewed.


Colin Burns - I Wait For You.

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