December 6, 2020
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
Luke 2:25-32, 36-38
The second in a series of four.
I have a strange introduction today. It has to do with the title I have given this sermon. “Can’t Wait!”
The human brain holds a lot of information. And a lot of that information is worthless. Like all the advertising jingles you have heard over the course of your life. They’re all there. Taking up space. Fortunately, God designed the human brain with quite a few gigs of memory. Today’s sermon title comes from one of those worthless scraps of memory.
Something was being advertised, I wasn’t sure what. I could remember the tune. And I could remember the last two words, “Can’t wait!” But I couldn’t remember the rest of it. I couldn’t remember what was being advertised. And it bothered me that I couldn’t remember.
Some of you are shouting at your screen right now, because you do remember. I do too now. It finally came to me. It was stored there all the time. The harder I tried to pull it up, the deeper it got buried. But when I stopped trying, when my mind was somewhere else entirely, that’s when that long-lost jingle popped into my head:
Kool-aid, Kool-aid, tastes great. Wish I had some. Can’t wait!
I felt so much better after I finally remembered!
Children can’t wait for Christmas. It’s been a few years but I remember clearly how hard it was to wait. Time moved so slowly in the month of December. It was always worth waiting for. My parents didn’t have a lot, but they always had enough for some very nice Christmas presents. My mom in particular always went to a big effort to make Christmas special. This is the stocking she made for me. I do not remember a Christmas without this hanging over our fireplace. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll hang it right here on my microphone stand.
I had a long wait a few weeks ago. I locked myself out of my car, so I called AAA. That must have been the morning half the town was locking themselves out of their cars, because it was a two hour wait. Normally they text you to let you know how much longer. But my cell phone was locked inside my car.
On major freeways they have these big signs that tell you how much longer. I don’t think they have them between Nampa and Boise yet, but I’m sure they’re coming. The sign gives you an estimate, based on traffic flow, on how much time it will take you to get to a particular place.
I was thinking, wouldn’t it be nice to have signs like that in life? Like, “Six months till you find a spouse.” Or, “Four years till your kid grows up.” Or, “Ten years till your spouse grows up.” One problem with waiting is we don’t know how long the wait will be. The bigger problem with waiting is we don’t know if the wait ever will end. We might never get what we are waiting for.
The Psalmist has apparently been waiting a long time. He says, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (13:1) It seems like forever. For all he knows, it will be forever. You read clear to the end of this Psalm and you see God never answers the question, “How long?” God doesn’t give an estimated time. God doesn’t say, “Hold on. Just five more minutes. I’m almost there.” God doesn’t say “When.” God just says “Wait.”
Our scripture today is about two people who have been waiting a long time. Their names are Anna and Simeon. They may have asked, “How long, O Lord?” And God may have answered, “Wait.” That’s what they’ve been doing. But it’s been a long time. They have waited so long they have become old. If you wait long enough, that happens.
Now here’s something interesting. At least I thought it was. Luke has a habit of pairing a man with a woman in his stories. So here we have Anna and Simeon. Earlier we had Mary and Joseph. Before that, Elizabeth and Zechariah. There are 27 places in the 24 chapters of Luke that he pairs a man with a woman. Why does he do this? He wants to emphasize something Jesus emphasized. Men and women are equal in the eyes of God. Men and women are equal as followers of Jesus.
So we have Anna and we have Simeon, a woman and a man, both old, both in the Temple, both have been waiting a long time. But what are they waiting for? We are told they are waiting for “the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). But what’s that?
There’s a verse in Isaiah that we often read this time of the year. It’s featured in Handel’s “Messiah.” “Comfort ye, my people,” (40:1). This is a prophecy of the coming Messiah. He will bring comfort. He will bring joy. We sing this time of the year about “tidings of comfort and joy.” It’s a promise God made a long time ago. That’s what Anna and Simeon are waiting for. That’s what is meant by “the consolation of Israel.” They are waiting to meet the baby Jesus.
And finally, finally, after a lifetime of waiting, after wondering if their wait would ever end, their waiting finally did end. Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the Temple. Here’s what it says:
Simeon took the child in his arms and gave thanks to God: “Now, Lord, you have kept your promise, and you may let your servant go in peace” (Luke 2:28-29).
The first word out of Simeon’s mouth is, “Now.” He’s been waiting his entire life. It’s always been, “Not yet.” Day after day. Year after year. Decade after decade. “Not yet.” Not yet.” “Not yet.” And finally, “Now.”
When you meet Jesus, your “not yet” becomes a “now.” Whatever your circumstances. Maybe you’ve been waiting a long time for things to get better. Maybe you’ve been living with pain, or loneliness, or failure, or loss, or fear, or hopelessness. And you still are. You are still waiting. But even as you wait, now things have changed. Not that everything is OK. But now God is here. Now you’re not alone. Now you have hope. Now you can go on.
I’m sure Simeon and Anna were tired of waiting. But I’m also sure they were glad they waited. They were glad they didn’t give up. That’s the danger. We get so tired of waiting, we give up. We stop trusting God. We stop living in a way that honors God. We are disobedient. We take things into our own hands.
I’ve only had this happen once. I’m usually a very obedient person. I obey traffic signals. I’m the one who brakes when the light turns yellow. But I did run a red light once, and I did it on purpose. It was early in the morning. No one else was on the road. The light was red and I waited. And waited and waited. I concluded the traffic signal must be malfunctioning. And I wasn’t going to sit there all day. So I drove through the red. I’ve always wondered if the traffic signal really was stuck on red, if I was just being impatient. But I figured I had waited long enough.
Abraham and Sarah figured they had waited long enough. Here is another male-female pair in the Bible. They had been promised a son. And they waited and waited. They waited so long they became old. If you wait long enough, that happens. You know the sanitized version of the story. At long last they do have a son in their old age. God keeps his promise. And through Isaac, the family tree continues. They are the patriarch and the matriarch of a great nation.
But first, the part we usually leave out. They get tired of waiting and here’s what happens:
Now Sarah, Abraham’s wife had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abraham, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abraham agreed to what Sarah said (Genesis 16:1-2).
In other words, “This red light is never going to turn green. So I am going to drive right through it.” The light is probably stuck. God probably forgot his promise. And I am tired of waiting.
So before the birth of Isaac, Ishmael is born. Abraham is the father of both; Sarah is the mother of only one. This is reality show material. We could call it, “The Real Housewives of Abraham.” People read the Bible for themselves and they find the parts like this that they weren’t told about in Sunday school. And it makes them want to read the rest of the Bible.
But this is what happens when people get tired of waiting for God and they decide they know better than God. My prayers never get answered, so I’m going to stop praying. My child is never going to change, so I’m going to stop caring whether he changes or not. My boss is never going to appreciate me, so I’m going to stop bringing my best to work. My marriage is difficult, so I’m to stop trying. God has forgotten me, so I’m going to run a red light.
The truth is, God has not forgotten you. The same chapter in Isaiah where it says, “Comfort ye, my people,” also says, “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength” (40:31). There’s a lot about waiting I don’t understand, but one thing is clear. God uses waiting in our lives. What God does in us while we wait is as important as what we are waiting for. We see this over and over in the Bible. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, David – we could go on and on. They all have to wait. And the waiting is for the good.
Here’s a practical question. How do I know if I’m supposed to wait or if I’m supposed to act? Obviously, there are times when sitting back and waiting for God to take action is a sign of laziness, not faith. Sometimes God does want to us to do something.
For example, I’ve been praying and praying for God’s will on the next chapter in my life and I am still waiting for a clear answer. So what do I do? Do I wait patiently until the answer comes? Or do I go ahead and take an advantage of an opportunity that has come up that I think might be what God would want me to do. But I’m not sure. There are plenty of moments like that. The question comes up all the time: Is this what I want or is this what God wants for me? Maybe both.
John Ortberg offers this: “Ask yourself, what would a person of good character, deep faith, and great wisdom do? Then take your best shot.” So in Abraham’s case, a person of good character, deep faith, and great wisdom probably would not sleep with his wife’s personal assistant.
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” No, God will not forget you. God has not forgotten you. God is always there for you. You read clear to the end of this Psalm and God never answers the “how long?” question. God does not give an estimated time for when the wait will end. But you read clear to the end of Psalm 13, and we find all we need to know:
But I will trust in [God’s] unfailing love, my heart rejoices in [God’s] salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me (13:5-6).
This is the second of four sermons on waiting. We’re all waiting for Christmas. And of course this Christmas, we’re waiting for a few other things as well. Like the end of the pandemic. Like when we get to come back to church. Waiting is hard work, but important work. God does good things in us while we wait.
Here’s a simple action step I plan to take this Advent and I invite you to join me. When I’m stopped at a stoplight, instead of getting impatient with how long it’s taking for the light to change, the color red is going to remind me of that verse: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7). I will take a deep breath and I will be still.
Until the light turns green. And when it does, I’m going to go, and I’m to let the color green remind me of another verse. Jesus said, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37) right after the Parable of the Good Samaritan. So I will think about how I will go and help someone in need.
And have you noticed that the colors on the stoplights are the colors of Christmas? What does red mean? It means stop. Sometimes we need to stop. What does green mean? It means go. Sometimes we need to go. What does yellow mean? No, it doesn’t mean speed up.
This is the season when we wait. Like Anna and Simeon waited for Jesus. We wait for Jesus. We wait for his kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as in heaven. It’s a long wait. It’s a hard wait. There are red lights and there are green lights as we wait, so waiting does not always mean standing still. But as we wait, we trust. We always trust.
I will trust in God’s unfailing love, my heart will rejoice in God’s salvation, my voice will sing a song of praise to God, for he has been good to me.
God, we are a waiting people. Some of us think back to times when we waited, and it was a long wait, but you gave us far more and far better than we could ever imagine. We are so grateful. Others of us are waiting right now with a pain that feels unbearable. God, we invite you into our waiting. We give you all our tears and sadness, we give you all the hurt and need of a broken world, and we wait. With you. Trusting you. We wait for Jesus. In his name, Amen.