To a degree, it can be said that everybody is waiting for something. Some are waiting for their ship to come in. Some are waiting to win the lottery. Others are waiting to finish school. Some are waiting to die. This list could probably be made as long as the imagination could sustain.
As I child, I was waiting for things to get better. Sometimes it was as simple as waiting for Christmas – but that holiday often had enough danger surrounding it in my family that I waited very ambiguously. I waited for people to remember to say, “I love you,” and really mean it. To say, “I love you,” and “I promise not to hurt you.” I don’t share it for sympathy. My childhood was better than some and worse than others.
I waited for school to be out. I loved to play.
I waited for love. I wanted with all my heart to be married and to have children. It has been one of the great fulfillments of my life.
But the waiting we all do defines us to a certain extent. What we are waiting for is also the sense and purpose of our lives.
On February Second, we celebrate one of the great feasts of waiting. This feast, marking 40 days after Christ’s birth, also marks his fulfillment of the law. Every male child that opens the womb must be brought to the Temple and there sacrifice is made for him. It is the last feast of the Christmas cycle. And in the heart of that feast someone was waiting. St. Simeon the Elder was waiting. According to one story in the tradition, he had been waiting for 365 years. I like that part of the story because it seems to state waiting in such an exaggerated sense that we cannot miss its importance. God had promised this righteous man that he would not die until he had seen with his own eyes God’s messiah. The words with which he concluded his wait continue to echo through the Church:
Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,
According to Thy word,
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
Whom Thou hast prepared for all the world to see.
A Light to enlighten the nations and the glory of Thy people Israel.
Imagine what it meant for St. Simeon the Elder. To have a single purpose in life – to see the Lord’s anointed. I also marvel at the utter joy that must have been his as he held this answered prayer in his arms. He waited for the only thing that would give meaning and purpose to Israel. How could he not have been a prophet? He had already determined that he had no other purpose in life than to wait on the promise which God had given. And he knew that he would see that child in the Temple. The law must be fulfilled.
Our lives are filled with waiting. We are a fast society – but mostly we speed between one wait and another. And so we sit and wait and curse the light that will not turn green, the line at the McDonalds that has suddenly gone into slow motion. We say our prayers and we forget the prayer long before the answer comes. I have written that grace is slow. Who waits long enough to find out if grace even exists?
This Feast, the end of Christmas, is the great feast of waiting. It seems entirely appropriate, since children probably are more aware of waiting for Christmas than any other thing. Thus it is a commonplace in our life: “slow as Christmas.”
Yes, it is slow as Christmas. And the Elder Simeon was truly patient and saw what had been promised.
There is so much for us to wait for in our lives as Christians, and we are rarely told that we will have to wait and that waiting is among the chiefest of virtues (“he who endures to the end will be saved” Matt. 24:13). As Orthodox Christians in America we are waiting for the problems of jurisdictions to be corrected. We are waiting for a single calendar. We are waiting for Church leaders to act like leaders. We are waiting for Church members to act as faithful Christians and not just faithful criticis. We wait for many things that are like the things others wait for. But are we waiting for Christ? Are we waiting to become saints? Are we waiting to know Christ even as He knows us? Are we waiting for the grace that will make our hearts capable of loving and forgiving all?
I will offer a terrible prophecy, or a truth, if you will. We all get what we are waiting for. I will have to reflect for a while and see if I think that is completely true. I believe it is. What we get reveals much. For what we receive, or what we think we have received is a verdict that proclaims: “for this I waited.” And a great chorus will arise on judgment day and all will say, “See I told you so!” For some this will be the great voice of triumph as those who have waited for Christ and the fullness of the kingdom will not be disappointed. And those who have waited for even the most petty things will find their waiting to be fulfilled. And tragically, when they could have the received the only thing worth waiting for – they will have received their own private prophecy. They will receive just as little as their heart wanted. Cynics will be completely justified in their cynicism and proclaim to the rest of us that we were fools to have waited for anything good.
And on it will go. For we will receive what we have waited for.
Thus, on this good feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, we ask, or should ask ourselves: “What am I waiting for?” For I assure and even warn you: what you wait for will come to you. Some will rejoice while others will weap and howl. But we can all join Simeon and wait for the only thing that matters. All that matters. All that matters. Glory to God.