Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Preparing for Jesus' Coming: Advent thoughts on Anna and Simeon

The promise. The fulfillment of the Promise. The time in between: faith.

We see this pattern over and over in the Bible. Sometimes the fulfillment of the promise comes quickly, but other times there are years of waiting in between. In the Christmas story, Joseph was told to go and marry Mary for she was carrying the Messiah in her womb. So, he went that very day and married her. The Shepherds were told that they would see the Savior of Israel, so they left that night to see him: a quick fulfillment of the angel’s promise.

But, for Anna and Simeon, they were very old before the promise they received in their youth was fulfilled. This is what Luke says about Simeon: “There was a man named Simeon who lived in Jerusalem. He was a good man, who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah of God before he died.” (The Message, Luke 2).

We are told that Anna was a prophetess, who was a very old woman. She had been married for seven years and a widow for 84 years. She never left the Temple area, worshipping day and night with fastings and prayers. She was also waiting for the fulfillment of the promise.

Anna and Simeon are mentioned in Luke 2 because they knew how to walk out the time between the promise and God’s fulfillment of the promise. They had developed their muscle of faith until it was strong enough to walk out the waiting in eager expectation.

They were not disappointed. When Joseph and Mary brought Jesus, eight days old, to offer their firstborn son to God as commanded in the law, they were surprised by two remarkable saints who came to them and prophesied over their newborn child.

Simeon spoke first, “God, you can now release your servant; release me in peace as you have promised. With my own eyes I have seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see: A God-revealing light to the Gentiles, and the glory for your people Israel.” Luke tells us that while Simeon was praying, Anna showed up and broke into an anthem of praise to God, speaking about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem.
Waiting expectantly.

Is this how we wait for our promises by God to be fulfilled?

Or, do we eventually begin to think that we imagined the promise and put it back on the shelf?

Do we get disappointed and decide the God isn’t trustworthy enough to trust?

Do we doubt ourselves, thinking that we didn’t hear the promise correctly?

Romans 4 speaks to us very plainly about Abraham, who is called the “Father of Faith.” He was one who was given a promise early in his life of a son, and then so many generations of descendants that it would be like the sand on the seashore or the stars in the sky. But, as Abraham turned 100, he didn’t have the promised son.

Read what Romans 4 speaks about Abraham:

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be. 19Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah's womb was also dead. 20Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”

The amazing part of Abraham’s faith was that he knew that there was no earthly way that his old body and Sarah’s very old womb could produce an heir. It was impossible. But, he didn’t try to figure it out. He trusted God’s character and ability to bring life to the dead to call things that do not exist into existence (Romans 4:17).

Where do you put your energies?

Do you spend time figuring out how the promise will be fulfilled, or you believe God can do it?

Do you spend your energies building your relationship with God, or do you nurse your disappointments?

Do you continue to speak of your promise to others, or do you recant your previous statements?

It’s not easy to walk out the life of faith.

There is a gap that exists between the promise and the fulfillment and as we have discovered in the weeks leading up to Christmas, God is teaching us to look to him as Immanuel: God with us, rather than seeking to know the ins and outs of the plan for our journey.

There was a point in my life when God gave me a promise but it seemed ludicrous at the time. I was devastated because the ministry that I had been leading in my first call as a Children’s Director was in ashes. Our family was camping at the time and I couldn’t sleep, so I got up early and I went to sit by a rushing river.

I clearly heard the words,
I am using you to accomplish my purposes.”

My response was utter skepticism: “Yeah, right, God. I can totally see it with all the devastation that exists around me.” Things didn’t get much better for quite a long time.

But, I look back now on that promise and realize that God gave me a promise and he increased by ability to walk out the journey of faith as I learned to trust God, even in the midst of the most extreme circumstances that pointed in the other direction.

I still struggle at times to believe that God will fulfill his promises. It’s not easy to live out the time between the promise and the fulfillment.

But, this is where the intimacy and the joy that we read about in Scripture actually happen. It’s where we have to recognize in ourselves that there is nothing that we can do but to get closer to the Promise Giver.

We have the invitation from the Promise Giver: “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest for your souls. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Our challenge is to continue to wait and believe, but to do it with Immanuel: God with us. We don’t wait alone, we wait in relationship with the One who created the Universe and so can surely fulfill his promise to us, his beloved children.

I encourage you to move into the decade of 2010 with a decision to be intentional to live with Immanuel, recognizing that God is with you. Develop the relationship by spending time with the One who has promised to be present with you. Make intentional time to be with him.

This is an opportunity for you to set aside one hour to pray during the first 24 hours of the new decade. It’s a time for you to remember God’s promises to you. It’s a time of reconnection after the holidays. It’s also a time for you to anticipate your dreams being fulfilled in their new decade.
Take a moment to sign up for your hour. If there is already someone on the hour that you have chosen, that’s fine, just add your name to it too. As we finish off the 24 hour cycle of prayer, we are speaking a decision to be people of faith, recognizing God’s promise to Missio Lux and intentionally seeking to see his promises fulfilled. To sign up: CLICK HERE

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