One evening last week I had a sudden urge for a meal from Boston Market. What drew me there was not the chicken, but one of their seasonal side dishes. During the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas they serve whipped sweet potatoes with a marshmallow topping. This is one of the dishes that my family has served during these holidays for as long as I can remember. So since they began serving this dish last year at Boston Market, I go there several times during the holiday season just for that side dish.
Apparently I’m not the only person who has discovered this sweet potato souffle, because when I went to buy this dish for me and my family, everybody in the line in front of me was ordering the same dish. Wouldn’t you know it, that by the time the server asked for my order all of the sweet potato souffle was gone.
When I placed my order I asked her how long it would be before another tray of this dish would be ready to serve, and she looked at me with the saddest eyes and said, “It will be ten minutes.” Upon saying that, she assumed that I would choose another side dish and make my way into the darkening evening. Instead, I asked her if there might not be another option, namely that I just sit down at one of the tables and wait ten minutes until the fresh tray of sweet potatoes came out from the kitchen. After all, the only reason I came to that restaurant was to order sweet potatoes. That was what I wanted.
The question before us as I stood in that line was whether I would accept something else as an alternative since what I really wanted was not ready at that precise moment. That seems to be the principle behind fast food, whether one is ordering chicken, or sandwiches or fish. They call it fast food, because you do not have to wait for it. The food is ready when you are. Basic to the idea of fast food is that you do not have to wait, at least not for ten minutes. Nevertheless, there may come a time when what you want is not ready when you want it, and you will have to decide what to do. There are only a few options available to you. One option is to get mad and leave the store, fussing as you go out the door. Another option is to order something else, even if that was not your first choice. A third option, and this was my option on that evening, is to sit down and wait for what you really want.
This may not be your option everyday and for everything. But sometimes you encounter those moments when you do not mind waiting for what you want.
I cannot tell you how shocked this lady was at my decision to just wait. She said to me with the most quizzical voice, “You mean you’re going to sit in here and wait for a whole ten minutes? You must really want those sweet potatoes.” The fact is, I did want that dish and ten minutes did not seem like too long to wait for what I really wanted. As it happened, it took twelve minutes for a fresh tray to come out from the kitchen. But as soon as it came out I bought two side dishes and a large container as well, and went home to enjoy my dinner down to the last bite of that sweet potato souffle. I could have ordered mashed potatoes instead or I could have gone someplace else instead, and maybe I would have gotten home a little sooner. But I waited for what I wanted, and I’m glad I did.
This principle of waiting for what you want is of crucial importance in multiple areas of our lives. More often than not, the things we want the most will not be ready for us at precisely the moment that we are ready for them, and we will have to learn how to wait. When you take a prescription to the pharmacist, how often do they just reach on a shelf and, without having to wait or to come back later, give you what your doctor has ordered for you and send you on your way with your medicine in hand? Almost always we have to drop it off and pick it up later.
When I was growing up in Chicago we never owned a car, so if we got anywhere in that enormous city we had to catch the bus or the rail system that we called “the L”, for elevated train. I cannot count the times that I would stand on a street corner or at an “L” station on a typically wintry, windy day in Chicago. The wind would blow so hard it would nearly pick you up off the ground, and it would cut through like a knife. Sometimes the wind would blow so hard it would make my eyes water, but then it would be so cold that the tears would freeze on my cheeks. All of this time, I would be praying for the bus to come.
I was ready to get out of that cold weather. People would just stand on those corners and look down the street in the hope of seeing the bus come their way. However, since more than one bus route was involved at most stops the bus that you saw pulling up to the spot where you were standing might not be going where you wanted to go, and so you had to wait a little longer. Perhaps, if you were accustomed to waiting outside in freezing weather for up to thirty minutes for a bus, you do not mind waiting inside a warm restaurant for ten minutes for a hot meal.
There is only one thing necessary in order for people to develop the ability to wait for what they want, and that is the belief that what they want really is going to come sooner or later. It is not hard to wait for 10 minutes for food that you know is already cooking in the oven. It is hard, but not impossible, to wait for a bus that you know is on the way. Now just imagine what it is like to be asked to wait for something that had been promised to you years before, something that you were told you would receive before you died. But now you are old and you think that your time is running out. Would you still be able to wait patiently?
That is the question that confronted a man named Simeon whose experience with Jesus is recorded in Luke 2. Simeon is described as “…. a just and devout man who was waiting for the consolation of Israel.” This means that Simeon was waiting for the day when the Messiah would come and restore the nation of Israel to a prominence and prosperity it had not known since the days of David and Solomon almost one thousand years earlier. Simeon was still waiting for something that God had promised to Israel through the ancient prophets. Isaiah had spoken of it when he said, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Isaiah also spoke about the circumstances that would be involved in the birth of that child when he said, “The Lord himself shall give you a sign. A virgin shall conceive and bear a child (Isaiah 7:14). Micah had spoken about it when he said, “But thou Bethlehem, though thou art the least among the tribes of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth who shall be ruler in Israel” (Micah 5:2). Both Isaiah and Micah spoke their words around 750 B.C. Needless to say, many in Israel had long since given up any hope that God was going to keep those promises about a ruler for Israel being born of a virgin girl in the city of Bethlehem. Yet, not after ten minutes or thirty minutes, or ten years or thirty years, but after hundreds of years of waiting for a promise long delayed in being fulfilled this just and devout man named Simeon was still waiting for the consolation of Israel. He still believed that God was going to keep his promise.
In our text for today, Simeon, who is now well advanced in years, is present in the Temple in Jerusalem when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus in on the 8th day of His life to be circumcised according to Jewish law. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Simeon is made to know that this child, out of all the children, the thousands of children who had come to that temple to be circumcised during his years there, was the child that God had been promising Israel, and for which Israel had been waiting for all those hundreds of years. God told Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah with his own eyes, and now that promise has been kept. The waiting has come to an end. God has proven himself to be faithful. The promises of Isaiah have been fulfilled, in that the Prince of Peace was born, and He was born from a virgin’s womb. The promise of Micah was fulfilled, in that this child was born in Bethlehem just as the prophet had said. Joy to the world, the Lord has come at last.
Let us listen to the song of Simeon more carefully and understand what he was saying in this passage. Simeon declared he could die in peace, because he had seen the Savior with his own eyes. Bear in mind that what Simeon had seen was a baby born of parents he did not know personally, who entered the world under the most obscure conditions, not only being born in Bethlehem which was a tiny village in the tiny nation of Israel, but worse yet, being born on the outskirts of nowhere In a stable surrounded by ox and donkeys and sheep.
What kind of faith does it take to see through the exterior appearance of a person, and to see beyond the social class into which they were born, and to recognize within them that spark placed there by nothing less than the hand of God himself? How many other people must have been in the Temple that day, and yet when Simeon spoke there is no record that the others who were there, the priests, the Pharisees, the other worshipers stopped what they were doing and came to worship the child that Simeon had just declared to be the long-awaited Messiah. In fact, it seems as if even Mary and Joseph were not sure what to think about the words that Simeon had just spoken. The Bible says “…. they marveled at the words that were spoken concerning him.” Simeon, who had been waiting for a savior, could recognize divinity in the baby he held in his arms.
This is the first challenge for all of us who are followers of Jesus, to recognize in the man named Jesus the divinity that leads us to call him Christ.
Why do you call this man the Christ? More interesting, perhaps, is the question of why everybody does not see in him what you and I have seen in Jesus. There is nothing of this world that distinguishes Jesus above any other man who ever lived and walked upon this earth. He possessed no special educational credential. He could claim no great wealth or family prestige. There was nothing about him, according to the values of this world, that made Jesus stand out. Yet, within thirty years of his birth thousands of people followed him wherever he went, hanging on his every word. And within thirty years of his death, tens of thousands from all over the Mediterranean world gladly defied the power of the Roman empire and risked the loss of their own lives just to declare that they believed that Jesus was the Christ.
This is the first, and the greatest act of faith shown by Simeon, he recognized that the baby in his arms would become the savior of the world. This is a greater act of faith than that shown by anyone else in the Bible. Nicodemus did not come to Jesus and say that he was a teacher sent from God until after he had seen the great works that Jesus had done as a grown man. Peter did not speak up and say that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God until very near the end of Jesus’ ministry. The centurion soldier did not say, “… surely this man was the son of God” until after Jesus was already dead. Yet, here is Simeon not looking at a man who has just fed five thousand people with two fish and five loaves of bread, and not looking at a man who has just raised Lazarus from the dead, and not looking at a man who while hanging from a cruel cross asks his father in heaven to forgive those who placed him there. Instead, Simeon is holding an eight day old baby in his arms and declares that baby to be the Messiah for whom all Israel had been waiting. The Holy Spirit revealed it and Simeon believed it, namely that the Lord is come.
Simeon could die in peace, because the work of God was in process even if it had not yet come to completion. It would take another thirty years before Jesus would begin the work for which he had come into the world. Simeon would not be alive to see that ministry unfold, but he could die in peace just knowing that the work of salvation was now underway. Here he demonstrates another kind of patience which is born of the realization that very few things in life are completed immediately after they have begun. Usually there is some considerable time and great effort between the beginning and the end of some undertaking.
The founders of this nation declared themselves to be independent from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, but it took another five years and a terrible war before they could conclude what they had begun on that hot day in Philadelphia. Recently, a new chairman of the African national Congress in South Africa was elected. In all likelihood, he will also succeed Nelson Mandela as the next President of that country. The first thing he said upon his election was that the battle against the affects of apartheid goes on. That battle began in the 1940s, and Mandela went to prison for his activities in the 1960s. Yet, after all of those decades the poverty and despair caused by apartheid continues even though the laws of apartheid have been repealed. What the black people of South Africa understand is that very few things begin and end on the same day. It takes a great deal of time, and thus a great deal of patience, to accomplish great things. The old adage says “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, and very little else of any consequence can be resolved quickly.
This is the second mark of a patient person, that they are able to see things get underway and then patiently wait for things to be resolved. Simeon saw Jesus at the beginning of his life and was able to believe that while nothing had been completed, something powerful was now in process and he was able to die in peace knowing without a doubt that God would bring things to completion some day. The Lord is come.
I am glad that God does not demand that things begin and end on the same day, because if He did then I would never see the inside of the city of Heaven. I am glad that God works on us over time and lets us grow and develop into the kind of persons He wants us to be. I wish we could be as patient with each other as God is with each one of us. I am always intrigued by signs posted near construction sites that say such things as “pardon my dust” or “work in progress” or “temporary inconvenience but a long term improvement”. The point of those signs is to remind us that we should not judge that building site by what we see at that moment. Instead, we should know that something is going on there that is not yet finished, but is a work in progress.
I make several trips to the airport each month, either to travel somewhere or to pick someone up who is coming into Cleveland. If you have been to the airport lately, you know that a new parking garage and a walkway is under construction. If you looked at that work site today all you would see is mud, and debris, and half built structures. But do not judge the airport by what you see today. Go back when all the work is finished, and you will see something beautiful and functional and state of the art. It is the same way with you and me. If people were to look at any one of us on any given day they might be a lot of mud and clutter and unfinished buildings. But we can post a sign on our work site as well. Our sign can bear the words of the Gospel song of the 1970s and 80s which says, “Please be patient with me, God is not through with me yet. But when God gets through with me I shall come forth as pure gold.”
God is still working on our lives. Every time we study the Bible God is at work on our building. Every time we pause to whisper or speak a prayer God is working on the building. Every time we stand to worship and praise his name God is working on the building. Every time we walk through a storm believing that God will see us through, God is working on the building. I may not be all that I should be as a Christian, but that’s because my life is a construction site and God is still working on my building. Please be patient with me, God is not through with me yet. But when God gets through with me I shall come forth as pure gold.
There is an analogy for how God works on our lives in ways that are not immediately visible to the eye. Consider how the tulip comes to bloom. In the spring the flower stands tall and beautiful for all to see. But the day when the blossom appears in the end of a much longer process that is already underway now, in the middle of winter. Right now, while snow is on the ground, the tulip bulb is beneath the ground germinating. Right now, while the ground is frozen, roots are stretching down into the earth establishing a firm foundation upon which the flowers will eventually stand. Right now, while it appears to the naked eye that nothing is happening, God is already at work bringing forth life. We cannot speed up the process. We can make the roots grow down or the stem shoot up one moment earlier. What we can do is simply know that God is at work in ways we cannot now see, and be assured that when the time is right he will bring things to completion.
That was the faith of Simeon. He knew at the beginning of the process that by the time God brought things to completion salvation would be the result. He knew that the baby of Bethlehem would become the Christ of Calvary. He knew that the child who came into the world the first time wrapped in swaddling clothes would come back again as the king of creation wrapped in the robes of royalty. Simeon knew that things do not begin and end at the same time, and that what God was beginning in the infant he held in his arms at that moment would be completed at some point down the road. Would to God that we too can have faith enough to believe that God is and will work all things out in the end. As Paul says in Romans 8, all things will work together for good. This must be our faith!

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