I’m familiar with waiting. I remember spending a 12 hour “layover” at a city train station in Mandalay, Myanmar many years ago, having already taken a 12 hour train ride on an “ordinary class” train, with a 14 hour train ride ahead of me to go further north. (“Ordinary class” trains had hard, uncomfortable, nearly 90 degree benches.) Upon arriving, I drank tea at a cafe along the tracks where they were watching Home Alone. After asking around, I heard three or four different times my train would arrive the next day (not surprisingly), anywhere from 4:00AM to 7:00PM. I then spent the night sleeping intermittently on two different and quite uncomfortable benches in dark, quiet corners of the station, hoping my possessions would be safe, waking early and buying a ticket as the morning rush began. It would be about two full days of travel before I finally reached my destination. I know what it’s like to wait.
I’m not the only one. Mary and Joseph had a roughly 90 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem–a four to seven day journey. Joseph walked, while Mary–extremely pregnant–rode on a donkey. And when they arrived, they couldn’t even find a comfortable bed; as we all know, they slept in a shed full of animals and stink, where Mary birthed her child, laying him in the feeding trough.
A few days later, when Jesus was being dedicated at the synagogue, another character who was well acquainted with waiting enters the narrative–Simeon. He believed he would not see death before laying eyes on the Messiah. I imagine Simeon–an old, wrinkled Jewish man with gray hair–praying in the temple court that day, one like any other. As Mary and Joseph enter to fulfill their sacrificial requirements, he inexplicably opens his eyes in the middle of attentive prayer, looking up, glancing around, finally laying his eyes on the infant, suddenly aware of something–his hope, his dream, his longing, is there before him, in the form of an infant held in its mother’s arms. I can see his tears as he walks over to Mary, asks if he can hold her son, and cradles the child in his arms, perhaps not quite able to believe the moment has come. But it has. I can hear his prayer, filled with joy amidst the choking back of sobs:
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
“Hope is hard” you may have heard it said. Hope can be a long, difficult journey, full of waiting. Just like Simeon, we’re all waiting for something, or someone, sometimes with much impatience and suffering. Unlike him, some of us may never experience or see exactly what or who we’re waiting for. But like him, I believe we’ve already received the greatest gift, the one thing and person we truly need.
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