How many of us have ever waited a long time for something special? Some young person may wait many years to find the love of their life, a soulmate with whom they will travel through life! Parents may wait a long time to watch their children grow up and fulfill their God-given potential given to them. In our own lives, we may work diligently and wait many years to reach certain goals we’ve set in our professional lives and personal lives. And if we are serious and committed Christians, we should be waiting for the Lord – actively waiting for the second coming of the Christ as we sincerely seek Him out with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, loving Him and serving Him through loving and serving the world around us!
Today, I want us to reflect on what it means to be “waiting for the Lord.”
We celebrate in the Church today one of the great Feasts of the Church calendar – the feast when the Virgin Mary and Joseph bring the 40-day old infant Jesus into the Temple of Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. The parents of Jesus obey the Jewish law by doing what all faithful Jewish parents would do, offering their firstborn child to God and dedicating Him in the Temple of Jerusalem.
As we heard in the Gospel reading, when they brought Jesus to the Temple there were two special and very devout people waiting there, praying to God and seeking out the Lord. The Elder Symeon, whom Holy Scripture describes as “a just and devout man, filled with the Holy Spirit and waiting for the coming of the Messiah.” Take note of these adjectives used to describe Symeon – just, devout, filled with the Holy Spirit, and patiently waiting for the Messiah, the Christ to come!
Along with Symeon we hear about 84 year old Anna, a prophetess, who “never left the Temple day or night, worshipping God by fasting and praying continuously.”
What beautiful images of two faithful followers of God diligently waiting for the Lord. God wasn’t some afterthought in their lives. They did not live in a secular society like ours today, where our lives are so often compartmentalized, placing our faith in one corner of our lives, and living out the majority of our days as if God was not present or important. For Symeon and Anna, their lives were dedicated to God, all about following Him, serving Him, and worshipping Him in the Temple day and night. The Almighty One was surely at the center of their beings.
So today, we lift up as models of faith the examples of Mary and Joseph, as well as of Symeon and Anna.
We honor the Virgin Mary and Joseph who fulfill their responsibilities as faithful Jewish parents – dedicating their little 40 day old child to God in the Temple. They wanted God’s blessing at the beginning of their child’s life. Of course, this 40-day Presentation of our Lord in the Temple is what Orthodox Christians imitate when we bring our own children to the Church for their 40 day blessing. We imitate the example of the Holy family by seeking out God’s blessing on our children right from the beginning of their lives. And of course, we pray that not only at the beginning, but throughout their lives our children themselves will learn to place God at the center of who they are and all they do!
This is why we also highlight the Elder Symeon and the Prophetess Anna. They set the example of not only turning to God as a child, but waiting for Him, pursuing God, offering their lives to the Almighty One at every stage of life into our old age! Scriptures reveals how Anna made this her aim in life from the time she was widowed after only 7 years of marriage.
Don’t we all need reminders of recommitting our lives to God throughout the different stages of our lives. We can so easily get distracted by all the temptations of the world today. At different stages of our lives, we are tempted to put most of our emphasis on what we consider urgent – as young people we focus on the excitement and allurements of youth; as young adults we seek after our lover or want to begin our career; as middle aged parents our attention is on raising our children and continuing to climb the ladder of worldly success; as our children grow we face the busyness and challenges of the adolescent, teenage, and young adult years; and then in older age we turn our attention to our new reality of old age and our impending death.
At each stage of life, we face new experiences that will not only draw our attention but try to consume our attention. Yet, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to renew our commitment of placing Christ at the center at each stage of our lives! We must consciously carve out central time in our lives for God, on a daily schedule, a weekly schedule, and throughout the year. We must remember to offer the first fruits of all we have to God, not simply our left-overs, our afterthoughts or parts of what we have if we remember to give them to God. Sincere followers of Jesus Christ build out lives and live our lives, knowing that He Alone is at the center of everything!!!
When Symeon finally did encounter the baby Jesus, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to understand that his waiting had come to an end. What he dreamed about became a reality and now he could die in peace – “Lord, now let you servant depart in peace according to Your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to all the nations and for the glory of Your people Israel.”
His waiting and his dream were fulfilled. The prophetess Anna, also, waited for decades and decades, and was allowed to see the redemption of Israel.
Waiting isn’t always easy. We live in a day and age when we want instant gratification, immediate feedback, prompt and speedy responses.
Our spiritual journeys, however, are lifelong voyages. An important part of our spiritual discipline is precisely godly patience, waiting for the Lord, staying vigilant and attentive, seeking after God each day, every hour, at all times.
May we learn from the Elder Symeon and the Prophetess Anna and wait for the Lord. He is coming and He will faithfully fulfill our waiting and His promises for the glory of His Name!