Brothers and sisters, one of my favorite parts of the Biblical record regarding Jesus’ coming that first Christmas and the meaning and impact of His Incarnation is this old man named Simeon (see Luke 2:23-35). He was faithful to God to the very last day of his life. He waited on the Messiah, knowing that in this world we will have trouble, but with faith in God, He will bring redemption His Way, in His timing, for His purposes. The theme of waiting on the Lord is one of those sub-themes found throughout the Scriptures in Old and New Testaments. As a window on the events and words of Simeon, I want to use this key Scripture for our meditation:
Psalm 27:13–14, “13 I would have lost heart, unless I had believed That I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living. 14 Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!”
Christmas is all about the Great Wait. Of course in our culture and our families, we repeat this cycle of waiting. As soon as Christmas finally comes, we follow up the joy and precious moments with the fact that we have to wait another 365 days for our annual festival to return. Of course, as Christians, we can celebrate the meaning and impact of Christmas any and every day of the year. But in order to do that best, we have to understand what it means that Christmas is all about the Great Wait. First, it is A long wait. Second, it is A wait with longing. Third, it is a Wait with a future.
A Long Wait. We sing of this as the Church, “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus.” The Genealogy of Jesus found in Luke 3 and Matthew 1 drive home this point. From one generation to another, Adam and Eve had to wait. It wasn’t Cain or Abel who brought redemption for the sin that Adam brought into the world, and the slavery to the temptations and deceptions of the devil that Eve fell prey to. Their next son, Seth, even though he was in the line of promise, Seth wasn’t the Messiah either. And on and on the genealogy goes. One son of Adam begets another, and he begets another, and he begets another.
Not only was the wait long, it was grueling. The character of the waiting is seen as you do some Bible study and background research into the people in the list. Even the great Kings like David and Solomon, or the patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Men of faith? Well, they all made the Hall of Faith chapter in Hebrews 11. But they also are great sinners, as the Scripture is sure to point out. They disappointed since they could not keep covenant with God in the absolute faithfulness that we need to overcome the curse on sin. So, we wait. Another generation. Maybe this time. And of course, everyone else living in that generation had to wait even longer, and hope that maybe their children would see the Redeemer. Their hope of seeing Him in their lifetime was gone once the man in the promised line demonstrated his sin. Think of it. Just one character flaw, one tiny sin in your King, and Israel would have to wait another generation. By those standards, nobody would ever be qualified to be President!
So this long wait for the first Christmas—the arrival of the Christ—was A Wait with Longing. Psalm 27 says be of “good courage.” That means we need courage. We’d lose heart and be in despair otherwise.
The longing is on man’s side. It is hard to wait. It is hard to wait when it feels there is no purpose, there is no reward coming.
It is even harder to wait when you do have hopes set, anticipations high, and then the wait is over, and the hopes are dashed. It seems all foolish. That is much worse than waiting at a stoplight. This sort of waiting with expectations unmet once the wait is over, that explains the deep frustration and anger behind the people who first met Jesus at His first Advent. He wasn’t kingly enough in His birth. Later, He wasn’t kingly enough in His entrance to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on a little donkey. Jesus didn’t wipe out the Roman occupiers of the Promised Land. He even spoke against the religious conservatives who would have been His biggest allies—the Pharisees. It didn’t make sense according to human wisdom. So people waited with longing.
But even the genealogy that describes the long wait shows the wait had a purpose and direction, a conclusion. “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.” (Matthew 1:17) It was part of a plan designed by Someone much bigger and more grand than any of the individual people along the timeline.
The cause of this longing—it’s our fault. The prophet Isaiah explained it perfectly. “1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. 2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:1–2)
NOTICE, the Kingdom of God couldn’t advance as long as it was up to the holy saints to keep the Kingdom going. The problems in this world are not ultimately because of the sin of the evil Gentiles, or the Muslims, or those people out there. This was the sin of the covenant people, the faithful ones who cared about showing up to worship the Creator and to wait for His promises. Isaiah continues to describe in verses 3-15 the sinfulness of God’s people. Then we read a striking surprise. The people of God are waiting and waiting and totally useless to do anything themselves to help bring in the Kingdom, and suddenly we read that God enters History and takes charge.
“15 ….. Then the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him That there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no man, And wondered that there was no intercessor; Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him; And His own righteousness, it sustained Him. . . 20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” Says the Lord.” (Isaiah 59:15-16, 20)
I think we sometimes forget that the Jews and the shepherds and Joseph and Mary weren’t the only ones participating in “the Great Wait.” So was God. He couldn’t move His redemptive history forward until the fullness of the times.
The longing for Christmas is on God’s side, too. God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and faith. So what does God do? He not only makes faith POSSIBLE, the sovereign God makes faith certain, guaranteed, by sending His only Son to live the perfect life and die the perfect death. Then the Father with the Son send us the Holy Spirit, so that we are able to have faith and we place that faith entirely in the Word Who became flesh and dwelt among us, our Lord Jesus.
God longs to rescue His people. He has been longing for it longer than any one man or woman. Ever since Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, God longed to have the kind of fellowship that He created mankind to enjoy with Him. So God guarded that Garden so that Adam or Eve or their descendants would not wander back in before the Holy One had come and thus bring eternal judgment on themselves and us. God made the promise in Genesis 3:15 that the woman (Eve) would one day have a child, a seed Who would crush the head of the serpent. That child was the only hope.
HOW might we APPLY this? Do you long for an end to persecution of Christians? God longs for it too, even more. Do you long for an end to hypocritical and half-hearted worship and churchianity? God longs for it even more. Do you long for strength to overcome your own sin and doubts and weakness? God longs for it even more. And Christmas reminds us that God has done something about all this. God knows that if He doesn’t do something, nobody will. Nobody even can bridge the gap between the Holy God and us wicked creatures.
The Great wait is a long wait, and a wait with longing for God to come to the rescue. But one last thing: the Great Wait that accompanies a Christian view of Christmas and the Incarnation is also A Wait with a Future.
As we enter a New Year, it is good to keep that in mind. We might think of it this way: The wait isn’t over, but is transformed from the wait for the 1st Advent to the wait for the 2nd Advent. Also, the great wait for the 2nd Coming of the Christ is a wait that has a future moment when all waiting is concluded, and our faith is sight. We learn this in the first fulfillment of the Great Wait as the old man Simeon said, when holding the Christ child, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation.” (Luke 2:30)
But that’s the rub. The future that God brings through the Great Wait, well, that future doesn’t always match our expectations that we developed during our long hours and years of waiting. The long-expected Jesus exposes our expectations. As the old Christmas carol goes, “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to _____.” What do you fill in the blank? Jesus is born to … stop abortion. Jesus is born to … fix the Supreme Court. Jesus is born to … keep my kids happy and healthy as they grow and establish families of their own. Come thou long expected Jesus, born to … help me have a “peaceful, easy feeling” in my retirement years.
What are some of your expectations? One of the quickest ways to identify your expectations is to ask, what really gets you upset? What frustrates you? The times you get upset, frustrated, that is most likely because of an unmet expectation. Someone not keeping their word. A child who doesn’t behave or act their age. An attitude that seems so deep-rooted that it will never change, so that ministering to some people seems a hopeless exercise in waiting.
We have our expectations, and most of them are noble. But they must be placed within the proper timeline: the larger timeline of waiting on the Lord. And dwelling on what Jesus really came to do, and on the ongoing reality of sin and misery in this life until we reach the end of that 2nd Great Wait.
We wait for people in the congregation to get their act together. We wait for that elder or deacon (or minister!) to improve in his skills. We wait for the youth of the church to grow and mature; yet they grow and disappear instead. Our expectations and dreams are regularly clouded by conflict and doubt and stress. We know what it means to wait, and we will wait long with great expectations of slow spiritual growth. But shouldn’t there be some spiritual growth?
The Great Wait. Christmas teaches us about the fact that we as God’s people have been involved in a great wait for a great number of years, centuries, millennia. As we celebrate the 1st Coming of Jesus in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago now, we have such a beautiful number of songs of worship in the Church. Songs that we sing with joy in our hearts, of joy to the world and peace on earth because the great wait is over. But, perhaps, we also sing these songs much like the music that is played at the doctor’s office. We call it a waiting room, so we have music playing to help calm our nerves and pass the time. For Christians, the Great Wait for the first coming is over, but we sing of what Christ came to do and actually did do, accomplishing our salvation. Yet we also sing these songs for the next Great Wait, the period of time we are in now, waiting for the End – not the end of the Old Covenant, or the End of the 1st Age, but the End of the Ages. That day when all history reaches its climax, when Genesis has led to Revelation—fulfilled, the marriage supper of the Lamb of God is spread on the table, and we see our Redeemer face to face. Now we see through a glass dimly, but then, the wait is over. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus! And while You tarry, we wait on the Lord, we are of good courage, for YOU shall strengthen our heart. We would lose heart, unless we believed we would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. That very first Christmas, Psalm 27 was fulfilled. God’s only begotten Son entered the land of the living, and revealed the goodness. Simeon saw it in the Christ-child’s face. My eyes have seen the salvation of the Lord, now I can depart in peace.
It is a long wait. It is a wait with longing. But it is a wait with a future: a wait that is guaranteed to come to a glorious end, not because we can bring the 2nd Coming, but because God is once again going to take history into His own hands, and bring His redemption to pass. Amen!
Rev. Kyle Sorensen