I could blame our mounting impatience on technology. Horses gave way to trains which gave way to automobiles which gave way to propeller-driven airplanes, which in turn gave way to jets. Dial-up was consumed by DSL, and the U.S. Postal Service is being/has been replaced by e-mail. We have come to expect that wherever we need to go we can get there quicker; whatever needs to be accomplished can be checked off faster and faster. We have, in a sense, been trained that way. Even major life issues we see encountered and resolved within the span of a 30-minute sitcom or at worst an hour-long drama. Shouldn't our lives work that way as well?
And so the rub when we read one of the texts often scheduled for this Sunday of the year:
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-34)Luke doesn't tell us how patiently Simeon had waited; only that he had done so -- presumably for a long, long time. He had waited. Day in and day out; watching and waiting. As a friend pointed out, this isn't really a "waiting" story but rather a "fulfillment" story -- Simeon is finally able to prayerfully exclaim, "OK, now I can die because I have finally seen what I was looking for." Fulfillment.
But isn't the reason we tell fulfillment stories is to reinforce the significance of the waiting still to be endured? Not even Simeon, after all, could claim with any honesty the waiting was really over. Moses, near the end of the Exodus through the wilderness, was finally able to see the Promised Land across the way, but there was still some distance to travel before their feet would actually land there, and that ultimate accomplishment would be beyond Moses' scope. Simeon looked into the baby's eyes and could see the salvation of his people, but it was looking through a telescope lens not a window. If it's possible for some to see a world in a grain of sand, it was apparently possible for Simeon to see the culmination of God's desire in a baby's eyes; but there is yet a vast difference between the "seeing" and the "arriving."
And we have not yet arrived. There is waiting still to be endured for the time when all hungry bellies are full, when all naked backs are clothed, when all lonely hearts are comforted, when all estrangements are reconciled, when every human being is honored, and when all of creation is recognized and revered for the fingerprint of God that it is.
We have a ways to go. And so we wait, taking inspiration from the likes of Simeon who somehow managed the suspense and the lengths of days while never ceasing to watch and listen. Eventually, after all, he recognized the sound and the sight he was after. If he can do it, well...
...perhaps we can, as well.