Today in the Lenten Project we were asked to consider the story of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It is a loved, familiar story. I have preached on it many times on the Sunday after Christmas. But today, as I have resolved to do for this project, I read the story in The Message. When you encounter God’s Word, outside of the pattern of the well loved phrases found in the familiar translations, you encounter it in a new way–an eye-opening way.
Luke 2: 22-40 Then when the days stipulated by Moses for purification were complete, they took him up to Jerusalem to offer him to God as commanded in God’s Law: “Every male who opens the womb shall be a holy offering to God,” and also to sacrifice the “pair of doves or two young pigeons” prescribed in God’s Law.
In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah of God before he died. Led by the Spirit, he entered the Temple. As the parents of the child Jesus brought him in to carry out the rituals of the Law, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God:
God, you can now release your servant;
release me in peace as you promised.
With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation;
it’s now out in the open for everyone to see:
A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,
and of glory for your people Israel.
Jesus’ father and mother were speechless with surprise at these words. Simeon went on to bless them, and said to Mary his mother,
This child marks both the failure and
the recovery of many in Israel,
A figure misunderstood and contradicted—
the pain of a sword-thrust through you—
But the rejection will force honesty,
as God reveals who they really are.
Anna the prophetess was also there, a daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was by now a very old woman. She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers. At the very time Simeon was praying, she showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem.
When they finished everything required by God in the Law, they returned to Galilee and their own town, Nazareth. There the child grew strong in body and wise in spirit. And the grace of God was on him.
The questions that Becky poses in the study directed my thoughts to the demands of prayer–patience, trust, hope and even frustration and despair. All of us who have prayed for something over a long periods of time have known those emotions.
But Simeon and Anna haven’t just waited months or years…. they have waited decades and, more than that, a life-time.
That’s what makes the questions Becky asked so deeply meaningful…
Can you imagine waiting your whole life to meet the Savior and discovering he came in the form of a tiny child?
Would you rejoice in song or question how it could be?
For me, when I have prayed over something a long time, I have also often formed an image of how I want that prayer to be answered. Yet, God always answers in his own time, in his own way and with an eye to giving me a greater blessing. Sometimes I am disappointed. Sometimes I am angry. But in time I do see that God’s wisdom is far greater than my dreaming and scheming.
Becky concludes the study in this way:
As you move through today think about your faith.
Are you willing to wait for God’s promises to come true?
Are you willing to wait for God’s time instead of your own?
If I were to be honest–I’d have to say, “NO”
But then I also know that I don’t have a choice.
Whether I put my faith in God or not… God will answer in his own time and in his own way to give me the greater blessing. He has proven it and proven it and proven it.
So that brings me to what leaped out at me when I read this passage, the translation giving me fresh eyes…..
In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel.
Prayerful expectancy….. those are such hopeful words. Better than that it is such a hopeful way to live.
Prayerful expectancy.….it’s a simple solution to life, isn’t it? We pray….and we expect God to answer. Simple. No plans. No schemes. No agenda for God to comply with. Just prayer and the hopeful expectancy that God WILL answer–not as we demand, but as he knows will be best. In his own time. In his own way. With the wisdom of the ages. With the blessing he has intended all along.
Prayerful expectancy… may it be so in our lives.