“I’ve Been Waiting So Long”

~ Luke 2:25-35 ~

As I was considering this story of Simeon this week, a song popped into my head and just stayed there – you know, an earworm. But it ended up being the inspiration for my sermon title this Sunday, “I’ve been waiting so long.”

One of my favorite music groups of the 60’s and 70’s was Chicago. Great sound, always had a kickin’ brass section, not afraid to use strings for their rock music. And good songs, often with a political/cultural element. Like their 1972 release, Dialogue, with its concluding refrains: “we can make it better” and “we can save the children.” But one of the more intriguing things about their music was how they incorporated religious-type themes in their songs about romantic love. Like You’re the Inspiration with lyrics like,

You’re the meaning in my life

You’re the inspiration

You bring feeling to my life

You’re the inspiration

They’re not talking about Jesus. But the song that got in my head was I’ve Been Searchin’ So Long.

As my life goes on, I believe

Somehow something’s changed

Something deep inside

Ooh, a part of me

 

I’ve been searchin’ so long

To find an answer

Now I know my life has meaning, oh

 

Now I see myself as I am

Feeling very free

Life is everything

Ooh, it’s meant to be

 

With maybe just a word change here or there, this could be Simeon’s song. I know, Simeon already had a song, the Nunc Dimittis, which we’ll sing at the end of the service today. But I can envision Simeon singing “I’ve been waiting so long.” For, in essence that is what he says when he sees this newborn baby, recently born in a stable. He’s an old man, maybe close to death, but has received some miraculous message that he will not die until he has seen the Messiah for himself. He has been waiting for so long, “looking forward to the consolation of Israel” as it says (whatever that might mean).

So, on this particular day, he somehow finds himself at the temple (the Holy Spirit, Luke suggests, has guided him there) when Joseph and Mary bring baby Jesus there, in accordance with Jewish practice. Upon seeing Jesus and taking him up in his arms, Simeon begins to sing, “I’ve been waiting so long to find an answer. Now I know my life has meaning, ooh.” No, wait; not that one! Instead he sings his renown song, the Nunc Dimittis:

Master, now you can dismiss your servant in peace

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.

 The gospel writer, Luke, here at the very beginning of the story of Jesus, wants his readers to know, in no uncertain terms, that this child, this person, this human, is the Messiah, long foretold, long yearned for. Simeon’s role in the story is to make explicit that connection between what was, Israel’s unique history, and what will be, a world in which non-Israelites will be fully involved. Indeed, what God has prepared for “all peoples.” This person, this Jesus, will do surprising things, for he brings salvation.

However, what was this ‘salvation’ Simeon was awaiting for so long? How did this Messiah, this Jesus, bring an answer to the question of the meaning of life? How did Luke’s readers understand the outworking of this salvation? When Simeon says, “my eyes have seen [God’s] salvation,” would he have understood that salvation as is typically taught in our evangelistic, yes, even our revivalistic, American tradition of getting personally saved from going to hell? Did he somehow already know that Jesus would die on the cross for my sins and that if I accept Jesus as my personal savior I would be saved? No, that is not the salvation Simeon envisioned. Indeed, those first century Christians reading Luke’s gospel, would not have understood salvation in such other-worldly terms. For them, salvation meant discovering a whole new way of living life in the here and now.

Yet, it is safe to say they weren’t prepared for what this Jesus, this long-awaited Messiah, brought. “Get used to different.” That’s the first line in an opinion piece by Peter Wehner published in the New York Times on Christmas Eve. Not often, I should say, do I get spiritually inspirational themes from the New York Times. But Mr. Wehner’s take on who Jesus was it pretty right-on. He writes that “first-century Christians weren’t prepared for what a truly inclusive figure he was, and what was true then is still true today.” Encounter after encounter, as written up in the gospels, Jesus shattered barriers; accepting, including, welcoming people of all sorts of walks of life and character. Tax collectors, publicans, women accused of adultery, even devoutly religious folk (although for them it seemed that Jesus always had to do some significant debriefing). These encounters happened over and over again. As Wehner puts it, “He touched lepers and healed a woman who had a constant flow of menstrual blood, both of whom were considered impure; forgave a woman ‘who lived a sinful life’ and told her to ‘go in peace’, healed a paralytic and a blind man, people thought to be worthless and useless. And as Jesus was being crucified, he told the penitent thief on the cross next to him, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’”

“The lesson from Jesus’ life and ministry,” says Wehner, “is that understanding people’s stories and struggles requires much more time and effort than condemning them.” Jesus presented a way of living that was so challenging, so out of the norm of typical human behavior, that we constantly have to renew our commitment to that way. But that way of living, inclusive and welcoming, is much more rewarding than the exclusivist, judgmental living that the world considers normal. The lesson of Christmas, the story of the incarnation, say Wehner, “is that, in one sense or another, all of us were once outcasts, broken yet loved, and worth reaching out to and redeeming. If God did that for us, why do we find it so hard to do it for each other?”

We have all been waiting so long for relief, for this long nightmare to end. As we move into this new year, 2021, we are so hoping that it will not be anything like 2020. Interestingly, pretty much every Christmas letter Linda and I have received from friends and family, talk about how weird this past year has been, but that, somehow, here we are at the end of it, hoping for better in coming days.

However the coming days play out, be they COVID days or changing political days or racial justice days or climate change days, we, we few but mighty, are called to continue making the commitment to the challenging yet life-affirming values of that little baby whom Simeon held in his arms. And in doing so, we are made whole, ready to keep on keeping on so to live as God’s people of justice and peace. For, as one great song writer put it:

Now I see myself as I am

Feeling very free

Life is everything

Ooh, it’s meant to be

Amen.

 

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