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Waiting For Consolation

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 Waiting for Consolation                             Luke 2:22-40

Our Gospel lesson today is about Jesus, of course, but the starring roles in this little story belong to Simeon and Anna –– an old man and an old woman.  I love this story, because Simeon and Anna were good people who had waited all their lives for something –– and Jesus was that something. 

They couldn't have put a name to it, of course.  They couldn't have said that they were waiting for Jesus.  Luke says that Simeon had been "looking forward to the consolation of Israel" (2:25 NRSV).  The Greek word was prosdechomenos, which is often translated "waiting for."  Simeon was "waiting for the consolation of Israel." 

Luke describes Anna as an eighty-four year old woman who "never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day" (2:37).  We shouldn't take that literally.  I doubt that Anna slept in the temple. But it seemed like she was always there–– always worshiping –– always praying. 

We know people like that, don't we!  We see them in our local churches –– people who truly love the Lord ––people who show their devotion to God in a thousand small ways–– people who prepare for worship –– Sunday school teachers who come to prepare their room for the coming Sunday's lesson –– choir members who come to practice their anthem and to care for each other.  I see others, too –– the person who comes to sit in a pew and pray –– the people who give generously to help needy people. 

Jesus describes those people as "the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13) –– and they are!  Without people like that, our lives would be a bit grayer –– a little less rich.  Paul says that "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7) –– and I do too.  It would be hard not to love the beautiful saints who give of themselves in service to God ––day by day –– in ways great and small.  How could we not love such people?

So I love Simeon and Anna –– even though I have never met them.  I've never talked to them personally, but I know them nevertheless –– and love them as "salt of the earth" people.  Luke tells us that Anna was married for seven years, but then her husband died.  She could have been embittered by his death.  She could have cursed God, but she didn't.  She responded by going to the temple and fasting and praying.  She responded by becoming a saint –– even though they weren't using that word yet.

And Simeon –– Simeon was an old man who spent his life "waiting for the consolation of Israel" (2:25) –– waiting for the Messiah –– waiting for God's salvation.  Is there anyone here who can't identify with that!  Is there anyone here who hasn't spent time waiting for God's salvation?

Waiting for consolation!  Some of you will remember Marian Anderson, an African-American woman who was one of the great vocalists of the twentieth century.  People began to recognize her talent when she was still quite young, but she encountered many roadblocks along her way.  On one occasion, she waited on line all day to apply for admittance to a music school.  When she finally got to the front of the line, they said, "We don't take colored." 

Waiting for consolation!  Waiting for salvation!

But her talent was such that it opened doors.  She even performed at Carnegie Hall.  But the stumbling blocks were always there.

In 1939, Sol Hurok tried to book her for a concert at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C.  They told him that the hall wasn't available –– that it was booked solid.  But then he discovered the truth –– the hall was available only to white artists.   

Waiting for consolation!

When First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt learned of that, she resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) –– the group that owned Constitution Hall.  She then prevailed on Harold Ickes (pronounced ICK-iss), the Secretary of the Interior, to make the Lincoln Memorial available to Anderson for an Easter concert.  Ickes, of course, did so.  That concert, broadcast over network radio, was a resounding success –– although it made Marian uncomfortable to be the center of such controversy. 

Waiting for consolation!

A few years later, Marian was invited to sing in Constitution Hall.  She agreed to do so if the DAR would suspend its policy of segregated seating for the concert.  They agreed to do so, and she sang there. 

Waiting for consolation!  Waiting for God's salvation! 

We, too, are waiting for consolation.  We, too, are waiting for God's salvation.  We are waiting to hear good news from our doctor.  We are waiting to hear good news from our children.  At the moment, many people in this congregation are waiting in hope of good news about their financial situation.  Some are waiting for in hope of good news about their jobs.  Some are waiting in hope of good news about their homes. 

Waiting for consolation!  Waiting for God's salvation!

But let me remind you that this is neither the first bad time nor the worst bad time in our history.  How many of you or your parents went through the Great Depression?  Those were truly terrible times.  In those days, many employers hired only single women.  If they discovered that you were married, you would lose your job.  Jobs were precious.  Precious!  So many people kept their marriage a secret. 

Waiting for consolation!  Waiting for salvation!

I would like to hold out the hope that you will make –– that we will make it.  We are waiting for consolation.  We are waiting for salvation!  I believe that we will see it.  We are waiting for Good News!  I believe that we will hear it. 

But I can't promise that our consolation will come quickly or easily.  Simeon and Anna, the wonderful saints of our Gospel lesson, lived their lives waiting for consolation.  They finally found it near the end of their lives.  They found it in the baby Jesus, who embodied their hopes and dreams for Israel.

But we should not make the mistake of thinking that Simeon and Anna lived in misery while they were waiting.  We should not imagine that they found happiness only at the very end.  That was not true –– not true at all.  Simeon and Anna didn't live in misery.  They lived in faith.  They lived in the hope that they would see God's grace –– not only for themselves, but also for their nation. 

And they did see God's grace.  They saw it in the baby Jesus –– in the one whom they recognized as the messiah come from God.

But they experienced God's grace long before they saw Jesus.  They experienced God's grace every day –– every time they came to the temple –– every time they prayed.

My guess is that, if we had met Simeon or Anna earlier in their lives –– long before they saw the baby Jesus –– we would have found them quietly joyful –– full of faith –– enjoying God's mercy –– and waiting expectantly for the messiah.

In other words, I think that Simeon and Anna were very much like some of the saints in this congregation.  We have gentle people living among us, serving God –– trusting God.  Most live modest lives.  Many have modest incomes.  Some have modest talents.  But there is a joy and a beauty in their lives that blesses each of us and all of us.

So how can be become like that –– rock-steady when things are good and joyful when things are bad?  Anna can show us the way.  She can show us how to find happiness in good times and bad.  Here's how she did it.  She did it by living a life of worship –– a life of fasting and prayer.  She did it by living her life in the presence of God –– thanking God for present mercies –– and living in expectation of future mercies.

We can be like that too.  We can become joyful, full-of-faith people who keep our heads during the good times and keep our faith during the bad times.  But it takes a willingness to spend some time with spiritual disciplines–– prayer, Bible reading, worship, helping our neighbors. 

We're so tempted to fill our spiritual bellies with junk food.  We're surrounded by spiritual junk food.  Most television programs are spiritual junk food.  There are exceptions, but we have to look for them.  Many magazines and books are spiritual junk food.  We have to choose carefully.  It is quite possible that there are people in this congregation who are secretly addicted to pornography –– spiritual junk food. 

We can't fill our spiritual bellies with junk food and become strong enough to survive good times and bad.  We need to spend time in prayer –– time reading the Bible –– time rubbing elbows with other Christians –– time helping our neighbors.

As I was preparing this sermon, I came across a quotation by Paul Rees that I would like to share with you.  I will close with this thought.

But I should mention that Rees was one of those Simeons –– one of those Annas –– one of those joyful, full-of-faith people have come through thick and thin.  He was born in 1901 and died ninety years later in 1991.  He lived through all the tough times of a tough century.  But he didn't let those tough times get him down.  Rees had this advice for those of us who would like to have that kind of strength.  He said:

"If we are willing to take hours on end

to learn to play a piano,

or operate a computer,

or fly an airplane,

it is sheer nonsense for us to imagine

that we can learn the high art of getting guidance

through communion with the Lord

without being willing to set aside time for it."

Rees concluded:

"It is no accident that the Bible speaks of prayer

as a form of waiting on God."

This morning, as you sit here in this beautiful sanctuary, try to imagine it as a spiritual gymnasium –– a spiritual fitness center.  The other fitness centers down the road have weights and Nautilus equipment and treadmills.  We have worship services –– and Bible studies –– and small groups –– and opportunities to help our neighbors.

Come and live in the presence of God –– so that you might find your consolation –– and your salvation.

O Come, All Ye Faithful UMH #234

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