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Not Waiting in Comfort, But Comfort in Waiting

Date: Dec. 9, 2018

Author: Jimmy Mei

Luke 2:22-40

Key Verse: Luke 2:25

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.

Good morning, everyone! Happy Sunday, and welcome to the second of our messages on Waiting. Last week, we heard from Dan that as we wait, we should wait with joyful hope and anticipation. Though the world can seem to be dark and in decline (the latest warning in the news to come to mind is the increase in greenhouse gas emissions this year), we do not have to live in fear and stress because we know that God is our Savior and that he hears us; we know that we will share in God’s glory someday. Nevertheless, it is an interesting theme this year: Waiting. I want you to think about what you’re waiting for right now. Are you waiting for my message to be over so you can go eat lunch, take a nap, or watch football? The students that still have finals coming up: maybe you’re waiting for this semester to be over so you can go home and just relax for a couple weeks? Or maybe you are like my dad, who is actively waiting for retirement to come to escape the daily grind? No matter what it is, what all these things have in common is that we, as people, are looking and waiting for… comfort. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with looking for consolation and comfort; in fact, today, we’re going to take a close look at the comfort that God provides us. What you shouldn’t do though, is equate being comforted to being comfortable. We take it for granted because the world has become a society that attempts to pursue being comfortable to the highest degree. Even in traditional situations that involve a lot of waiting, like waiting for the bus, or waiting in the checkout line at Costco, what do we do now? We take out our phones and play a game or read an article; we do whatever we can to wait, but wait in comfort. This is not what we should expect from God.

I’m glad we’re studying about waitingbecause we can slow down and re-assess where we, as Christians, should be looking for consolation and comfort. In this passage, we will see what the righteous and devout servants of God were waiting for. What is it, you ask? The answer is found in verse 25b, which says that “He was waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Let us take a look at what consolation is and what consolation we are waiting for. Let us be reminded that we are waiting for Christ himself to come again so that we may share in eternal life in the Kingdom of God with the Father himself. We are waitingfor Christ’s second coming where (from the hymn, ‘We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations’) “Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light.” Amen. Let’s pray.

  So, what is ‘consolation’? In a general sense consolation is: ‘comfort that is received by a person after a loss or a disappointment.’ Those of you who know me, know that I’m a very competitive person, so when I think of a loss, the first thing that pops into my mind is a game and the most disappointing loss that I ever experienced was the 2007 Illinois High School Chess Championship. I was the last game still in progress; if I won or drew that game, we would have been the champions. Unfortunately, I was down a pawn early and with every move I made, all I could do was wait… and wait…, uncomfortably, for my opponent to make a mistake, but he didn’t and I lost. That year, our consolation prize was second place but make no mistake; it was of no comfort to me. To me, coming in second place just meant I was the best of the losers. Fortunately for us, the consolation that God offers us is different; it is not a meaningless, conciliatory gesture, but rather, it is a true comfort and peace with a feeling of victory and triumph.

Let’s read verse 25 together again: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.” Waiting for the consolation of Israel… Why did Israel need consolation? Had they experienced loss and disappointment? They did. God values a sense of history, so let’s just do a quick overview of how Israel arrived to the point of history when Christ was born. We have been studying Genesis, so we know about how God personally called Abraham (almost 4,000 years ago) and promised that he would be a ‘great nation.’ He didn’t even have an heir at that point, much less ‘great nation.’ But God led them to Egypt and while they were in Egypt, God blessed and increased their number to the point where they could be called a ‘people’ but there, they were still slaves until God used Moses to lead them out. Then, even though God led them to freedom, they forgot to give thanks to God and wanted a human leader and king like the surrounding nations they lived among, so God established the kingship and line of David. But because they deviated from worshipping God and instead turned to idol worship, God would give them over to be taken over by the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and finally, the Romans in 63 BC, which brings us to the current state of affair of Israel: a world where Israel is not much of a nation, much less a great nation. They started off humble, but they grew to prominence, only to fall again. They had lost their independence, their autonomy, and many had lost their identity as a people of God. Their national identity and spiritual health were in a state of decline; the Roman oppression was terrible to the point where the roads were lined with crucified individuals meant to instill political terror and mental horror in people. This is why they needed consolation; why they needed comfort.

In comes this man Simeon: we don’t know how old he is but the Bible says that he was righteous and devout and we know that he has been waiting for something for most of his life. (There are only 12 identities that the Bible refers to as ‘righteous,’ or ‘just,’ so this is a quite a commendation that he receives, and a full 1/3 of them are mentioned in this Gospel of Luke; see if you can name all of them). Now, “It was revealed to him that he would not die before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign God, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

First, we must take notice, that this man, no matter how old he is, has been waiting his entire life for this moment, and God finally revealed it to him! Second, what an amazing revelation about this child! Think about it: this righteous man would naturally be concerned and worried about the sins and the spiritual condition of the people of Israel. Yet, essentially, he is saying that he is satisfied and ready to die after just seeing baby Jesus and holding him in his arms! Those of you who have held babies and newborns in your arms know what a magical and wonderful moment it is; simultaneously, you appreciate the fragility and envision potential and you feel warmth and experience love. In addition to this, Simeon felt true peace and comfort in his heart, knowing that because of this child, Israel, and even the rest of the Gentile world, would be in good hands. Simeon was very aware of the declining national and spiritual state of Israel, but here, God revealed his plan for their consolation: it was not going to be a big hug, a pat on the back, or mere verbal reassurance that everything would be okay; it was not a gift of overflowing wealth so they could in luxury; it was not a natural disaster to destroy the mighty Roman Empire and give them political independence again. It was a… baby; a weak, helpless, defenseless, little… baby.

  Now of course, this was no ordinary baby. This baby is God’s salvation. This baby is the light of revelation. This baby is the glory of Israel. He would provide consolation, comfort, and peace to a people and to a world oppressed by sin and Satan. John 14:27 says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Some of my favorite verses, Philippians 4:4-7 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The consolation and comfort that God provides us is peace; peace that causes rejoicing and gentleness. We are urged to present all our inner struggles to God and God will give us peace that protects us. Notice that never does it say that God will change the situation; it only instructs us to rejoice and present it to God and even though our situation may stay the same, we experience God’s peace and comfort. This is the mystery of God’s consolation: that we are able to experience comfort, not because we are comfortable, but we experience comfort despite the discomfort the world puts us through and nothing in this world can take that away from us.

  So how does each one of us experience the consolation and comfort? Well, first, we must acknowledge that we all have an innate desire for validation, comfort, and peace and not only do we desire it, but we need it and, whether you know it or not, are actively pursuing it. I implore you, come to God; let him know what you need his consolation and comfort for. Many people have asked me, how can God give me comfort when he has to give everyone else comfort too? Maybe you feel like you are going through something that nobody else can understand? Children feel misunderstood by their parents. Students feel inferior to peers and teachers. Everyone feels unfulfilled when they on Facebook and see all the great things that other people are experiencing or accomplishing. Sometimes the world seems unfair and that others have taken advantage of you. Bring these concerns to God and let him console you. Languishing in hatred only breeds additional darkness. Why should I go on living if life seems purposeless and nobody seems to care about me? How come life is so unfair? Why do people die young? When do so many acts of violence, sexual assault, and domestic abuse occur? How do I move on with my life after something traumatic has happened to me? How do I forgive someone who has wronged me or has caused me great pain? Why shouldn’t I pursue justice and hurt those who hurt me so they can also feel the same pain? These are all valid questions and hard to consciously acknowledge because of the raw emotion, disappointment, and pain we feel when we contemplate them.

But, as I grew in my life of faith, God made me deal with these types of questions very personally and acknowledge truths about myself. I had to confront myself as a selfish person who desired love but was not good at expressing it and giving love back; that I often lived in the world and had thoughts in my head only of how I could improve or benefit from something; that I wanted people to acknowledge and praise me for my skills and accomplishments. I wanted to please everyone around me, to avoid all manner of conflict, and to ignore the problems that were there because I didn’t want to deal with them. But God revealed to me through bible study that I was only fooling myself and chasing after things that could not last. I experienced the consequences of a messy divorce, the breakup pain of a long relationship, the loneliness of being by myself for the first time in my life when I first went away for college; God forced to depend on him and that no matter what, there was no changing the situation; but what I could change was what I would allow into my heart. I could hold on to my darkness and anger and let that drive my life or I could present it to God and he would give me comfort. God showed me that he hears me, that he understands me, and that he can offer me salvation and comfort until that day, the day when I can actually be with him in the Kingdom of God. I am comforted because even though it hasn’t happened yet, I know that it will. Do I have to fear a broken marriage in the future because my wife and I both come from divorced families? No, because I know Christ is my consolation and my hope is in his love and salvation! Do I have to fear that I can’t provide for my family or fear that I won’t be respected by my peers at work? No, because Christ is my consolation! Do I acknowledge that terrible things that I can’t understand will happen in this world and in my life? Yes, but I can overcome it because Christ is my consolation! In fact, what do we know about God? God is good. Therefore, God does not cause bad things to happen. But God can use the bad things that happen for good and when we are forced to deal with pain and suffering in this world, he uses that to bring us closer to him because he is our source of comfort. The answer to all struggles that we have is Christ: that no matter what situation we encounter in our lives or how much pain we experience, we can choose to bear it with darkness in our hearts or with comfort and peace. It will not always be comfortable for us but we can always be comforted in our hearts because we know that no matter how long it takes before Christ comes again, that he most definitely will come and he will save us.

Think about it: this baby that came into the world for you over 2,000 years ago. Yet, he still provides comfort, life-changing mercy, and grace to people today. People’s lives have changed and hearts have been transformed by his words and his promise. My life has been changed by his life and his promise. I sought comfort from other people’s love and approval and in my list personal accomplishments and skills. But if that’s all I sought after, then what if people didn’t approve of what I was doing or when my personal ability and skill was not enough? Then, I would truly be a sorrowful and pitiful person, languishing in grief and self-pity. But, like Simeon here, I saw Christ. I saw the wondrous child that Simeon saw and I saw a consolation and a comfort that I could not find in this world, that I could obtain despite this world, and I saw potential for even greater things than I can even dared to imagine. I realized that the world was lying to me: that I could be happy if I just had more possessions, experienced more of the world, earned more respect and praise, or had more friends. But finding Christ helped me to see that accepting his offer of salvation by believing in him and emulating his life by denying myself, serving others, and sharing his message to others is what provides true comfort in my life. Regardless of my personal worldly accomplishments or accumulation of wealth, I only experienced true peace when I presented myself to God. And once I experienced it, I haven’t been able to deny it any more than I could deny myself taking a breath. I need it to live. Like in Shepherd Bob’s message a couple weeks ago, I am reminded of Zechariah 9:12, “Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.” I am a prisoner of this hope and I cannot, nor do I desire, to escape it.

This wondrous, life-changing, game-altering, reality-shattering power; I think this is what was revealed to Simeon when he saw this child before him. Even Jesus’ parents were amazed. “The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” This can sound somewhat scary. To me, the scariest part is that ‘the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.’ First, this makes us completely vulnerable because we can’t hold anything back and the ugliest parts and darkest desires of our hearts must be revealed. Second, there always seems to be a dichotomy within the word of God. Many in Israel will rise, but many will also fall, because when Christ comes again there will be two reactions: “Oh, God!” and “Oh… God…” Those who choose to relinquish the darkness in their hearts how will know comfort and peace; those who continue to hide and hold on to it, reject Christ. In fact, the trap that Satan lays for us is this: lying to us that God will reject us because of our sin, in order that we will reject God first, so that God doesn’t get a chance to reject us. But the problem is that when we reject God, we reject the only offer of true salvation we have. Unfortunately, those who have not accepted Christ, God will not accept into his Kingdom. So we must give up the pain, darkness, and hurt that we hold on to and welcome Christ instead; our past cannot be changed, but our hearts can. In exchange for all the darkness in our hearts and all the secrets that we hold there, he takes that darkness and he gives us comfort instead. We take heart in knowing that our consolation and Savior welcomes us and gives us salvation and not a heaping helping of the judgment we deserve, which is the real reason that we hold back our darkest secrets in first place. We know that our God loves us and wants us despite our sins; we don’t have to worry about God rejecting us.

Simeon was not the only person to see this child and comment. “There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” Similar to Simeon, she also had been waiting and waiting her entire life for this moment. She was looking forward to redemption and spoke of this child to others who desired the same. She lived every day, waiting for it. She fasted and prayed every day, so she was definitely not waiting in comfort; she didn’t have an iPhone or Netflix to keep her busy until salvation showed up. Yet, she still found comfort in God while she waited. Some days, I’m just waiting for the end of the day so I can go back to bed. But she took comfort and in consolation in knowing that God would fulfill his promise to redeem his people and she was diligently prepared to receive him whenever he showed up, worshipping day and night.

Even Jesus’ parents demonstrated active waiting in this passage. They were entrusted to raise the child of God and they didn’t just sit back and wait for God to do everything. They did as the laws of God instructed. They circumcised the child when he was 8 days old; they gave him the name that they were instructed to give. “When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’) and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’.” “When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was with him.”

In summary, it’s important to meditate and acknowledge each of our own personal situations and lives. We all need comfort in different things. The world tries to sell you comfort too. Not to bash on insurance, but when they try to sell you a policy, they really play up the peace of mind and comfort you get if you purchase it. Oh, you’re healthy now, but what if you’re not? You need to buy health insurance so you can have peace of mind that you have affordable access to care. Oh, but what if things get so bad, that there’s no saving you; then you need peace of mind by buying life insurance. Or what if it’s in between: maybe things are bad enough to disable you but not take your life; then you need peace of mind by buying disability insurance. It never ends. The problem with the world’s comfort was that it was always changing, there’s always different fine print, can be taken away, and doesn’t last. But the consolation and comfort that Christ offers is stable, eternal, cannot be taken away, and covers every situation in life. Christ is the only policy that we need and doesn’t expire when we reach a certain age or if we stop paying our premiums. When we acknowledge we need Christ, we live with anticipation and actively wait for his coming, finding comfort that this is an inevitability, an eventuality, and not a false hope.

To be honest, you know what I am waiting for these days? I’m waiting on Jesus, but I’ve also been waiting my whole life to finally start my career. After all the schooling and training I’ve gone through, I’ll be an independent physician in a year and a half. Taking this journey made me realize the other reason why God makes us wait. Sometimes, we’re just not ready yet. I take comfort in knowing that God will make it happen when the time is right, so I’m definitely not in a rush. I’ll wait, but I take consolation and comfort that God will protect me and help me grow until then. Like Anna and Jesus’ parents, my waiting will not be passive but I will actively prepare for that moment: by seeking God and meditating on his word and by learning to depend on God for wisdom and direction. I’m waiting for God to work in the hearts of my family members so that they will one day accept Christ when they see my life of faith and desire for themselves as well. I’m waiting for God to use me as a blessing the way he used Abraham to be such a blessing to those around him.

Ultimately, as Christians, we wait for the fulfillment of his promise. Sometimes that takes a while: Anna and Simeon both waited until their old age before they saw the redemption and consolation of Israel, which in Simeon’s case, God somehow revealed that he would see before he died. There’s a reason each and every one of us believe in and follow God; God must have promised you something. Whether that promise is one of peace in your heart, God’s healing, wisdom to shepherd God’s people, joy, mercy, etc. The promise that he gives all of us is that Christ will come again and that knowledge is enough to give us comfort in our hearts even as we are not comfortable in this world. In fact, somewhat ironically, it is because of the discomfort that brings us to seek comfort in Christ; no matter is too small and no obstacle is too large to bring before Christ. Bring all your petitions and prayers to God and he will give you comfort even amidst your suffering, even as we wait God’s fulfillment of his promise to us.

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