The season of advent is marked by eager anticipation, and in order to understand more completely this sense of anticipation, we must consider the Israelites who lived during a time we now call the Intertestamental Period. This was a time spanning 400 years, during which God did not speak through his prophets. Malachi was the last to have a true word from God, and there was not another prophetic word until John the Baptist appeared to prophecy the long awaited messiah had come.
Imagine with me what it would have been like to live in a time where God was silent. What would that be like, knowing the promise of a coming messiah (savior) and eagerly anticipating his arrival?
The classic work of C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, provides an excellent example of this idea. One of the main characters, Lucy Pevensie, upon discovering the wintery world of Narnia, meets a faun called Mr. Tumnus. At some point, she gleefully asks him if Christmas occurs more often in Narnia because it's always winter. Mr. Tumnus replies, informing her it is always winter but never Christmas. As a child, I was always heartbroken at this idea because it would have meant no gifts. However, I now realize the idea of Christmas in this story is being used to symbolize hope. Imagine though, for a moment, if you didn't know when the next Christmas would come—if you couldn't clearly see any light at the end of the tunnel. In that image is a hint of what it was like to live in the time before Jesus' arrival.
Always winter but never Christmas.
Through the gospels, we can see into the lives of one of the people who had lived during that time, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the savior. The historian, Luke, records for us an example of a person who saw Jesus and knew he was the one for whom the nation of Israel had been waiting those many years. Beginning in Luke 2:25 we read of a man named Simeon, and to him it had been revealed he would not see death until the coming of the messiah. The Spirit led him to the temple the day Jesus was brought, per Jewish tradition, by his parents to offer sacrifice, consecrating their first born son to the Lord. When he saw Jesus he blessed him, saying he could now die in peace, for he had seen the messiah of God, the promised one through whom God would bring salvation.
For Simeon it had, for many decades, been always winter but never Christmas. And then one day... Christmas came.
Now, put yourself in Simeon's shoes. Imagine what it must have been like to experience days mixed with feelings of doubt and eager anticipation, while awaiting a word from the God who had promised something—promised a savior would be coming. Imagine having been taught your entire life that God was always faithful to his promises, and then imagine waiting on that same God to fulfill a promise long awaited for generations. Not only that, but waiting on a God who, for centuries, had been silent. What would that feel like?
Imagine now, if you will, after waiting decades and having known no one in previous generations who had heard a new word from God, that you set eyes on the messiah himself. Let that sensation, if your imagination can even do it justice, sink in a bit. I mean really, would you even be able to contain yourself?
For generations it had been ever winter, but Christmas had come. Hope had come. Hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12).
If I were Simeon I imagine I wouldn't have even been able to sleep that night. Think for a moment about an amazingly awesome experience of yours, after which you could barely sleep as you reflected on it. Maybe it's the Cubs winning the World Series after 108 years of waiting. Maybe it's experiencing the birth of your child and afterwards being torn between the need for sleep and desire to remain awake to wonder at new life. Perhaps it's praying fervently for years on behalf of a loved one who was not a believer, and finally being blessed to the point of leading them to saving faith. Maybe it's eagerly awaiting that one special Christmas present (a Red Rider carbine action range model air rifle for example), and having the pleasure of unwrapping it when the day arrives.
Whatever the experience that comes to mind for you, I believe it can scarcely compare to the experience of Simeon the day he met the infant messiah. How marvelous? How wonderful? Is my saviors love for me? He chose to reveal himself to Simeon that day, as he has chosen to reveal himself to you. Simeon's experience, however, differs from ours in a way I believe it is important to understand. He had saving faith in the messiah before ever laying eyes on him, anticipating for decades the messiah's promised arrival. We, on the other hand, didn't even know we were waiting on a savior to come until it was one day revealed to us.
So, this Christmas season, as we anticipate together the coming of our savior, Christ Jesus, let us be reminded of, and wait with, an anticipation like that of Simeon's, who held to the promise of God despite his never knowing for certain when the day would come. We all know Christmas comes the same time every year, but what if it wasn't coming? What if the coming of Christmas was uncertain? We would wait then with somber hearts, always holding to hope that the savior could come any day now, while dealing with disappointment at his delay. On Christmas, may we all be able to say, as Simeon said, with gratitude in our hearts, "My eyes have seen salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples" (Luke 2:30, ESV). We may only be able to truly utter those words if we wait for the coming of our savior with an anticipation like that of Simeon.
The long winter is over. Christmas has come. Hope has come. Let us ever respond with gratitude. A desire fulfilled is a free of life (Proverbs 13:12).
- Ben Bess