Time is a funny thing. Half the population seems to have time to burn, while the other half is always short of time. Yet we all have exactly the same number of hours in each day!
A number of years ago I noticed on the wall of a paper supplying company a "Rush Job" calendar. I have since seen it in a number of different versions, but the basic principles are the same. The numbers go backwards instead of forwards in each week, since everybody wants their job done yesterday. Weekends are eliminated as being unproductive, so are Mondays when nobody works well. Instead three Fridays are introduced to help with all those jobs needed by Friday. And a Miracle day is introduced because the week's work could usually do with one. The other effect of numbering each week backwards is to get rid of the usual end-of-month jam.
Have you ever felt you could do with a calendar like that? Unfortunately, it can't actually be like that at all. It would be an unreal world. Such a calendar can only work in our imagination.
In point of fact, we all have the same time available to us - twenty-four hours in every day. But we have varying amounts of physical and nervous energy, differing skills, different ways of tackling our lives, the habits of a lifetime... Add to that the variety of commitments - job, home, family, community... These affect both the time we need and the time we seem to have at our disposal.
The question, of course, is not simply what time we have, but what our priorities are. These will determine how we use our time. All of us have periods when uninvited circumstances cut right across our plans and reshape what we have to do - a disaster, a sickness, a bereavement...
We live in the pressure of our instant world where everything has to happen on the run - with its instant food, instant garbage, instant relationships, instant divorce... And there is a special kind of guilt that our ratty rat-race society lays on us all - a guilt that leads, among other things, to some of the amazing achievements of our time - and to record levels of unemployment, mental disturbances and suicide.
From the standpoint of our world, it is difficult for us to slow down, to stop for long enough to grasp just what had happened in the birth of baby Jesus. We have had Christmas - it was good while it lasted - but it's now the New Year and life must rush on.
Christmas had come and gone and old Simeon went up to the Temple to pray. Of course, he didn't know about Christmas - nobody knew about Christmas! They had this belief - often it was 'way back in their minds, yet deep down they did believe - that God would send his chosen one, the Messiah, one day!
But day after day, week after week, year after year ground on. Even at their slower pace of living - life still had to go on! For centuries now their nation had been suffering badly. Just now it was the Romans. They had to pay tax to them. They had to carry their soldiers' packs without question. And when they went into the Temple, they were conscious of the Roman fortress, built so that, even there, the Romans could keep an eye on them!
Old Simeon went up to the Temple to pray.
He had to pay his taxes like the rest of them. He couldn't plead his age if a Roman soldier asked him to carry his pack. He too must have been conscious of the Roman "big Brother" looking in from the fortress! He is described as being "a good, God-fearing man... waiting for Israel to be saved" - waiting in faith, waiting and really accepting and expecting that something would happen. It would happen because God had said it would happen, because it had been foretold - and God is true!
Old Simeon went up to the Temple to pray.
It had been such a long time - centuries before his birth. But he knew within himself that the time of fulfilled promises was at hand. He had received assurance by special revelation that he would see the promised Messiah. It was an ordinary kind of day in the Temple - with people hurrying to and fro - priests and Pharisees, parents and children... Yet for Simeon, "led by the Spirit", it was the day. Not for the Romans, nor for the chief priests, nor for any of the others...
"Now, Lord, you have kept your promise, and you may let your servant go in peace. With my own eyes I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: A light to reveal your will to the Gentiles and bring glory to your people Israel."
Then Anna arrived - eighty-four year old Anna! She is described as "a very old prophetess" - a phrase which does not imply that the Jewish authorities acknowledged her prophetic gift! (It is curious that the footnote in the Good News Bible alerts us to a variant translation making her a widow for eighty-four years - which would make her at least 108! I think it is sufficient for us to go with the text that she was eighty-four years old!)
Anna spent all available time in the Temple. This is how we understand the statement that "she never left the Temple; day and night she worshipped God..." There were quarters for the Chief Priest to live in the Temple, but not for anyone else.
Anna spent her time worshipping God, fasting and praying. Later we hear of Jesus censuring the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocritical prayer and fasting that was for their abuse of what was meant to be an appropriate way of drawing near to God and preparing oneself for his will. Evidently there were others too in Jerusalem who regularly gave themselves to prayer as they waited for the time of God's fulfilment to come. This quiet network of people all knew one another and encouraged one another as they continued in this unofficial and unrecognised work of prayer.
So Anna arrives too and gives thanks to God. The time of fulfilment has come. This is the promised one. Quietly, as she meets the others, she tells them about the child.
Simeon was "waiting for Israel to be saved". Anna spoke about the child to "all who were waiting for God to set Jerusalem free.""Waiting... We are not very good at it. We want things to happen at the double - preferably yesterday! God had promised and centuries had passed. Some had lost all hope. But there were those who were still believing, still expecting, still waiting... We wouldn't had had the patience!
And now the Season has come and gone. We've had the "Ho! Ho! Ho!" and now it's just "Ho, ho!" - that's that, but so what, we have to get on with life.
Sometimes I feel like shaking people and saying, "Hold on a minute! Don't you realise what has happened? We can't just go back to the old life and the old ways! Jesus the Son of God has been born into our human history, born to rescue us from our brokenness, born to set us free! We can't just shrug him off!"
In the day of wily old Herod and the crafty Pharisees, what was happening was fairly private - shown to Simeon and Anna and a few acquaintances.
But his coming was for you and for me - and for the whole world! His coming was for dealing with the sin problem which has become so endemic in human life. His coming was for giving us purpose, meaning and direction for our life in 1993. His coming was for giving us solid hope in a world whose bewildering change leads so many to despair!
Happy New Year to you! Let's travel this year together with the Lord!
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