Summary: People had been waiting a long time for the Messiah to come. When he comes the voices that are heard are vital to understanding the event
I think one of the things people these days find hard is having to wait. Delayed gratification is one of those things that have been forgotten in our age of fast food, instant communication and short attention spans. I see you can even buy an air conditioner now, that you can telephone on your way home from work to turn it on so you don’t have to wait for the room to cool down when you get home. I remember when Di was pregnant with each of our children, there was that long wait, of some eight months from when we found out until the baby was born. Eight months of anticipation, but also 8 months of wondering how we’d cope, whether it’d be a boy or a girl, whether it would be healthy or not. Well these days people do ultrasounds to find out the sex of their baby and whether it’s healthy, etc. Because it’s difficult to wait isn’t it?
But sometimes it doesn’t hurt to have to wait. Delayed gratification can be a helpful thing. For example it allows you time to prepare. Imagine if you found out you were having a baby the day before it arrived! You’d be lost, wouldn’t you? You just wouldn’t be prepared. But on the other hand, if the wait gets too great, you start to wonder whether it will really happen.
In today’s gospel reading we discover a number of people who have been waiting for a very long time for their great hope to arrive. First of all Simeon, who’s described as waiting for the consolation of Israel. Secondly there’s Anna and the people that she speaks to who are looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Both are looking for the same thing. These people were looking forward to the fulfilment of prophecies such as Isaiah’s which told of the restoration of Jerusalem, of the coming of the Messiah to restore the fortunes of Israel, and to establish God’s Kingdom here on earth to bring salvation to all peoples. At the end of Luke’s gospel we’re introduced to another person, Joseph of Arimathea, who was also waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God.
All these people were waiting for God to act. They’d been waiting for many years most of them. We’re not told how old Simeon was, but the implication is that he’d lived beyond the normal span of years as he waited to greet the coming Messiah. Anna we’re told, is 84, which I take to be a great age for the period. But notice that their time hasn’t been wasted. Rather they’ve spent their time in worship of God. Simeon is described as righteous and devout. That is, his life was exemplary. He was a regular worshipper of God. He was open to God speaking to him, and responded when he heard God’s voice. Similarly Anna never left the temple, but worshipped there with prayer and fasting night and day. What a great example of a godly woman. And what a great example of a woman who acts as a mouthpiece for God. Anna is a great example of a woman who God uses to teach his people about who Jesus was.
Here are people who are faithfully waiting for God’s promised Messiah to be revealed when suddenly he appears among them. But if you look at the account that Luke gives of this event, it’s clear that by itself, no-one would have noticed it. The event of Jesus’ birth happens in a very unspectacular way, and in fact Luke tells it in a very sparing way. Only seven verses for the birth of Jesus. But then the rest of chapter 2 is devoted to three separate events, three sayings about this child who has been born. The birth by itself might have been missed, but the events that surround it, the words that accompany it, ensure that we fully understand it’s significance.
First the angels come to the shepherds and announce good news of great joy to all the people. This day is born a Saviour who is Christ, the Lord. The baby had already been given a name, Jesus, by the angel Gabriel in the previous chapter.
Jesus was a not unusual name for the time. It meant "The Lord saves" the same as Joshua. It’s a name that occurs from time to time through the Old Testament. But in Jesus’ case it had a hidden significance. As the angel announces, this Jesus is to be the Saviour. God is about to bring the salvation that people have been waiting for, once and for all. "Peace on earth" has meaning only because of what this baby will do. That’s because not only is he the Saviour, but he’s the Christ, the Messiah. All those prophecies of the Servant of the Lord are to be fulfilled in this person who is God’s anointed one. And he’s "the Lord." Luke has just referred to God as "the Lord" some twenty times in the previous chapter, so this title used for Jesus has staggering implications. Here is God incarnate, God in human form. God coming to save us himself. No wonder the shepherds have to go and see for themselves this wonder that the Lord has made known to them.