Learning from Two at the Temple, by Susan Daugherty
Expectation fills our hearts in December, as powerfully as the fragrances of pine and peppermint fill the air.
With Jesus as its focus, that sense of holy anticipation draws families and even strangers together. As the soaring melody of “Silent Night” rings out in candlelit churches on Christmas Eve, we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promises to redeem us.
All too often, though, my unspoken Christmas dreams feature “Jesus plus.” I load the holiday with desires for perfect harmony at family gatherings, joyous gift exchanges and restful time off from work duties.
When my real Christmas experience doesn’t hold up under the weight of my unrealistic expectations, I am left feeling deflated. The emptiness is as hard to face as the family room strewn with torn paper and empty boxes on December 26.
Our natural tendency is to give in to disappointment when we don’t receive what we long for, or when it doesn’t come in the timing we expect.
It’s true at Christmas, and it can be just as true of the writing life.
In the beginning, we believe we have a story to tell and a message to share. Our sense of calling is strong.
Yet we struggle with words that won’t come, a following that doesn’t grow or books that fail to get published. When disappointment comes calling, doubt isn’t far behind. It whispers in our ears, “If this writing thing hasn’t taken off by now, it never will.”
Waiting can break our spirits, or it can drive us into God’s presence.
This is why I find strength in the example of Simeon and Anna, two characters from the “epilogue” to the Luke 2 story of Jesus’ birth.
Simeon is introduced to us as a man “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Though Israel had suffered 400 years of apparent silence from God, Simeon had not given up. In obedience to God’s Spirit, he went to the temple when eight-day-old Jesus was presented to the Lord and was rewarded with the incomparable privilege of holding the infant King in his arms. Deeply moved, Simeon declared that the Lord could “now dismiss [His] servant in peace” (Luke 2:29 NIV).
Anna was also in the temple that day. By any earthly standard, her life had been a bitter disappointment. After only seven years of marriage, she lived decade after decade as a widow. Though she surely must have longed for a husband, Scripture tells us she spent her days and nights at the temple, worshipping God. Like Simeon, she recognized Jesus as the answer to Israel’s hopes for redemption.
These two people were no strangers to unmet longings. Anna lived out her days without the protection and provision a husband would have provided. Simeon waited into old age for a glimpse of the Messiah.
Yet they turned toward God, rather than away. That choice to be in the temple, in the place of God’s presence, put them in a position to witness the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel and all humankind. They teach me how to handle my disappointments today.
I get as close as I can to God.
I don’t have to go to the temple to do it, as Simeon and Anna did. When Jesus was born, He made His dwelling among us. After His death and resurrection, His Spirit dwells within all of us who come to Him in repentance.
So I simply bring my heart to God in prayer and listen for His voice. I read His Word, seeking to know Him better. And I find that the more I hear from my Savior, the more I have to say about Him.
As we approach Christmas and the end of 2019, the reach of our words may not match the goals we set at its beginning. But we can continue to show up, wrestling thoughts onto paper. We can wait with patience as Simeon did, and worship continually like Anna. Both encountered Jesus, and from the overflow of their experience, powerful words of praise pointed others toward Him. May it be so with us.
March 10, 2021