I found myself sitting at my computer this week staring at a black computer screen waiting. Waiting for a single white download bar to reach 100% so that I can go on with my work day. You would not be surprised to hear that the waiting seems to take longer than anticipated but I found myself very thankful for that slim little bar’s slowly advance, despite its speed.
During Advent, as we focus on waiting, I found myself wishing life had a “progress bar” to help us as we wait. Just think about that—how helpful would it be in life if a progress bar appeared while you sat at a stoplight, or while we stood in a line at the grocery store, or while waiting for a job promotion or a budding relationship to develop. I know personally, my kids would appreciate a progress bar on the long car trips we take from time to time.
In fact, in 1985 a grad student named Brad Myers decided he would study the effects a progress bar has on people. What he found is that it really didn’t matter if the percent indicator on the bar was accurate or not, but that it was actually there. As it turns out, seeing the progress bar made people feel better psychologically and helped them to justify their reason for waiting.
We all know, when it comes to waiting for God there is no “progress bar.” There is no indicator of how much longer we need to wait. And often there is no explanation for why we must wait but we know we are called to faithfully look for God to act in our lives.
Now, our lectionary does not talk about him this Advent, but in Luke 2:22-28 the patron saint of waiting (I made that up) is our dear old friend Simeon. We can learn from him as we read how the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah come. There was no progress bar or percentage of how much time Simeon needed to wait. He was just called to wait holding onto a promise.
The process of waiting is worth the wait
The Gospel tells us in verse 25 that Simeon was just and devout while he waited. The word Luke uses for “devout” is a compound word. The first word means to “act well,” while the second word means to “take hold of and not let go.” So Luke is describes Simeon as he waits for a very long time as a man who acted well while he held onto a promise God gave him.
So many times in my own life, I get frustrated with the process of waiting and, as a result of my impatience, I let go of God’s promise. Simeon’s waiting comes to an end when he literally “holds” the very promise given to him in human form. As he holds the infant Messiah he offers a beautiful prayer called the Nunc Dimittis in our Prayer Book, which is Latin for Song of Simeon. It says:
Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
This Advent, I encourage you to hold tightly to the promises of God. How we wait shapes who we are as people. We act well when, like Simeon, we place all of our hope in the promises of God who has come and is coming again.