“Where were you when . . .” The question names the defining moments of our lives. Where were you on 9/11? Where were you when the Challenger exploded? Where were you when President Kennedy was killed, 50 years ago last month? My children were not yet born; the assassination of President Kennedy they know only from textbooks. But I know exactly where I was – overseas, the young bride of an Air Force enlisted man stationed in a foreign country. In that isolated place we had no telephone, no television, not even a radio. The news of the assassination – I should say partial news, for the information came spottily and unverified – was relayed by someone who had heard from someone, who had heard from someone else . . . it was scary times.
So, much of the television film from the Kennedy assassination and the days immediately following which was replayed on tv last month was film I had never seen. I was finally able to attach images to my own living but incomplete history.
As I watched the events unfold on television – for me for the first time – I was struck again by the chaos and confusion of those days. The country could not abide the thought that the president of the United States had been taken down by a skinny little man of no consequence with nothing more than a rifle and a good line of sight. People rushed to conspiracy theories – it was the Russians, it was the Chicago mafia, it was the Texas Republicans in collusion with LBJ. But 50 years later it seems that no, it was one skinny little man of no consequence with a rifle and a good line of sight.
We do not like such a capricious world. We do not want to be at the mercy of such randomness. We hope for – we even believe we are entitled to — some measure of security. The future is scary, and we want to control it.
But that is not the hope to which we are called during Advent. When we say our hope is in the Lord, when we affirm the waiting of Advent, for what do we hope and wait? Much of the time, most of the time, we hope for concrete things, even good, seemingly unselfish things – reconciliation of relationships, healing from debilitating disease, protection from tragedy, or just a little peace among our family around the Christmas dinner table. But even those good things fall short of the hope of Advent, for that is nothing less than the hope for the revelation of Christ to the world.
Henri Nouwen describes Advent hope as “open-ended.” Hope, he says, in his essay Waiting for God, “is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises and not just according to our wishes . . . I have found it very important in my own life to let go of my wishes and start hoping.”
That is the hope with which Simeon waited all his life. Luke (2:25-32) tells us that Simeon was a righteous and devout man living in Jerusalem. “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the messiah.” Simeon, an old man of no consequence, living in an occupied territory, a man of no standing with the local religious authorities, recognized the child when his parents brought him to the temple “to do for him what was customary under the law.”
Simeon took the child in his arms and praised God, giving us one of the most beloved hymns of our faith, and I am going to quote the King James Version here:
“Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy Word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
a light to lighten the Gentiles
and the glory of thy people Israel.”
Simeon lived his life hoping for the coming of Christ. Surely Simeon expected a king riding on a white steed who would wipe out the Romans and restore Israel to her rightful place as God’s chosen people with power and authority. But Simeon recognized that the baby was more than that – he was the one who would restore the entire world to God.
Advent hope waits with Simeon for the revelation of Christ to the world. Advent hope looks over the shoulder of even the most horrific and painful and terrifying things the world presents and sees Christ and rushes to embrace him. Advent people determine to do our part in proclaiming to a broken world that hope is to be found in a grubby little stable in the unremarkable town of Bethlehem, born to a young woman of absolutely no consequence.
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.