Shortly before his death in 1994 Fr. Alexander Schmemann preached a sermon on the Feast of the Meeting from which this is a short extract:
“Truly, to live is to await, to look forward to the encounter. Isn’t Simeon’s transcendent and beautiful anticipation a symbol of expectation, this elderly man who spends his whole life waiting for the Light which illumines all and the joy which fills everything with itself?”
Do you find waiting till things easy or not? I must confess, I don’t find waiting easier at all. I sometimes find myself praying: “I want this Lord please… today perhaps… now?” You see God has a time for these things and it is not according to our scheduling at all. He works His purpose out over generations, centuries, even millennia! In our own lifetimes we shall be blessed if we only see the smallest part of His plan unfold and if we are able to play our part in that.
This is why the aged Simeon and the prophetess Hannah were so incredibly blessed to behold the infant Christ, 40 days after his birth, and receive him into the Temple in Jerusalem. Countless generations before them had been born, lived and died in the expectation of the coming of the Messiah. These did not weary of waiting. They waited in the conviction that the time would indeed come when the Lord Himself would come to redeem his people. Moreover as Symeon sung, and as we sing in every Vespers service after him, the coming of the Lord will be a light to the Gentiles as well as a glory to His people Israel.
This coming was truly worth waiting for but if we expect similar promises of God to be fully realised within our own lifetimes then we shall be bitterly disappointed, particularly if we make our faith dependent upon that. This of course is where faith connects with waiting. Faith knows the outcome but is prepared to wait as long as it takes in fervent and confident hope. When we pray we should have this frame of mind. We must wait upon God in confident expectation of His action, not dictating to Him where and how and when it should happen. We just don’t know enough about why things happen, when they do and what the meaning of such things is in the greater scheme of things. Knowledge and wisdom in such matters belongs to God, not us. A good example of this Scripture concerns the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It didn’t happen immediately after the resurrection of Christ but rather some 50 days later (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:1-2:4). Our Lord instructed the Apostles to pray and wait for the power of God the Holy Spirit to descend upon them at this time. Likewise in our prayer, we shall know when the Holy Spirit comes.
We should beware though of manufacturing feelings as a substitute for the reality of God’s visitation. We should resist all apparent manifestations of God as possible delusions, even deceits of the devil. The mind is fickle and can play tricks upon those who trust in whatever happens to go through their heads rather than God himself. Waiting helps us to tell the difference between bogus perceptions and divine visitation. If we wait and wait, and then wait some, and then again, and again, and again… and if after that the sense of God’s presence does not go away, that we should share that with our spiritual father or mother and if their judgement concurs, we should bless God as Symeon did. After all, we want a Light that endures that is truly God and from God, not some little self-induced flame which warms not, guides not and is easily extinguished.
Waiting upon God also means that we shall be more likely to have the wisdom to wait upon other people; not to rush them, not to take advantage of them, not to expect spiritual fruit until their time is due. God has a time for them as well, and we may or may not play a part in their consolation and flowering. We need to pray about that. It can sometimes be terribly difficult because, knowing that the Lord is good, we yearn for ourselves and others to taste that and see; but it may not be the right time for that to happen. Fundamentally waiting upon God and upon others means submitting ourselves to his providential care and wisdom, knowing that in good time His Light will shine upon us all, even if that shall be at the end of our lives, as indeed it was for both Symeon and Hannah.