The morning after Thanksgiving, I stripped the hearth of pumpkins and gourds and packed all the fall decorations away. I then hauled five Rubbermaid containers marked “Christmas” upstairs from the basement and spent the rest of the day decorating. I draped garland around the bannister and along mantel, festooned the Christmas tree with delicate homemade ornaments from my kids’ preschool days, arranged the nativity scene on the coffee table and hung white twinkle lights on the picket fence.
I haven’t changed my Christmas decorating routine in more than twenty years. The faux garland I wrap around the bannister is the same one I bought the first year I was married. Year after year I display the same three vases filled with the same red, green, silver and gold miniature glass balls on my dining room table.
My Christmas decorating routine is so familiar, I can accomplish it on autopilot.
Turns out, I approach the whole holiday season much the same way I decorate my house, and I’ve got the routine down to a science.
Shop for gifts. Check.
Bake cookies. Check.
Write Christmas newsletter and mail cards. Check.
Wrap gifts. Check.
Two thousand years ago, Mary and Joseph brought their infant son Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to present him to God, as was commanded by Jewish law. There they met Simeon, “a man who lived in prayer expectancy of help for Israel,” and Anna, an old widow who had lived in the Temple for decades, “worshipping day and night with fasting and prayer.” (Luke 2:25 and 37).
The Holy Spirit, the Gospel of Luke tells us, had revealed to Simeon that he would see the Messiah before he died, and so every day Simeon waited for the Savior in “prayerful expectancy.” Likewise, Anna, a prophet, broke into praise when Mary and Joseph arrived in the Temple with Jesus, talking about the child “to all who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38)
The word “expectant” comes from the Latin words ex – meaning “out” – and spectare – meaning “to look at.” To be expectant means to look out for or to await, which is exactly what Simeon, Anna and others were doing all those years.
They watched and waited with expectant hope for the presence of God to pass by.
In some ways we are at a disadvantage, 2,000 years later, because we know how the story ends. While Simeon and Anna had been told about the impending arrival of the Messiah, they didn’t have any details, which undoubtedly heightened their anticipation.
We, on the other hand, know all about Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection. The story has become so familiar, so routine, our sense of expectation has diminished.
Still, there is something to be learned from Simeon and Anna. The truth is, we may know how the story of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth ends, but the story of God’s work in our own lives is still being written. God is present and active personally and intimately with each one of us, and like Simeon and Anna, are called to look for him in our midst.
The four weeks of Advent are a time of preparation for Christmas Day, and there’s a lot to accomplish, to be sure. But Advent is also an opportunity to open our eyes to Emmanuel.
God is indeed with us, and we wait in hopeful expectation for the rest of his story to be revealed.