One of the lesser read stories of Advent is about Simeon, an old prophet who encountered the days-old Jesus and his parents in the Jewish temple. “Simeon was righteous and devout,” Luke’s gospel says, “and he was eagerly waiting for the consolation of Israel.”
We all face the challenge of “wait problems.” No, that’s not the extra weight we tend to pick up during the holidays (about eight pounds per person on average during this season), but it is being put on hold. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” as the Proverb says, “but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
Lest you think waiting to open your Christmas presents is the worst form of torture, consider that Simeon had been waiting for decades for a liberator to come. He looked for the years of oppression to end. He prayed for the centuries-long occupation by foreign armies to cease. As one of the more popular religious texts of the day proclaimed, “God will send his Messiah and the curse will be lifted from all mankind.” This was the “consolation” Simeon awaited.
“Consolation” may conjure up images of a game show, the host shooing some giddy housewife away who just lost at Plinko: “Here is a toaster as a consolation prize. Thanks for playing!” But consolation means “comfort.” It is relief from suffering, loneliness, and injustice. It is repair for what is broken. It’s the arrival of peace and restoration.
“Consolation” is healing for those who have suffered loss; who have been crushed by disappointment; and who have been smothered by misery. It is putting the world back together again. For this Simeon had waited, and as he held that squirming, wrinkled, black-eyed, Jewish baby boy in his hands, he knew that “consolation” had finally arrived.
I believe that most people are looking for the same thing as Simeon: For peace, wholeness, and well-being; for a just world and a cure for the sickness of our souls. The problem – made obvious as we look around us – is we don’t know how to get in on this. We seem powerless in achieving harmony, and we keep piloting this suicide machine of a society right to the edge of the abyss.
A modest proposal: Give the Child of Christmas a chance. “Jesus, you mean? Isn’t he only for children and grandmothers? He can’t honestly be for real life, can he?” Well, children and grandmothers seem to be about the happiest individuals in the world if you ask me, and we could all stand a little bit more of what they have.
So, no, we aren’t waiting for a new, magic model of holistic and peaceful living. We simply refuse to give what we know a try. And it’s not that we don’t have the power to do better: We just won’t accept the extended hand offered to us. In the words of Rumi: “Try something different. Surrender. Give up to grace. We need more help than you know.”