Marlborough College Chapel Morning Address
Advent: Simeon and Anna
As some of you who know me, may have realised by now: I am not very good at waiting. Fortunately, I have discovered since I have been here, that I am not the only one, as many of you are not very good at it either. Although, I guess, it does have something to do with age, so I should at least have learnt a bit by now.
The poem on which this reflection is based, Wait and See by Richard Bauckham, mentions two people, two very old people, who have spent their whole lives waiting. They are Simeon and Anna. Simeon and Anna are not a couple, but they are two individual people who lived at the time that Jesus was born, over two thousand years ago. What they do have in common, is that they were waiting for Jesus to be born. Simeon had been told in a dream or a vision that before he would die, he would see the Saviour of the world.
Anna, on the contrary, had not had such a promise, but she was an extraordinary person too. After she had been widowed after seven years of marriage, she started going to the temple, the equivalent of our church, every day to pray and to worship. So, there they are: these two people. Simeon, who is waiting for something very specific to happen, and Anna, who seems to have not much to look forward to, having lost her husband at a young age. Despite their different circumstances, however, both seem to have learnt the skill of waiting. Is there anything we can learn from them?
I think there is, else I wouldn’t have chosen this example of course. And the things I’d like to focus on are ‘expectation’ and ‘hope’. They are both sides of the same coin, as expectation, one could say, is hope moderated by a sense of realism. For example, “I hope that I will come top of my set this term, but realistically, I expect that I will be in the top third”. Or something along those lines.
I remember, a few years ago now, I was travelling back from Oxford to Cambridge. It was before I had my own car, so I was dependent on public transport. For those of you who know, it is the dreaded X5 bus. Anyway, it was late one evening, so I had to change busses in Milton Keynes, one of Britain’s least glorious places, if I may say.
According to the time table, the bus should arrive at 11pm, so from 10.45pm until 11pm, I was hoping it would be on time, expecting it would come at some point. There were lots of other people as well, like me, trying to keep warm by pacing up and down and regularly checking their phones.
11pm, 11.05pm, 11.10pm and still no sign of any moving vehicle. Then, headlights showing up in the distance: no bus, but a car picking up some of the people waiting. And so it continued for a good 15 minutes: slowly people disappeared, until it was 11.30pm and I was the only one still waiting.
You can probably imagine the feeling. I was getting rather desperate: my hope was now that the bus would come at all, but my expectation had turned into spending the night at Milton Keynes bus station. The evidence had changed. To my relief, the bus came eventually, and instead of being angry that it was late, I was grateful it was there.
Ok, it’s a trivial example, but it shows that the way we wait, depends on our expectations. We can be looking forward to something, or dread it. We can get very angry and impatient, or, sometimes, when we have imagined the worst-case scenario, we can be grateful for the small mercies.
Advent is a time of waiting: waiting for Christmas. In a way, just like Simeon and Anna in our poem, waiting to see the good news. But, even more so, it is a time of expectation and hope. As Christians we believe that hope is not something shallow, an expectation without any sense of realism, but we believe that it is hope that carries us, no matter what we are waiting for.
So in the next week or so, when at some point you find yourself waiting for something, whether that’s before a Chapel service, before a match or lesson, or just finding a quiet moment, ask yourself: what am I truly waiting for? What are my real hopes? And how do they make me the person I am becoming?