Simeon waited a lifetime. Anna came to the temple seven years after her husband died, and waited, and waited, and waited until she was very old to find redemption, hope. You’ve got to wonder what it does to a person to live their whole lives in expectation, to hope they will not die before they see, experience salvation.
I give you the words of Barrie Shepherd’s the Eternal Child. The child of whom I speak is not the babe himself-there’s been, perhaps, enough and more written about the sacred infant in story, song and verse. The child I mean is the one whose name is every name, whose face is seen within the faces of all children everywhere, whose eyes shine with the light of each and every child who ever lived, who ever hoped for such a day, for such a gift of love as Christmas has become for children all across the globe.
Part of the truest joy of Christmas is remembering what it felt like as a child; the keen and mounting anticipation, secrets among family and friends, fantastic tales of Santa and his elves, songs and special school programs, daily delights of cards and parcels in the mail, and the hope, this year for falling, drifting snow on Christmas Eve.
We had an artificial tree we kept all through the war years-minus an odd limb or two-with a battered golden tinsel star which grew more tilted and more tarnished each time we took if from its box. The decorations-including a toy trumpet you could actually toot upon-diminished also as the years went by so, by the time old Hitler’s goose was cooked, our tree was pretty bare.
It seems odd now but the actual gifts, those splendors we looked forward to so eagerly, have vanished for the most part. I do recall a cardboard fort that protected, in their turn, both King Arthur’s armoured knights and the French Foreign Legion. A picture-book version of Pinocchio that became the cause for tears when my infant brother used it to try out a whole set of new crayons. Many a cold winter’s night was spent cuddled into the warmth of a small teddy-bear shaped hot water bottle which arrived beneath the tree one Christmas morning. These, along with the usual dull but useful items which came from the never-idle fingers of innumerable industrious aunts-knitted gloves and socks and scratchy woolen scarves, linger now as things I look forward to.
Looking back with the perspective of years, one comes to realize that, even as a child, the gifts are not what made the season warm and wonderfully bright. The moments, moods, sensations are what live in the memory still and are what radiate even to this present season, bringing savor and the fragrance of enchantment; the people, stories and songs, the customs and old family traditions; and above all a feeling of being home at last or finally discovering that unique place and time that one searches for from the very start. It is an atmosphere of welcoming and belonging, the presence of vast kindness which is endlessly forgiving, an assurance that everything needed has already been provided and much more, all this presided over by an all-pervasive spirit of generosity and grace, of delight in being happy, of the filling to brimming over every hollow cup, of completion of each and every broken, severed and separated entity of life.
And this, this legacy of hope and trust and promise for the future, somehow, comes to us as a child as we are led into the paths of Christmas yet to come. That is why no Christmas yet has ever quite lived up to expectation. But it will. In God’s good time and in the smiling promise of a child, it will. The child that is within us that still waits beside that manger knows that the time is coming when all hope will come and be fulfilled.
Simeon waited. Anna waited. We wait, waiting forwardly, not demanding, not hurrying but waiting actively for that day when hope finds its fulfillment in the eternal child within.