The Immediacy of Hope & Eyes to See (Simeon and Anna): Friday Morning Coffee #78

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation…” - Luke 2:29-30

How many days had Simeon waited to see this moment? How many prayers had he offered up before this one could burst forth in praise? How many hours had he spent in the temple, looking, watching, expectant before the great hope of his life was rewarded?

When I think of Simeon—and Anna, whose story appears immediately after his in Luke 2—I am challenged on two fronts. First, that they persevered in active, expectant hope. Second, that they recognized Jesus when he came.

Centuries had come and gone since the prophecies were made about the coming “consolation of Israel.” Centuries of men and women living and dying without seeing the promised Messiah. After hundreds of years, it would be easy to give up hope. It would be easy to rationalize away the promises, to doubt them, or at the very least to not waste your time standing on tiptoe for them to be fulfilled at any moment.

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In my experience, this sort of perseverant, expectant hope is difficult to maintain. As each day passes, with no sign of change, no hint that the following day will hold anything different, hope easily loses its immediacy. It grows quiet and still, and I sit down from weariness instead of standing at attention on the lookout.

But Simeon and Anna kept their posts as watchmen. (To be fair, there were other Jews and Jewish leaders at their time who did as well. Expectations for the Messiah ran high.) They stayed alert.

Alertness was not everything, though. Simeon and Anna had to recognize Jesus when he came. He came quietly—not with the pomp of kings but as a baby in the arms of a poor Hebrew girl. There was no fanfare as he entered the temple, no glory cloud descending in fire and smoke. He came helpless and small, dependent on his parents to offer the faithful sacrifices on his behalf. There was nothing remarkable about his arrival at the temple that day. He could have been anyone’s child. But Simeon and Anna had eyes to see, and they rejoiced at this One who would be the hope of the nations.

Today they are making me wonder—do I stand expectant and watching for God to appear in my life? Is my hope lively and attentive? Do I have eyes to see when He appears quietly in my ordinary, when He comes in ways and places I don’t expect? Do I recognize Him when He comes?

Lord, may it be so.


Waiting for the Second Advent

We talk a lot about waiting and expectation during Advent. It’s one of the season’s hallmarks. We remember the waiting of Israel for her Messiah, of the long expectation for God’s promises to be fulfilled. We sit with the longing.

I think of all those faithful who waited and longed and died without ever seeing the fulfillment of the Promise. They looked for one who would trample the serpent, who would bring blessing to the nations. They looked for a king to take David’s throne, for a savior from bondage. They looked for the return of God’s presence to his people, for the forgiveness of sin, for the coming Spirit poured out on all flesh. They waited. They looked. But they did not yet see.

Then it came - He came - in quiet humility. A fragile baby in the arms of a Hebrew peasant girl. The light of the world in obscurity. The King in a manger throne. Jesus, the Savior, God-with-us. Those who had eyes to see rejoiced in this day, rejoiced in this answer to the cries of the ages.

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As we reflect during Advent, it is typically of this first coming of Jesus. But historically, Advent has been a season to meditate also on Christ’s second coming - the Second Advent - that promised and hoped for arrival we have yet to see.

We also live in an age in which the faithful wait and long and die without seeing the fulfillment of the Promise. We live in a world in which babies die too soon and our bodies are afflicted with disease. We see wars ravage beautiful land and decimate the lives of families and vibrant cultures. We see the unjust unpunished, see evil rewarded, see wreckage in the wake of greed. We see hunger and poverty, loneliness and hatred, abuse and exploitation. We see the twisting of sin in our own hearts. We stand weeping at the sides of too many graves.

We sit with the longing. We wait. Our voices continue that cry of the ages: “How long, O Lord?”

But the Promise means we wait with expectation. We wait in the not-yet with faith tightly grasping the hope of what is to come.

One glorious day, we too will see the fulfillment of the promises, when our King comes once again. All of Heaven and Earth will be transformed. Sorrow and sickness and dying and pain will be no more. His Kingdom will come fully to earth as it is in Heaven - and of that Kingdom there shall be no end.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.


When I Need to Ignore the To-Do List: Friday Morning Coffee #77

Lately, I’ve been in a season in which time seems to be getting away from me. (I know, I know, it only gets worse the older you get.) The hours, the days, the weeks are slipping by, and I don’t know how we’ve made it to nearly December.

I’m juggling multiple to-do lists. There’s the book to-do list, the blogging to-do list, the baby prep to-do list, the chores-around-the-house to-do list, the upcoming Christmas preparation to-do list, and the never-ending tucked in the back of my mind ‘I should be doing more of this’ to-do list (though this one is the only one that doesn’t make it onto a sheet of paper).

I thrive on to-do lists. They typically reduce my stress levels and help me craft a plan of attack to complete the tasks at hand. They give me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when all the boxes are checked and I finally drop it into the waste bin. But lately they’re also reminding me of the fleeting passage of time and my daily limitations.

I’ve reached the point in pregnancy in which the end of the day finds me tired. Caring for myself and (around that time of day) our swirling, kicking child means sitting on the couch with my feet propped up, sipping tea, and listening to the crackle of the woodstove. I have to ignore the to-do list.

I’ve been noticing lately that my soul is craving rest and quiet. It’s craving sabbath. The pressures of what I do need to do (and feel like I should do) press into my mind, hunting me down in the stillness. Their nagging voices remind me of all that’s left undone. And sometimes I give in, getting up to do “just one more thing.”

I’m always learning the discipline of resting my body - of physically stopping to have those quiet moments. But at the moment I’m also practicing the discipline of resting my mind. This I find much more difficult.

I can ignore the to-do list hounds by refusing to keeping “doing,” but I need to also learn to silence my mind to their braying. To accept that I can’t do everything. To be at peace when things are left undone. To recognize that rest - physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual - are just as important (if not more-so) than washing the upstairs toilet and starting my Christmas cards.

This weekend, I hope to do a little of this. To enjoy the company of dear friends, the comfort of their presence, the joy of shared laughter. To be present in the time left pre-baby with my husband and cherish our simple moments together. To delight in the chill of wandering through a field to pick out our Christmas tree and the warm glow of putting up decorations. To relish moments of being, of holy leisure. This weekend, I want to ignore the to-do list.


Do you need to turn off the to-do list this weekend, my friend? How can you carve out time for the rest your body, mind, and soul need?

Thanking God for the Fleas

There’s a famous episode in Corrie ten Boom’s book The Hiding Place that has been on my mind this week as I’ve been thinking about thankfulness.

Corrie and her sister Betsie have just been transferred to the Nazi concentration camp Ravensbrück. They find themselves in horrific living conditions, trying to sleep in overcrowded bunks lined with rotting, flea-infested straw.

Betsie prods Corrie to reread their Scripture passage from the morning. It was 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

“‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

“‘Such as?’ I said.

“‘Such as being assigned here together.’

“I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’

“‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.

“‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’

“‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’

She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.

“‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’

“‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–’

“The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.

“And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”

I have to admit, I’m with Corrie on this one. Giving thanks for fleas? I can thank God for being present in spite of the fleas, but thanks for the fleas themselves - you’ve got to be crazy.

Perhaps I recoil because I’ve seen this spiritual approach abused. It swoops in when others are broken open by life’s tragedies and cheerily insists “Give thanks.” Give thanks for this cancer. Give thanks that your husband died. Give thanks that your heart has shattered, your life is in ruins, your dreams have been ground to dust.

And yet I have Betsie ten Boom’s sweet voice in my head: “Thank you for the fleas.”

I do not have the audacity to tell others to do this. If I’m honest, I don’t have the audacity to do this myself most of the time.

I can thank God for his presence and faithfulness in the midst of my suffering. I can thank him for his character, which reaches above my own circumstances. I can thank him for the strength to endure, for the gracious gift of faith. I can thank him that his nature is to be at work even in the darkest moments, that he is the One who redeems and restores.

But thanking him for the source of that pain makes me pause. Can I thank him for that too? Thank him as an audacious act of faith that even this pain can be become something meaningful in his hands?

I’m not there yet. But when I see again and again God’s ability to redeem pain in ways that defy logic and comprehension, I wonder if I should be. I see it in my life, in the lives of those I love. I see it in a story like Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, two sisters in Christ who suffered far more than I ever have.

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As Corrie and Betsie settled into their live at Ravensbrück, they held worship services in the barracks. They were shocked to find no interference from the guards. It was the one place they were not under oppressive supervision. So many women packed in around where they stood under a dim light bulb that they had to add a second “service” after the evening roll call. They marveled over the freedom they had to read the Bible and pray in this way in such a place.

I’ll let Corrie finish the story:

“One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling.

“‘You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,’ I told her.

“‘You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,’ she said. ‘Well–I’ve found out.’

“That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.

“But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”

“Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: ‘Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, “That place is crawling with fleas!’”

“My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”

I’m still learning this one. I’m still learning what it means to “give thanks in all circumstances,” what it means to give thanks in pain, what it means to give thanks, perhaps, even for my pain. But I’m pulled towards thanksgiving by a God who is always faithful, who does not cease to work in the valley of the shadow, by a God whose own pain burst open into our greatest hope.

Can't Stop Looking At You: Friday Morning Coffee #76

I stared out across the lake. I had to focus to be able to absorb all the beauty. Sandy colored mountains sloped to the deep blue water. They were barren in the autumn chill, cut with the shades of deep crevices. It was as if giant fingers had run down their sides, pinching and pushing the earth into mesmerizing patterns of planes and angles. We’d followed them along the river, along the lake, captivated.

On our drive there the day before, we’d passed through the Cascades. The mountain pass greeted us with the first sight of snow of the season. The flakes swirled through the trees. The frozen branches looked as though they were made of glass.

I was in the kitchen now. My friend was talking about her son. She gestured to the window, to the view that continued to pull my eyes. “It’s crazy. I look at the beauty of creation—the mountains, the lakes, the sunset—but then I think about him, and it’s him I can’t take my eyes off of. I look at all this beauty, and think ‘Yes, but I just can’t stop looking at you.’”

A delicate sliver of moon glowed yellow in the night sky. But she was thinking of a tiny boy with pale hair, now fast asleep.

It came to me then, in a flood. Doesn’t that give us a beautiful picture of our Father’s love for us? I can imagine Him saying, ‘I look at all of the beauty of Creation, at all of the works of my hands, but, my child, I just can’t stop looking at you.’