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Unexpected Consolation

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

Luke 2:25-26

When my grandmother got married, she moved into the multi-generational household of her new husband’s family. This was not uncommon at the time, and it had its advantages and its disadvantages. One advantage was that my grandfather, Sam Lee, could continue to manage the family farm while at the same time practicing law in the small Alabama town nearby.

One distinct disadvantage was that my grandmother, Mattie, who became part of an extended family whose women would scarcely have been mistaken for shrinking violets, was never to be the mistress of her own home.

It turned out, however, that Sam Lee had serious heart disease; and since he had been advised to rest, Mattie began to make lunch for him at his office so that he was spared the trip home each midday. After lunch he would nap on a cot there. This was the closest, my grandmother told me, that they ever came to having their own place.

Now Sam Lee’s law office happened to be next to the county jail. After he died in 1935 at the age of fifty, Mattie received a letter. It was from one of the inmates at the jail, who wrote that he had been able to see into the office from his cell, and he could tell how happy they had been during these noontimes together. Far from feeling embarrassed at being more or less spied upon, my grandmother found great comfort in this letter. It was a confirmation of their love and a consolation in her grief.

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.

(Isaiah 40:1)

Advent teaches us, like Simeon, to look for the Christ where we might least expect to find him. The comfort of the One who comes may be manifested through unlikely events or through people we might tend to dismiss. Everything, in fact, holds the potential for encounter with the divine Comforter.

We must open our eyes and our hearts to the small child, to the inmate at the county jail – and also to the hungry, the naked, the ill, as Jesus teaches in Matthew 25. Not only is it true, as he says to us, that whatever we do to “the least of these who are members of my family” we do to Jesus, but we may also find God’s solace reaching out to us from these unexpected quarters. For Jesus himself was not what people expected of the promised Christ.

…he was despised, and we held him of no account.
(Isaiah 53:3)

Nothing in our lives – no person, no event –can be ruled out as a privileged meeting place with the always abiding Christ who is now and forever with us, until the end of time (Matthew 28:20).

During Advent, there are three ways in which we are called to be attentive to the coming of Christ – or as was said about Simeon, in which we are “looking forward to the consolation of Israel.”

  • First, during the beginning of Advent especially, we look forward to the Second Coming of Christ.
  • Second, as Christmas draws near, we anticipate the joy of Jesus’ birth.
  • Third is mindfulness to God’s presence in the Christ who is always coming to us in often unexpected ways.

So be attentive, we are exhorted,

…or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.

(Matthew 25:36-37).

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