On January 1, 1863, US president Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, announcing an end to slavery.
Three years later, with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, Lincoln’s proclamation became the law of the land. All the slaves were legally set free. However, for many of those who had been in bondage, their experience did not completely match their legal status. Many Blacks in the South were still treated like slaves by the more powerful white people. They were kept out of work, threatened and abused, and some were even put to death. Some were told that the law didn’t apply to them and so were tricked back into servitude. Thus, for many, the proclamation of freedom had little to no effect on their lives.
This bit of history can help us understand how we as believers can be declared by God to be set free from slavery to sin and yet not experience that freedom in our daily lives. On one hand, it is a truth of our faith that when we were baptized, we received a new nature and became full and free citizens of the kingdom of God. But on the other hand, our experience, coupled with the lies and temptations of the devil, can conspire to tell us that we are not free at all. How can this be, if Satan has already been defeated and if we have been liberated from his control?
The "Voice from the Other Room." It’s helpful for us to know that when Jesus rose from the dead, he redeemed us from sin and washed us clean in his blood. Because we have been ransomed from death, Satan has lost his claim over us. He may still have a degree of power in this world, but the only real power he has over us is the ability to trick us into thinking that we haven’t really been set free from his hold.
Perhaps a second analogy can help us understand this better. Imagine two large rooms side by side, separated by a cinder block wall. In one room are all those who by faith and Baptism are now members of the kingdom of God. In the other room—still separated from us believers—is the devil, chained to the wall. While Satan has been confined, and cannot enter the other room, he can still call over the wall with all of his temptations and empty promises. He may not have the power to cross over and reclaim us, but he can still use his "voice" to allure us and trick us. And this is exactly what he does.
Satan’s goal is to try to muddle our spiritual instincts—the deepest part of our lives, where we hear God’s voice and receive his grace to grow into his image and his likeness. The devil uses his outrageous, empty claims to confuse us and dull our relationship with God. In a sense, he acts toward us the way many white men in the South acted toward the slaves after they were set free. Satan knows he can’t change the truth of what Jesus did, but he can try to convince us to forfeit the life Jesus has given to us—the life that we have a "legal right" to as baptized children of God.
This is why we can find it hard to part with sin, even though we have been set free from its power. It’s the reason why our freedom in Christ gets so muddled and why our experience of the Christian life can be strong one day and weak the next.
It’s All Ours Right Now. It’s good to know that when Jesus comes again, Satan’s "room" will be destroyed forever. It will no longer exist at all. The constant temptation, the allure of sin, even the notion of being separated from Jesus and in need of reconciliation, will all be a thing of the past.
All this is encouraging news, but we don’t have to wait for the Second Coming to begin experiencing our freedom. Jesus has not left us alone and at the mercy of the devil’s enticements. In so many different ways, he offers us divine power to fight these temptations. He has given us the Holy Spirit to be with us always. He has given us the Eucharist to nourish and strengthen us. And he has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation to restore us when we do fall.
When we take hold of these precious gifts, we find our spiritual instincts active, keeping us connected with God’s grace and helping us focus our hearts on the promise of Jesus’ Second Coming. We find the Holy Spirit convincing us to place our hope in those promises of God that are still awaiting their fulfillment. And we find the power to fix our eyes on Jesus and stay as close to him as we possibly can until he comes again.
Two Models of Patient Waiting. One of the New Testament’s best examples of keeping his eyes fixed on the promises of God is the prophet Simeon. Luke tells us that Simeon was a righteous and devout man who spent all his time in the Temple waiting and praying for the consolation of Israel (2:25). The Holy Spirit had told Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah, and when Joseph and Mary brought their new baby to dedicate him to the Lord, Simeon knew that this baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise. He came up to the couple, took Jesus in his arms, blessed him, and praised God for granting him his deepest desire.
Simeon could see that this baby was more than an ordinary child. But how could he see something that no one else in the Temple that day saw? Simeon recognized Jesus in the same way that Elizabeth and her baby, as well as the Magi and the shepherds, recognized him. He had stayed close to the Holy Spirit, and so his spiritual instincts were alert and active. In other words, Simeon recognized Jesus because the Holy Spirit was upon him.
Like Simeon, the prophetess Anna was also waiting for God to fulfill his promises. And like Simeon, Anna also saw Jesus for who he was. In her own way, Anna was a prayer warrior. She fasted regularly and never left the Temple. She was always there, praying and waiting. She didn’t want to miss out when the Messiah would finally be revealed. She held out great expectation in God’s promises and she was not going to be denied.
Simeon and Anna were not waiting for the Second Coming, as we are, but for the first coming. Yet the way they waited sheds a great deal of light on the way we should wait for Jesus to come again. As we ponder the Second Coming, can we look at the baby Jesus and see what Simeon and Anna saw? Can we look at the manger scene and see our Messiah there? As we look into that baby’s eyes, can we see our Lord and Redeemer? We can if we follow Simeon and Anna’s lead and learn how to yield ourselves to the leadings of the Holy Spirit.
Simeon and Anna set the tone for all of us. They are proof that those who wait eagerly, expectantly, and patiently will find Jesus in their lives.
Waiting in Joyful Hope. Brothers and sisters, when Jesus comes again, God will live with us forever. There will be a whole new order for his creation: no more temptation, sin, division, or fear. His love will fill us and call forth from us grateful praise and worship. The prophetess Anna waited more than eighty years for Jesus to come. Let’s follow her example and wait as long as it takes.
While we wait, let’s make sure that we trust in the facts, especially when we hear the devil’s voice tempting us or telling us that we really are not free. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us reject these lies whenever they come at us. Let’s hold fast—no matter how strong the other voices are—to our hope. Jesus really did become a man and walk among us. He really did give up his life for us. And he really is coming back to take us home to be with him.