In today gospel account, it is now forty days after Jesus’ birth. Mary and Joseph are performing their duty as pious Jewish parents by coming to the Temple to fulfill the requirements of Exodus 13. It is a ritual that reminds the parents that this child is now a member of the family that God redeemed from the slavery in Egypt. And so, they come to offer a simple sacrifice as they dedicate their first-born child to the Lord and to the larger, holy covenant family of God.
They must have been in a serious mood that day, full of reverence and expectancy, not dissimilar to modern parents coming to celebrate the baptism of their first child – a little in awe of what it all means. And so, Mary and Joseph quietly enter the great Temple, a little nervousness as they prepared to offer the sacrifice of two small birds, the offering allowed for poor people.
It is hard for me to imagine their reaction as this unknown elderly man suddenly approaches who takes the child into his arms and begins to speak in prayer, taken up in the Spirit. What was their reaction: frightened, startled, mystified, hesitant? But there is something that gives them pause…and then they hear his words: “Now, Master, …let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” It is prayer, it is prophecy. How could Mary and Joseph not be reminded of all that had come before:
- Gabriel at the Annunciation telling Mary that her child will be called Holy, the Son of God.
- An angel of the Lord telling Joseph the child is to be called Emmanuel, God-with-us.
- Her cousin, Elizabeth, calling out, “How is it the mother of my Lord, comes to me?”
- The shepherds who came saying they were told by a chorus of angels, “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” – and that their son is the One of whom the angels sang.
And now, the words of this Spirit-filled elder who proclaims, that at last, at last, he has seen the salvation of God – and now he is ready to pass from this mortal coil, this life, into the eternal life. We are still singing Christmas carols, and the gospel is holding up for us the specter of Death? Is this a hint to Mary and Joseph of what awaits Jesus on Calvary? Is Simeon reminding us all of pain that death brings as he tells Mary “…and you yourself a sword will pierce”? Just does not seem like a gospel story for Christmas time – at least not at first blush.
Christmas is a celebration of the Incarnation – when God became one of us in the baby Jesus.
So maybe this gospel is a perfect follow-on story to Christmas. It is when Christmas begins to move out of the manger into the world. From the arms of Mary and Joseph into our lives. Into the hands of Simeon, there in the Temple. It is a moment worth our enduring reflection as Simeon holds Jesus, God-with-us, in his hands. In a way, it is his Christmas gift. In his hands is the sign that the promises of God remain true, just as true as the promise of redemption from slavery in Egypt and delivery to a promised land. He has seen the Messiah, he has held salvation; he has held divinity in his all too human hands. And now he can go in peace.
You can experience that same moment in your lives.
There is a part of the celebration of the Mass you don’t get to hear. It is during the preparation of the gifts as the choir and congregation sing. The priest pours just a smidgen of water into the chalice of wine. The rubrics tell me to say the words to myself. I think they should be shouted from the rooftops. “Through the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Wow! Jesus humbled himself by taking on our humanity – all beginning with Christmas – so that we could come to share in his divinity. Wow!
There it is: the mystery of the Incarnation, all beginning with the Christmas story. Moving into our lives – right here in the celebration of Mass.
When you come to receive Eucharist, you enter the Christmas story as Simeon. Here in this modern-day Temple, you receive the Christmas gift from the Holy Family, inviting you to be part of the family. From the Holy Family into your hands. You hold Jesus, who humbled himself to share in our humanity so that you can share in his divinity. Is there any greater gift?
Enter the Christmas story moving into the world. Come to Eucharist. Dedicate yourself again to the covenant of God. Let your “Amen” echo the prayer of Simeon: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”