29 December. 5th Day of the Christmas Octave
Saint Thomas a Becket
1st Reading: 1 John 2:3-11
The link between love and walking in the light of God
Beloved: The way we may be sure that we know Jesus is to keep his commandments. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.
Beloved, I am writing no new commandment to you but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. And yet I do write a new commandment to you, which holds true in him and among you, for the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.
Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall. Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Gospel: Luke 2:22-35
Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the Temple; Simeon gives praise to God
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
“Lord, now let your servant go in peace,
for your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you prepared in the sight of all people,
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
The falling and the rising
St John names fidelity and love as the surest ways to walk God’s presence, as his faithful people. In today’s Gospel story, we see Mary and Joseph respecting the Mosaic Law by offering the sacrifice prescribed for the poor: a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. Two others among the Lord’s beloved Anawim. (the poor and lowly faithful ones) were Simeon and Anna, both venerable elderly people dedicated to prayer and fasting and regular worshippers in God’s temple. Their strong religious spirit rendered them able to recognize the Messiah in the child Jesus as he was brought into the Temple area. Simeon’s joyful response to the child Jesus reminds us that prayer and contemplation are not just a waste of time or an alternative to charity. On the contrary, time could not be better spent than in prayer, since true Christian charity is based upon a solid interior life. Only people who pray, like Simeon and Anna, are fully open to the breath of the Spirit. They are the ones best able to recognize the Lord when He manifests Himself because they have learned from the one whose very name is charity.
Simeon’s prophecy of Mary’s sorrow was like a second Annunciation to Mary, for they tell her how her Son is to accomplish his mission, namely, in misunderstanding and sorrow.� If Gabriel’s message was a fount of incredible joy, the message of the holy old man in the temple spoke instead of Our Lord’s work of redemption, that would cause great suffering to His Mother as well as to himself. Its fruits however would be magnificent, leading to the “rising” of many, into the light of God’s grace.
Babies are fascinating
Whenever a relative of ours gives birth to a child and family members stand around all agog at the child people invariably want to hold the child. There is something about holding this bundle of new life which is very special. Babies are endlessly fascinating; they engage us at so many levels. We focus on them and find it hard to take our eyes off them. The gospel says we hear of Mary and Joseph coming into the Temple of Jerusalem with their recently born baby, Jesus. There they came upon Simeon, on whom the Holy Spirit rested, an upright and devout man. He takes the child in his own arms and blessed God.
If every child is endlessly fascinating, how much more would that have been true of the child Jesus? Having heard this child in his arms and having set his eyes upon him, Simeon was reading to leave this world for the next, “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace.” His short but beautiful prayer has become part of the official night prayer of the church. We have not had the privilege of holding the child Jesus in our arms, like Simeon, but we do behold the risen Lord with the eyes of faith. We recognize him in the breaking of bread in the Eucharist, we hear his voice when the gospels are proclaimed, and, if we are alert, we see him in each other. We also look forward to that day beyond this earthly day when we too will see him face to face. [MH]