“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.
This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 2:22–40:
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they 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: “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.” 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.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
We’re still in the afterglow of Christmas, even as family members arrive today for a delayed celebration this week. The experience of Christmas changes for me as I grow older. As a child, my focus was on my own lists and the gifts. As a parent, it became a mad rush to meet expectations, to balance family obligations, little time, and tight budgets. As a grandparent, though, it has matured into something more, something that relates to today’s readings. The pressures of the celebration have become joys in themselves, and the balancing act has turned into an acceptance of the joys we have at hand.
Mostly, though, the holiday gives me an opportunity to reflect on satisfaction of my mission, and my vocation as part of my family. My son and his wife are both successful at this stage of their lives; my granddaughters are healthy and happy. I played some role in that, although not necessarily a primary role. My wife had more to do with it than I did, but I had my role to play, a mission that I was given to fulfill from the Lord, and one that has brought me abundant joy (with a few hiccups to provide the contrast necessary to recognize it). My mission isn’t over (or at least I hope not!), but it’s far enough along that I can see its trajectory and my role within it. And I can also see that the Holy Spirit has guided me along it, even when the pressures and the momentary setbacks kept me from seeing or trusting in Him.
Looking back on the years, I wish I could have trusted more in the Lord and let go the anxieties and struggles. Today’s readings — and Christmas itself — tell us how that works, and how the Lord works through the missions and vocations we have if we give that trust.
In our first reading, the Lord comes to Abram in a vision to tell him of his mission. He will become the father of nations and lead the mission of salvation for all. Abram accepts and becomes Abraham, trusting in the Lord — although not without setbacks and doubt clouding his vision on occasion. Abraham walks from his homeland to wander in search of a new homeland, with the Lord warning him that his descendants will also “be sojourners in a land that is not theirs,” and that his extended family will be enslaved for four hundred years — but that the Lord has a plan for them that includes all that with triumph at the end. Abraham puts his trust in the Lord and fulfills his mission, even to the point of almost sacrificing his son Isaac as a testament to that trust.
In our Gospel reading today, we hear the canticle of Simeon, who saw his life’s mission achieved when Jesus came into the temple after His birth. Consider what preceded that for Simeon. He was not a young man, and the Gospel hints that Simeon has been waiting for this moment a very long time. It would appear from the reading that Simeon kept a close eye on activity at the temple to be present for the moment promised to him by the Holy Spirit. How many years did Simeon stay true to his mission, even while not seeing the trajectory of it or any progress in it at all? Decades, perhaps? And yet Simeon trusted in the Lord and kept faith, pursuing his mission. When it was fulfilled, Simeon does not react with regret or fear of the end of his life; indeed, he praises God and humbly submits his life to the Lord, having been given the grace to see the Christ and proclaim Him as such in the temple.
Finally, let’s consider Joseph and Mary in the Christmas story. Both had received messages from the Holy Spirit as to their missions, and the birth of Christ was only the first part of it. Joseph must have had a much different idea of marriage than what he experienced, but he accepted his mission with love and faith, teaching Jesus to become a carpenter like himself and providing for his well-being. The trust Mary put in the Holy Spirit goes beyond that. By the time Jesus begins His public ministry, Joseph had already passed, but Mary had a ringside seat to it — and might have had similar expectations for the results as some of the disciples: earthly glory and power, and the restoration of Israel as an independent temporal nation. Instead, she watched as her son was scourged and crucified for the sins of the world, and still trusted in the mission given her by the Holy Spirit.
Faith is not just belief. Faith is trust — trust in the Lord, and trust that we will not see the entirety of His will unfold while we pursue the mission given us. We trust that our small parts to play will assist in that unfolding, and that we may carry those missions out well. In the end, all of us will sing the Canticle of Simeon, even if we can’t see as clearly the fulfillment of our missions.
This Christmas, we celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who came to free us from sin and provide salvation for all the world. We should also take the time to celebrate the missions with which He trusts us, and strengthen our trust in Him.
The front page image is a detail of “The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple” by Rembrandt (1631).