What does growing old teach us about God? Age brings with it much wisdom; it also teaches reverence for God. As the world's splendor slowly fades over the years, a desire for light grows within us, for a light that will last. Simeon’s perseverance and holy wisdom teach us to seek the everlasting light of Christ.
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By Tim Trainor
In chapter 2 of 1 John, he divides his audience into two groups: fathers and young men. John is not speaking about physical age but spiritual maturity. The fathers are those who have known the Lord and have obeyed him for a long time. The young men (or children) refer to all those new in the faith and have only been Christians for a shorter time.
John writes to the spiritually mature (the fathers) because they know Him (that is, Jesus), who has been there from the beginning of all things! John expresses his confidence in those who have grown spiritually mature and have been with God from the very beginning. These “Fathers” have grown up and are holding fast to God himself, plus John's teaching, and will not let go of either!
Sunday is the Feast of the Holy Family. It celebrates the human family unit and the ultimate family unit: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. This feast is usually celebrated on the 1st Sunday after Christmas. Lucky of the draw, this Sunday's Gospel reading of Luke 2:22-40 (the complete presentation narrative) includes my originally assigned four verses (only a portion of this narrative). I expanded my reflection to cover the complete Presentation narrative and thus give you a 'leg up' of the Gospel you heard Sunday.
I will use a modified Lectio Divina approach (read the text and then comment on it) for all 18 verses in Luke's Presentation narrative.
So, starting at Luke 2:22, we see:
“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.”
Here we hear how the parents of Jesus respond to his birth by attending to the obligations called for in Leviticus 12:3-8. These ancestral traditions from the time of Moses remind them that Jesus was born in the context of the covenant established between God and the people of Israel. Also, being poor and of lowly estate, they could only afford the minimum “pair of turtledoves” sacrifice option.
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 Messiah 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 regarding him, he (Simeon) took him (Jesus) into his arms.
What does growing old teach us about God? Age brings with it much wisdom; it also teaches reverence for God. As the world's splendor slowly fades over the years, a desire for light grows within us, for a light that will last. Simeon’s perseverance and holy wisdom teach us to seek the everlasting light of Christ. This light that seems beyond our grasp has taken flesh and can be held with tenderness in our arms and our hearts.
Saint Bede the Venerable said of this passage: “The old man received the infant Christ to convey thereby that this world, now worn out as it were with old age, should return to the childlike innocence of the Christian life.”
Now, continuing: “And he (Simeon) 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 Church repeats Simeon’s words each day in its Night Prayer. She is like a mother who imitates him (Simeon) in holding the Christ Child, acknowledging the one she possesses to be God himself. We who belong to the Church can rejoice in this same blessing and abide in the peaceful light of Christ. Per the venerable Fulton J. Sheen, “An old man at the sunset of his own life spoke of the sunrise of the world; in the evening of life, he told us of the promise of a new day”.
Reading on: 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, & you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Per Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalene, “At the same time that Mary offered her Son, she offered herself, being always closely united to His destiny”.
Now we come to my originally assigned Gospel text, Luke 2:36-40, 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.
Anna has been fasting and praying for the redemption of Jerusalem. She, too, anticipates the disruption Simeon speaks of. Her constant state of fasting identifies her as one in a state of mourning, not for her husband, but for the people of God! However, seeing the child, her mourning turns to praise! She believes that God has come to ultimately bring about the return of all His people from exile.
And to finish the presentation narrative: 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.
Some similarities that I noticed between Jesus and Anna:
Anna's life was hidden away in the temple. The life of Jesus as he grew from childhood to manhood was hidden for thirty years in an obscure village. In this hidden time, we are told in the last verses of our Gospel reading that Jesus grows. He becomes strong, filled with wisdom and God’s favor. Just as Anna grew, while hidden away, in her vocation of prophetess.
Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote: “The Godhead here in hiding/ whom I adore,/ masked by these bare shadows,/ shape and nothing more./ See, Lord, at thy service/ low lies here a heart/ lost, all lost in wonder/ at the God thou art.”
In summary, The Holy Family entered God’s Temple with God himself, and now they bear this divine presence with them as they return to the world. Yet God will remain hidden for many years in the life of this humble Nazarene family. But this hidden God is still full of strength, wisdom, and grace. He was at work to save the world then and still is now; this hidden God continues to shower his favor upon us in the Eucharist!
The Christmas season celebrates the birth of “The Christ Child,” but please note that the Gospels also include many venerable figures like Elizabeth, Zechariah, and John the Baptist. Today, we met and added Simeon and Anna to this list. All these people remind us of the maturity, fullness of life, and wisdom that John speaks of, which enrich the human experience. I pray that spiritually young and old alike, whether hidden or not, may benefit and grow in spiritual maturity from each other's company, per our readings.
Then, “The heavens will be glad, and the earth rejoice!” (Psalm 96)