Thursday, December 29, 2011

Let Your Servant Go in Peace

December 29, 2011
The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

“The way we may be sure to know him is to keep his commandments.” 1 John 2:3

Sing to the Lord a new song. Psalm 96:1

“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 peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-30

Father, Simeon told Mary and Joseph that this Child – the little bundle of joy they held in their arms – is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be contradicted. Send your Spirit to reveal to us the joy that Simeon felt when he encountered the Kingdom of God at hand despite these ominous warnings.

Today, we have another of the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary to contemplate. Our Advent season just completed included the Annunciation and the Visitation. Then on Christmas Day, we celebrated the birth of Jesus. Now we consider the presentation of the Lord back to His Father in the temple and the Epiphany of Simeon.

None of these mysteries – nor any of the other episodes of the Holy Rosary occurred in isolation. Man encountering God and people encountering Jesus as he walked on the earth were central to every mystery. Elizabeth’s confinement would not be complete without the visit from her sister and the encounter with the fruit of her sister’s womb. Simeon’s story would not be complete without the encounter in the temple.

How many days did Simeon wait in the temple after it was revealed to him that he would not die until he encountered Christ? Yet wait he did, just as the people of Israel waited. How many boys were presented in the temple over the years? Yet until this day, none were the Christ Child – the One Simeon and the people awaited. Each time that door of the temple opened with new parents a baby boy and two birds, how Simeon’s heart must have leapt in anticipation – like John the Baptist in Elizabeth’s womb – only to realize that his Spirit-imposed wait would continue.

As we consider Simeon’s mission completed, what happened to him next? After years of waiting, did he run out into the streets of Jerusalem announcing what he had just witnessed? If he had, would his message have been received with the same joy that he had received the new baby in the temple? Or would his comments have amazed the people in the streets the same way they amazed the mother and father of Jesus?

After all, this is a Joyful Mystery. Yet the message to Mary is that her heart will not just break – but will be pierced. Where is the joy in that? What amazed the parents? Was it that Simeon knew the secret kept from Herod? Simeon knew what only Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Zechariah knew. Without the revelation of an angel or a prophet, Simeon knew that the Kingdom of God was at hand. In this squirming, crying hungry baby presented in temple, Simeon knew he could sing a new song!

Simeon was a man of faith. If we consider only the Good News from Luke alone, we might think that our model of faith is a man waiting in the temple to encounter the Lord. Simeon waited and prayed. Yet when the Lord was finally revealed to him, he praised God and then reached out to those around him and shared that Good News.

Our First Reading also encourages us to be not just people of faith, but also people of action. Not just people in contemplation waiting for our encounter, our Joyful Mystery, our Presentation in the Temple.

As we encounter the Christ Child during this holiday season, what are we to do next? What message does this encounter bring to us to pass along to the world? Each encounter with the Lord brings with it the responsibility to have an equal and opposite encounter with the world. Each Mass culminates with words of action -- to bring the peace of the encounter from the sanctuary to the streets. Simeon did not tell Mary it would be easy. But they both knew in their minds, in their hearts and in their souls that such pain would be necessary.

The world does not revolve around a small device in our pocket or purse made of metal, glass and silver. It is not about our encountering the Lord in the virtual world of artificial intelligence. It is about encountering the Lord in the real world – the Word was made Flesh after all – and how we respond. The fourth Joyful Mystery was about Simeon’s wait and how he responded. Today’s Joyful Mystery is about our wait and how we respond. So turn off your iPhone, iPad, Android, or computer and respond to the event that happened two thousand and twelve years ago and again five days ago and again with the next person you meet.