Mary and Joseph Fulfill Long-awaited
Prophecies in an Ordinary Way
by Rev. Richard A. Miserendino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written by Luke to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. so all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. There Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judah, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed. who was with child. While they were there, the time came fro her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manager, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping their night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."
Each year, on the Sunday following Christmas, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Our Gospel reading this year from Luke presents us with a fascinating window into their actual family life. Here, we catch a glimpse of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem:
Mary and Joseph have brought Jesus to the Temple to make the sacrifice called for by the law of Moses, an important, sacred, but also routine procedure for all Jewish families. It was the "normal" thing to do. Yet the encounter for Mary and Joseph turns out to be anything but typical. As soon as they arrive, they encounter Simeon, a man filled with joy, alive in the Holy Spirit. Compelled by the Spirit, he rushes into the Temple, welcomes and snatches up the infant Christ, and sings a song of prophecy and praise. Much of this song, "Now let you servant go in peace", is still sung by priests, religious and many laity throughout the world each evening during night prayer. Theyíre the words of a soulís satisfaction in the Lord.
Itís certain that this entire scene was a surprise and wonder to Mary and Joseph. Yet that wasnít all. Just as Mary and Joseph recover from that shock, the prophetess Anna greets them and does much the same thing.
One can almost hear Maryís amusement here in the retelling, ringing though Lukeís words. Thatís no accident: Itís worth remembering that these early moments in Lukeís Gospel are likely "Maryís Gospel". How could Luke have known about these intimate encounters if not from an eyewitness? Given that Luke likely never met St. Joseph, that only leaves Mary as the easy explanation. As we listen to this Gospel, we rejoice in hearing echoes of the mystery and memories of Christís childhood, long treasured in Our Ladyís heart. What weíre hearing is a family story told with joy with a motherís love.
What was the reason for Simeonís and Annaís joy? God has returned to the Temple and to his people. In former ages, the Temple was the meeting place of God and man, the place where Israel could direct its worship to the Lord. Yet the Temple had been defiled both by sins and invasions. God no longer dwelt there. Jerusalem was, in a sense, Godless. Israel needed saving. Prophecies pointed to a future day when God would return, but hope had dwindled as the years passed, until our Gospel today and Godís triumphant return. In Christ, God dwells among his people once more. In Christ, we find our place of worship. Simeon and Annaís promise and fulfilled joy is ours, too, only separated by time.
We take two lessons from this: First, we can take the example of Simeon and Anna to guide us in receiving the Eucharist. In it, God comes to dwell in the temple not made by human hands: Our heart. Do we approach Communion with their same sense of expectation and joy?
Second: In this passage, Mary and Joseph are instruments of Godís providence, bringing long-awaited prophecies to fulfillment and joy to Simeon and Annaís hearts. Yet they do so by faithfully living the way God asks in small things, not through ostentatious action. They followed the law like anyone else, doing normal things that every other family would do in simple fidelity and trust. Their doing so literally brings others to an encounter with the living God. This is true for us, too. It is through the simple but sincere living of our faith that we let providence guide us and bring others to Christ. Are we faithful in the small, ordinary things, so as to lead others to meet our Savior?