We have here today part of the only story in the Gospels from the boyhood of Christ it gives the account of his Presentation in the Temple. The second part is the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. In the Gospel of Luke these passages act as a kind of a bridge from the story of Christ’s birth (the Infancy narratives) which is a sort of ‘overture’ before moving to the main theme which is Christ’s public ministry.
In this story we can see reflections of many of Luke’s favourite themes: the journey, the temple, loving submission, etc. There is also the natural tendency to see the man in the boy. And there are parallels with the Old Testament story of Samuel and his call at the age of twelve.
The feast we celebrate today is that of the Holy Family. But we know so very little about the life of the Holy Family. Yes, we have the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke and we have this little account of his Presentation and then his Finding in the Temple, but that is about all.
What conclusions are we meant to draw? If we look at them as an ideal family then they fall wide of the mark: Mary was pregnant before marriage which is not the best scenario; they lived together in perpetual chastity which would be very much less than ideal for most; and to cap it all they had only one child and he was the Son of God, which sounds like most people’s worst nightmare!
There doesn’t seem much there that we would want to or even could model ourselves on. Jesus is presented as something of a prodigy; but how could he be otherwise?
What is there here for us? Let us look first at the Prophet Simeon. Here in his prophecy we have one of the most beautiful prayers of the Bible. ‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, because my eyes have seen your salvation.’
Here is a prayer we can all share in. A prayer which can really grow in us over the years until it reaches its prophetic culmination at the point of our death when we really can say with all our hearts those lovely words: ‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, because my eyes have seen your salvation.’
Simeon was a devout and holy man; he had received a revelation that he would see the Christ and he longed for that day. This yearning is an important lesson for us in prayer. Prayer is not just about rattling-off rosaries or constantly asking for things. Prayer often does not need words. A simple longing, a yearning for the coming of the Kingdom is an authentic expression of the Christian virtue of hope and is a deep and important form of prayer.
Here in this Gospel reading, Simeon makes his prophecy about Christ’s destiny and as it says, ‘the child’s father and mother stood there wondering about him’. Every parent wonders about their children. Every parent is full of hope for their children. Over a period of time this might turn in to fear and anxiety, but the fundamental feeling of hope remains.
We hope that everything will turn out well for them; we hope that they will make a success of their lives; we hope that they will be safe and keep out of trouble; we hope that they will be happy.
If we were to take these perfectly ordinary aspirations and express them in a Christian way we might express them as: we hope that they will realise God’s will for them; we hope they will be true to their faith; we hope that they will be good and holy; we hope that they will be effective witnesses to Christ; we hope that they will, after a long and happy life, be welcomed into God’s Kingdom.
These aspirations are our prayers for our children. We know that our children, from time to time, will also bring us pain and sorrow. The same went for the Holy Family. Look at the second part of Simeon’s prophecy: ‘a sword will pierce your own soul too’. How often have mothers and fathers experienced this sword of pain and sorrow? But it does not stop them loving. Indeed, it frequently causes them to love more deeply and to pray more earnestly.
And what of the children? There is no word from Jesus here. How could there be since he was just an infant? We know that Jesus fulfilled all that was promised. You might say he had to; after all, he was the Son of God. But what of us? How are we to fulfil the expectations of our parents? The answer is simple: you cannot and you probably should not. You are most likely to experience these expectations as a burden, even though your parents have the very best of intentions.
But there are other expectations that you can and indeed you should fulfil. These are the expectations of God himself. God has set us on a course through life, he has given us gifts and talents and all the quirks of our unique personality. He has put us in the way of all sorts of experiences each of which has presented us with a whole series of choices and as a result of our reactions to them we have become the person we are today.
However, God also has expectations and hopes for us. His desire for us is simple: that we should love him with our whole heart and mind and soul. This might seem a tall order, and it might not sound like much fun. But really, it not just possible it is actually the most fulfilling thing we could ever do.
We hear a lot of talk today about ecology and being at one with nature. We are told we have a responsibility towards the environment and that we will experience serious consequences if we disturb the balance of nature. This concern for the environment is possibly one of the best things that has happened in the last thirty years. It is very good but it is not all. What about being at one with our maker? What about realising the consequences of upsetting our relationship with him?
God has a plan for us. It is to live in accordance with his will, it is to take Jesus for our model, it is to be at one with our fellow humans, it is to live a life of sacrifice, it is to be united with the Father in prayer.
That prayer of Simeon is a powerful one: ‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, because my eyes have seen your salvation.’ Simeon saw Christ in the flesh. But he only recognised him because he had spent his whole life in God’s service. He had totally dedicated himself to prayer and to the service of God just as the Prophetess Anna had also done. They were both rewarded and saw the face of God.
They prayed that they would see His salvation, but their prayers had in a real way brought about that salvation. This is the same with us. Christ has won the victory but the work of salvation goes on. We are his co-workers. We help to make his salvation present to the world of today. This is how we play our part in the redemption of the world. And by doing so we win our own redemption. This is what it is all about. We work for salvation and the result is that the prayer of Simeon, which is also our own prayer, is realised. We see and experience our salvation.
We are also part of the Holy Family; Simeon and Anna are our brother and sister. Our task is to be like the Christ Child and as it says in today’s Gospel, ‘to grow to maturity’. Then we will be filled with wisdom and God’s favour will be with us.