Feast of the Holy Family
The focus of this Christmas feast of the Holy Family is Jesus, who he is and what it means that God has come to us. Luke told us on Christmas that Jesus was born into poverty in Bethlehem. Now, he’s trying to place the birth of Jesus in the context of the law and the prophets, and says that Jesus was into a tradition, the Hebrew community. So Mary and Joseph follow the Hebrew requirements and take Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised, so that he can be considered a descendent of Abraham and Sarah.
When parents brought their first born to the Temple, they were supposed to buy an expensive year-old lamb, but Mary and Joseph are poor and can only afford two pigeons. They struggle just to survive with their baby, like most people on the planet, but they fulfill their religious obligations by bringing Jesus to the Temple.
And there in the Temple, we meet these two great characters, Simeon and Anna, holy prophets, filled with the Holy Spirit who await the coming of the Messiah. They say remarkable things about the child, that he will bring salvation and consolation and redemption and revelation and glory. Luke is telling us that the child is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.
Remember that Luke is not writing to Jews but to non-Jews, to Gentiles, so he has Simeon, the holy prophet, who is “righteous, devout and awaiting the consolation of Israel,” say that this child is a savior for “all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” In other words, Jesus has come for everybody in the whole world. This is dramatic news that changes all their expectations.
Then, Simeon turns to Mary and says she must bear the sorrow of her son’s death, “so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”
Then we meet Anna who is one of only six women prophets in the whole Bible. Her name means “grace.” Luke is trying to speak about grace, that God gives a free gift to everyone in Jesus. Anna is a devout widow who “never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.” She gives thanks for the child and speaks about the child “to those waiting for redemption.”
So I want to make three little points.
First, just like Simeon and Anna, we too have to live in relationship to Jesus, to wait for him, to look for him, to know about him, to see him, to announce him when we meet him and to praise him. “My eyes have seen your salvation,” Simeon says. Where do we see Jesus these days? How are we like Simeon and Anna?
Second, Simeon speaks of consolation, which is a very important word in the spiritual life. Consolation refers to the presence of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, the presence of God’s peace in our hearts. The mystics and saints teach us to move from desolation to consolation. We are not meant to be unhappy and miserable. What consoles us? God does! The presence of the Holy Spirit consoles us. Wherever we feel God’s presence and God’s peace, we should stay there, or go back to that feeling, so that we move from desolation to consolation and ever deeper consolation. My question is: What consoles us?: How do we seek consolation for ourselves and one another? Where do we, like Simeon, find consolation? In other words: Where do we find God?
Finally, Simeon and Anna waited all their lives for the Messiah and God was faithful to them. Luke says that if we wait and look for Christ, like Simeon and Anna, God will be faithful to us as well. The question is then: how can we become faithful like Simeon and Anna and be ready for Christ?
St. Paul gives us the answer in his letter to the Colossians ((Col. 3:12-17). He writes that we are to put on “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, that we bear with one another, forgive one another, put on love, and let the peace of Christ control our hearts, the peace into which we were called as one body, to be at peace with the whole world, that we are to be thankful, that whatever we do in word or deed, we do everything from now on, in the name of Jesus.”
If we want to be serious about the spiritual life like Simeon and Anna, we have to make these words come true. Unfortunately, this does not happen overnight. It is hard work, the work of a lifetime. Like Simeon and Anna, we have to pray, fast, show compassion, gentleness, love and peace to everyone in our families, our community and the world, from Cimarron to Baghdad, Springer to Seoul, Eagle Nest to Bethlehem, and if we do this, Luke says, and seek Christ, wait for Christ, look for Christ, and serve Christ, we will become modern day Simeons and Annas, and like them, find Christ and receive his consolation and gift of peace.