Luke 2: 22-40
A few weeks ago on the Pope’s Twitter feed there was a quote, “No elderly person should be like an “exile” in our families. The elderly are a treasure for our society.” He has spoken of the throw-away culture that we live in, and for many elderly, they are seen as no longer contributing or producing in the way we have become accustom. Yet, he recognizes a greater gift in many of them as wisdom figures. They are beyond the “producing” stage of life and now act as guides and as these wisdom figures to many of us, not because of any knowledge they may have, but lived experience, humility, learning to let go of so much, including judgement and expectation, and most importantly, they have never finished growing. They keep on growing into themselves and into the mystery of God well beyond their years of being “producers” in our society.
Nowhere is that more true in the Gospels than in the stories that bookend the Christmas story. Prior to the birth of Christ we hear the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, both well beyond child-bearing years and yet over years of learning to let go and surrendering to God, stand humbly by as God delivers a miracle into their lives. It leaves Zechariah speechless, still, at his age, unable to fully trust God and given yet another opportunity to grow in faith and trust. These two figures act as wisdom figures for Mary and Joseph as they learn to trust that same impossible message of life that has been given to them in giving birth to Jesus.
Then there’s the other end of the story that we hear today. The story of Simeon and the prophetess Anna that we just heard in today’s Gospel. The story of the Holy Family is cradled in between these two stories and now Simeon and Anna will lead them out of this stage in life to where God leads next. The message of Simeon is two-fold. Simeon is first overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift revealed to him in the Christ. He has awaited many years of his life in a world that has lost hope in the coming of the Messiah and has turned in many different directions looking for answers and certainty in life, and yet, Simeon, and Anna for that matter, simply wait. Learning to let go, over and over again, of their own expectations of the Messiah and then find themselves overwhelmed with gratitude, to the point where Simeon delivers this beautiful prayer that God may now take him from this world and pass on; the great gift has been revealed before his very eyes and in his heart and soul.
The other side of the message is directed towards Mary and Joseph and probably not one that they had intended to hear. What young parents want to hear that this is going to be a difficult road ahead. Just because you have seen the Messiah does not mean that all will go as planned without any pain or hurt. Simeon tells them just the opposite. This child will be a sign that will be contradicted, destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel. Like us, Mary and Joseph had expectations of their son. Could they ever anticipated their son would be hung on a cross? Even in the following passage as they make their way from Jerusalem, Jesus is nowhere to be found. From the very beginning, Jesus has taught to let go of these expectations of who you think the Messiah should be. Do you not, as parents, often have to let go of your own expectations of who you think your kids should be so that they may become who it is God has created them to be? They relied on these wisdom figures, these elderly folks in their lives, to point the way in a time of uncertainty and in a time when their lives were immersed in understanding and the raising of their son.
On this feast of the Presentation, we pray that these wisdom figures may be raised up in our lives, in our community and in our world. So many have gone astray and pulled away from their faith by the desires of success, judgment, and much else that carries much pull in our lives, and we all need these figures to point the way for us, in our own uncertainties, and to learn to let go and to trust as Simeon and Anna teach us in today’s Gospel. Also, as the Lord is presented to us in this Eucharist today, how are we presenting ourselves? Are we open to the mystery, delving into the unknown, still learning to grow in our faith and to let go of our own expectations and to see the gift for what and who he truly is? Have we grown into a spiritual malaise that Malachi often speaks of in his writing where we take all of this for granted. We pray that this feast provides a spark in our lives to present ourselves fully, openly, and with much gratitude, as we see in Simeon, as the Lord is presented to us. The gift that lies within is now revealed to us in this Eucharist.