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Mary and Joseph fulfill long-awaited prophecies in an ordinary way

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GOSPEL COMMENTARY Dec. 27, Lk 2: 22-40

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. They’re the words of a soul’s satisfaction in the Lord.

It’s certain that this entire scene was a surprise and wonder to Mary and Joseph. Yet that wasn’t 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 Mary’s amusement here in the retelling, ringing though Luke’s words. That’s no accident: It’s worth remembering that these early moments in Luke’s Gospel are likely "Mary’s 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 echos of the mystery and memories of Christ’s childhood, long treasured in Our Lady’s heart. What we’re hearing is a family story told with joy with a mother’s love. 

What was the reason for Simeon’s and Anna’s 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 God’s triumphant return. In Christ, God dwells among his people once more.  In Christ, we find our place of worship. Simeon and Anna’s 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 God’s providence, bringing long-awaited prophecies to fulfillment and joy to Simeon and Anna’s 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?

Fr. Miserendino is parochial vicar of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020