“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign of contradiction ….” Lk 2:34
Everybody loves a story.
Children love stories. Adults love stories. Luke, the writer of this Gospel, certainly loved stories … so much so that he developed one of the most celebrated sacred stories of all time.
One of the qualities that distinguishes Luke as a writer is his extensive emphasis on marginalized people, especially women. And so, he begins his gorgeous rendition of the birth of Jesus, not with any male figure, but with a story featuring two women:
Mary and Elizabeth.
What distinguishes them, according to Luke, is their utter reliance on the astonishing news each received from an angel, a messenger from God. Each woman was chosen to receive her message because she was totally attuned to the Spirit.
And it is this fundamental quality of trust that is highlighted repeatedly throughout Luke’s Gospel.
Today Luke presents the story of a newborn child, Jesus, being brought to the Temple by his parents. While it’s a very small story, it points to a much, much bigger one:
The story of a God who wanted people to understand just how loved and passionately cherished they truly are.
Even this short little story of the child Jesus being presented in the Temple reminds us that we, like him, have a destiny – a destiny graced by God.
The destiny of Jesus pronounced by Simeon to Mary was that her child was to be “the fall and rise of many … and to be a sign of contradiction.”
In other words, the destiny of Jesus was to be the revelation of God, the picture of what God looks like, the human depiction of what is possible for each of us to experience:
Mercy and hope … and that awe-inspiring feeling of knowing way down deep that we are eternally, unrelentingly loved.
This is the ultimate story of all the Gospels as well as the meaning underlying everything we treasure to be holy and true and beautiful:
To remember that we are loved this much – infinitely.
However, the problem with stories is that we tend to forget them, especially short ones, like todays. We remember little parts of the story, but often overlook the main point – unless we are reminded and keep reminding ourselves.
Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and famous Jewish author, loved to tell the tale of how easy it is for us to forget what the whole story that we’ve come to believe really is. He wrote:
“When the city was in trouble, Rabbi Israel would retreat to a certain place in the forest to light a fire and say a prayer, and the misfortune that was upon the people would be avoided. After this first Rabbi died, this task fell to a second rabbi, who knew both the place in the forest and the prayer but did not know the ritual for lighting the fire. Nevertheless, he did what he could, and the misfortune was avoided. A third rabbi knew only the place but forgot the prayer and how to make the fire. But this too was enough, and the misfortune was avoided. Many generations later, the task fell to a rabbi who knew neither the place, nor the fire, nor the prayer. He simply remembered the story. All he could do was feel a deep compassion for his people and tell them the story. And this was sufficient to avert the misfortune.”
That’s why the Gospels were written:
Not so that we could get all the details, but so that the long-told story of mercy and forgiveness and love could be heard and seen in the flesh of Jesus– and remembered.
That is what we do today on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. We are remembering. We’re remembering a story – the story of Jesus’ destiny. And we’re remembering it through the eyes of two little-known people:
Simeon and Anna.
I’m certain that when Simeon rose from his bed on this day we now commemorate as a feast day, he had no idea it would be different from any other. After all, for Simeon, every day was devoted to anxiously awaiting the Messiah to come and deliver Israel from all forms of captivity.
Little did Simeon know he would be remembered down through the ages – remembered and honored.
And the same was true for the aged prophetess, Anna, a widow for 84 years who never left the Temple area and “worshipped day and night with fasting and prayer.”
And while Simeon was praying, Anna showed up, began praising God and talked about the child to everyone longing for the freedom of Jerusalem.
Luke’s small but never forgotten story highlights the fact that our small and seemingly insignificant lives can have lasting importance. After all, our destiny is the same as Simeon and Anna’s – and that of the rabbi in Eli Wiesel’s story:
To remember the story.
To remember the story of how two little – known, but faith – filled people, experienced the tangible presence of God in their lives.
To remember that we are also called to bring this remarkable story to life in our hearts during the everyday events in our lives – just as Simeon and Anna did.
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.
NOTE: Quote for the week from Sr. Rachel:
“Christ is born! What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his/her Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and culture? This then is the fullness of time when the Son of God is begotten in us. May our hearts be his home!” – Meister Eckhart
“The symbol of Christmas – what is it? It is the rainbow arched over the roof of the sky when the clouds are heavy with foreboding. It is the cry of life in the newborn babe when, forced from its mother’s nest, it claims its right to live. It is the brooding Presence of the Eternal Spirit making crooked paths straight, rough places smooth, tired hearts refreshed, dead hopes stir with newness of life. It is the promise of tomorrow at the close of every day, the movement of life in defiance of death, and the assurance that love is sturdier than hate, that right is more confident than wrong, that good is more permanent than evil.”- Howard Thurman (1900- 1981), Black theologian and mystic
“I pray that this Christmas season, we are each gifted with some magical or mystical experience, reminding us that we are beloved, part of a good world, stirring with ‘newness of life.’” Richard Rohr, OFM