In our beautiful gospel story today, we see Simeon and Anna encountering the child Jesus as he is brought into the Temple by his parents. And we remember what Pope Francis once wrote “Christmas”, he said, “isn’t just a temporal celebration or the memory of a beautiful event; Christmas is an encounter!” Simeon and Anna see in this child Jesus the fulfilment of all their hopes and longings for the consolation and salvation of their people. We, who are non-Jews, must have our own encounter with Jesus this Christmas, and see in him the fulfilment also of our deepest longings and hopes for ourselves and for our world. I remember reading a poem several years ago, part of which said:
“Christ may be born a hundred times in a stable in Bethlehem; but if he is not born in our hearts also, it will be of no avail.”
What was your experience this Christmas, brothers and sisters? Did you have a real encounter with God through Jesus, or was it all just a temporal celebration and the memory of a beautiful event?
Let us look deeper into this gospel scene.
The priest of the old covenant, Simeon, meets the priest of the new covenant, Jesus, and realizes that it is now his time to give way. He has lived long enough to see the fulfilment of God’s promise of a Savior, now he can go to his rest a happy and fulfilled man. John the Baptist said a similar thing, talking of Jesus, the one for whose coming it was his duty to prepare the people of Israel. John said,
“He must increase; I must decrease, because now my joy has been fulfilled.”John 3: 29-30
How wonderful to be able to put aside all one’s selfish ambitions and desires for vainglory, and instead rejoice and be at peace because the deepest longings of one’s heart, for love, for meaning, for identity and belonging, for salvation and forgiveness, have found the answer in this One, in this Jesus, who comes into the world to bring light into our inner and outer darkness. How sad that so many ,even nominal Christians, fail to recognize the light of Christ and surrender to its brightness and warmth. I remember a classic line in the movie Forrest Gump where his friend says to Gump sarcastically, “Have you found Jesus yet” and Gump replies, in honest simplicity, “No, I didn’t even know I was supposed to be looking for him!” Later his friend, who was raging at Gump for saving his life during the Vietnamese war, because he had to have both his legs amputated, comes to peace with himself and his situation due to Gump’s love and simple friendship and thanks him for saving his life, and Gump comments, “I guess he must have found Jesus after all.”
So many people do “find” Jesus, but only after fierce battles with themselves and with God (Alpha testimonies). Sadly, so many other people don’t realize that they are meant to be looking for Jesus, because they never understood that it is really Jesus who has been looking for them all their lives, and they have resisted and resented Jesus’ offer to them of his outstretched hand of love and friendship
Once more back to our gospel scene. Jesus, the priest of the new covenant, comes to the Temple in Jerusalem, which is His temple, since he is God in human form, as a baby. Simeon, the priest of the old covenant, recognizes this Jesus, this baby, as his Master, come to replace him, and he gladly gives way and goes to his death in peace and joy. Thirty three years later, this same Jesus, now a young man in his prime, will come again to this same Temple, and will meet other priests of the old covenant. Except that, unlike Simeon, these priests do not welcome his coming, because they have become drunk on the power and wealth their job has given them, and they do not want to let go of all that. As far as they are concerned, this Temple belongs to them, and not to God, and certainly not to this young upstart of a preacher and healer, who has just created havoc in the Temple courts, by driving out the moneylenders and vendors of birds and animals for sacrifice, and rebuked them, these mighty priests, because, as he says,
“My Father’s house should be a house of prayer, and you have turned it into a market place.”Matthew 21: 12-13
How dare he? How dare he drive out these others, but allow the place to be filled with the blind and the lame instead, people whose afflictions made them unworthy, in their opinion, to even be allowed to enter (Matthew 21: 14)?
Who does he think he is?
And there is the crux of the matter, brothers and sisters?
Who does Jesus, not think he is, but know himself to be?
The Messiah, the Savior, the Son of the Living God, the Lord, the Christ . Take your pick of any one of these titles – they are all true of Him. The prophet Isaiah prophesied of him long, long ago when he talked of One to Come who would bring great light to those living in deep darkness — the darkness of sin and evil, of doubt and fear and despair. And Isaiah called him:
“Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”Isaiah 9: 2,6
Isaiah never met Jesus, never set eyes on him, yet he would have recognized this man, this Jesus, as the fulfilment of all his prophecies. And yet here are these priests, seeing Jesus face to face, seeing all his miracles, and not believing and not welcoming him, nor prepared to give an inch to him, scared of him and at the same time angry with him. And they go into the darkness and forgetfulness, while Simeon, who does recognize him and welcome him, even as a baby, goes into the light and is forever remembered.
These priests wanted to shut Jesus out of his temple and out of their hearts. St Paul says that those who are baptized, have become temples of God themselves (1 Corinthians 3:16). But so many nominal Christians, who have been baptized and confirmed, and all the rest of it, still shut Jesus out of these temples, and out of their hearts. Why is that? Is it because a so-called “post-Christian” culture has turned its back on Christ and on Christianity and have the money and power to take hold of all the organs of persuasion and communication to promote atheism and materialism and hedonism instead? In part, this is obviously true, yet are people any the more happy and fulfilled and at peace, like old Simeon and Anna in our gospel story today? Or are they more like the angry, bitter, frightened people meeting Jesus and resisting him, rejecting him, as we read later on in the same gospel? And which one are we, brothers and sisters, which group do we belong to?
Or is this rejection of Jesus in part due to our own lack of joy and peace, we who are supposed to be believers in Jesus, witnesses to him, but we know we have not fully allowed him into the temples of our hearts, so we are not able to let his love out to others as we are called to do, and we are not able to access his love for us personally, because our hearts are not open as they could be, as they should be. Is there still some fear, some doubt, some darkness within us, with regards to accepting and welcoming Jesus into our lives? And, if so, are we happy with that? Or are we desperate enough, fed up with living and partly living, fed up with always being driven by fear and anxiety and unhappiness and grimness and narrowness of heart, to be willing to make a fresh start with Jesus? Are we ready, at the end of this unsettling, disturbing year of years to recognize, at last, that true peace and happiness and total security are never going to be given us by politicians, or scientists, or doctors, or media gurus, or anyone else for that matter, only Jesus? Only Jesus can do that for us, because only He is God, and Savior, and Healer and Prince of Peace.
So, I invite you to take the chance of handing your life, all aspects of your life , over to Jesus, brothers and sisters, by following me in a simple prayer of surrender to begin a new year with a new heart:
“Take Lord, receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will, all I have and possess. You have given it all to me, now I return it. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me. Your love and your grace are enough for me. Amen”