How lovely, how tender, the way aged Simeon, the frailties of his years draped over him, cradles the infant Jesus in his arms. Imagine holding in your arms this most wanted child, the hope of the ages, the yearning of your entire life.
– James C Howell
The readings for The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:22-40) cycle B can be found here.
Anybody familiar with the Liturgy of the Hours will likely have heard the words of Simeon. Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum, in pace. Lord, let your servant go in peace, as you promised.
The Nunc Dimittis is said at night prayer, usually vespers or compline, and is derived from the Gospel reading used this Sunday.
Aside from that bit of trivia, the scripture scholar will tell you that the witness of Simeon and Anna marked Jesus as the new Temple. To understand this better we need to understand what the Temple meant to the people in Jesus’ day.
Heerak Christian Kim tells us that “during the Hasmonean period, it was priestly individuals who assumed royal powers, not the Davidic line. …where to be priestly was essential to rise to power… The Jerusalem Temple was the source of power and authority. The Jerusalem Temple is what granted individual and corporate salvation on the religious level. The Jerusalem Temple was too sacred and too central to the experience of the Jewish people to be ignored or opposed.”
Simeon and Anna represented the Temple cult and God’s people who were waiting for the the Messiah. By the time Luke wrote the Gospel the Jerusalem Temple had already been destroyed by the Romans. Jesus was recognized by the Lucan community as the new Temple where salvation was granted. The witness of Simeon and Anna gives meaning to the redemptive power of Jesus.
The witness of Simeon and Anna also provides a model for our witness today. Helmut Flender explains that “Luke expresses by this arrangement that man and woman stand together and side by side before God. They are equal in honour and grace, they are endowed with the same gifts and have the same responsibilities.” We are all called to share in this witness.
Simeon and Anna recognized that the unfolding events meant that the wait was over. With Jesus, came the kingdom.
Today, our witness to the redemptive power of Jesus, the new Temple, includes God’s kingdom here and now. This is our responsibility as Christians.
Christianity is not simply a doctrine: it is an encounter in faith with God made present in our history through the incarnation of Jesus. Try by every means to make this encounter possible, and look towards Jesus who is passionately seeking you. Seek him with the eyes of the flesh through the events of life and in the faces of others; but seek him too with the eyes of the soul through prayer and meditation on the Word of God…
Saint Pope John Paul II “Message of the Holy Father John Paul II to the youth of the world on the occasion of the XIX World Youth Day 2004”
If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that we are all called to witness to God’s salvation in Jesus. This salvation is meant for everybody, not a select few, as God’s promise is for all.
Jewish understanding of salvation was limited to obedience to the law. Our understanding of salvation is to seek Jesus and bear witness in the events of our lives and the people we meet.
“Living fully, loving wastefully and being all that we can be” is my definition of seeing the presence of God in human life.
– John Shelby Spong
My all time favorite explanation for witnessing to Jesus comes from Bishop John Shelby Spong.
If we can all strive for this type of witness, God’s kingdom will come.