FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY
28th DECEMBER 2014
Luke 2: 22-40
By Rev Tony van Vuuren
The arrival of a baby is a time for excitement and joy. The long wait is over. The wondering and uncertainty, the fears and the anxieties are something of the past. A child has arrived and it is well – always a concern until it is confirmed.
Ten fingers and ten toes. Of course in biblical days the gender of the child was always unknown until it arrived; apart from Mary and Elizabeth; for if they understood the message of the angel they knew they would be giving birth to boys. Now comes the love, the celebrations and the congratulations.
The first time it happens the couple “walk on air” and grandparents gather to work out which of them the child resembles. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem it was just the same, but the family were alone, away from home. Whilst the intervention of God and the commands given through the angel bring out the role of God and the unusual features of the child’s birth, the coming into a family with a real-life father and mother show how human it was.
Jesus was God coming as a normal human being; as helpless as any newborn. He needed to be fed, to be burped, to be cleaned and loved, protected, pored over and played with. And, no doubt, he kept his parents awake at night as well!
Just as we will bring our children to be baptized; Luke tells us that, for Joseph and Mary, a devout Jewish couple with their first son, there was a presentation ritual at the Temple and a sacrifice to be made.
Their offering though was not a bull, lamb or goat, but the gift of the poor; two doves. There would be other worshipers in the Temple that day who would have included in their prayers, their longing for the Messiah to come and free them. Hadn’t the prophets promised that? Didn’t they need someone to rescue them from Roman oppression and keep hope alive in the God of their ancestors?
The exchange between God and Abraham is low key.
There is no burning bush; no lightning or thunder when God speaks. Abraham accepts the promise God made to him. He trusts God’s word and his faith puts him in a right relationship with God; and Abraham and Sarah have a son called Isaac.
Today’s feast celebrates God’s faithfulness and the fulfilment of God’s promise.
Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars, just as God promised. But there is a surprise in the fulfilment. The one who would fulfil this promise, enters the Temple with his parents and is barely noticed.
A poor devout Jewish couple presenting their child to God. Who could have guessed that this child was the Messiah; the one that people had longed for? How easily he could have been missed. He almost was — amid the priests offering animal sacrifices, the Pharisees teaching the children, the din of the terrified animals and the money changers. If anyone drew attention in the Temple that day it would have been the distinguished priests and the wealthy, who were well-dressed and up front.
Except he wasn’t missed by everyone. There were the elderly Simeon and Anna, the aged sentinels who wouldn’t give up on God, because they believed God would never give up on them. What an inconspicuous group they were: the parents, the child and two eldsenior prayerful people.
Pope Francis has said that children and the elderly represent two poles of life and are the most vulnerable and most often forgotten groups.
He also said a society that abandons children, or marginalizes its elderly members shows the failure of that society; and he wasn’t just talking about the poorest nations.
It’s a biblical theme: the least in society are the ones God is most concerned about and calls us to be attentive to. The two elderly in today’s gospel focus our attention — Simeon the vigilant and Anna, the prophet. They recognize what God is doing and speak out openly about it.
Because of our baptism we are the temples God visits and where God dwells. When the Lord comes suddenly to our temple will we recognize him?
Will we make room for him? Will we change for him? Who can help us discover the surprising emergence of God into our lives? Is it possible for us to just take the time to think about it, and be kind and open minded to family members, friends and acquaintances within our parish community. Judging from today’s gospel, devout and faithful seniors can help.
I recall that when I decided to convert to Catholicism, when our son was born, I first discussed my decision with my maternal grandmother, a devout high Anglican. She thought it was an excellent idea! (I think she had come to the conclusion that I was a lost cause.)
It’s a good day to celebrate the seniors in our lives, past and present who have helped us come to know Christ. They are the sentinels who, through years of faithful service, have kept their focus and helped open our eyes. They are the wisdom figures in our families; parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts, and senior friends and acquaintances.
The prayer of Simeon is a powerful one: ‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, because my eyes have seen your salvation.’ Simeon saw Christ in the flesh. But he only recognized him because he had spent his whole life in his service. He had totally dedicated himself to prayer and to the service of God just as the Prophetess Anna had also done. They were both rewarded and saw the face of God. They prayed that they would see His salvation, but their prayers had in a real way brought about that salvation.
This is the same with us. Christ has won the victory but the work of salvation goes on. We are his co-workers. We help to make his salvation present to the world of today; and by doing so we celebrate our own redemption.
This is what it is all about. We work for salvation and the result is that the prayer of Simeon, which is also our own prayer, is realized. Our task is to be like the Christ Child;”to grow and become strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God will be upon us.”