1 Jn 2:3-11; Ps 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 5b-6; Mt 1:18-25
The arrival of the Lord Jesus into the temple is a quiet moment in the drama and excitement of the Nativity. The song of Simeon has been assigned to the quiet time of day; the church sings his song of rejoicing in the office of Compline. At Night Prayer the church remembers that there is indeed a reason for going to bed and a reason for awakening, and it’s the same reason. The LORD has fulfilled his promise. The LORD has given Israel a Savior and that Savior enables Israel to fulfill its purpose in history—to reveal the glory of the LORD among the nations and to summon all peoples to worship in his temple, in spirit and truth. Our psalm response to the First Reading gives voice to that mission and ministry of God’s Chosen People. In worship and in witness they are to sing a new song to the LORD and invite all the lands of the Gentiles to bless the Name of the LORD. God’s People are to announce his salvation, day after day. They are to tell his glory among the nations among all peoples, his wondrous deeds. For the maker of heaven and earth is the LORD and before him splendor, majesty, praise and grandeur process into his earthly sanctuary. The glorious worship of the LORD in his temple in Jerusalem is only a glimpse of the glory in his heavenly courts not made by human hands and unimaginable with a human mind. The commandment of Saint John to his beloved community is as old as the Covenant with Abraham and as new as the Beatitudes of the Lord Jesus. It is the same commandment; it is the command to love. This love is first of all for the LORD God, and it must be seen in our love for all the children of the LORD God. The Prophet Simeon knew well that such a simple and radical command would cause the only revolution that could change history because it changes people, one at a time and from the inside out. Such is the sword that pierces, cutting between the bone and the marrow, the sharp two-edged sword of the Word of God. This is the Word we hear and respond to by becoming what we eat, bread broken to nourish the hungry and wine poured out to gladden the hearts of all God’s children.
The Beloved Disciple writes with painful clarity about the life his beloved disciples must live to fulfill their mission and ministry. Just like Israel of Old the community of disciples has been summoned into existence, not for its own sake but for the sake of the whole world. The only way the world is to be attracted beyond the tinsel and glitter of the “Holiday Season” is by seeing with their own eyes the starting beauty of brothers and sisters who love each other as Christ loved them. Nothing less than a sacrificial love lived out day to day and reaching out to everyone everywhere will attract the cynical, hopeless, wounded, and powerless victims of hatred. Before the Light from Light was born into the darkness of our world, there was no way to change the way things are. There was no living example of union of the human and the divine, until the Word became Flesh. In Christ alone is the bright glory of that liberation that comes into our history and into our nature through the unconditional, eternal, and self-sacrificing love of the Beloved Lord Jesus. Through Him, with Him and in Him we have the unexpected and undeserved gift of grace upon grace. Now we can be sure that any and every act of forgiveness and service is not a waste of time and energy. Rather, it is an awesome sign that the Lord Jesus has been born and is living among us. In the light of this divine life we walk with one another knowing where we are going because we have already met those with whom we will spend eternity praising the glory of his Name. Not all of them of course, but we have met some, and they help us continue to be open to the new brothers and sisters we have yet to meet in the strangers and even in our enemies. Such is the world overwhelmed by the Light of Christ, and such is the world in which hatred itself is strange, and our only enemy.
As the full glory of the Octave of Christmas is coming quickly to the end for another year, Saint Luke thrusts our celebration of the Lord’s Birth into the unknown future. We have no idea where or who we will be at this time next year, yet we do know that if we are faithful to the revelation of this celebration we will be new and wondrous in Christ. The Holy Family is faithful to the traditions of the Old Covenant in taking their son to the temple to make a sacrifice for his life to be spared as was the lives of the entire first born of Israel still in Egypt on that first Passover night. Indeed, the lives of the children of Israel were passed over as the angel of death brought God’s judgment upon the slave masters. In performing this right of redemption the Holy Family was revealing the hidden ministry and mission of Jesus the Christ. He was to be the sacrifice that would redeem the entire human family. One Old Man had lived his whole life waiting to meet this Promised Child. Simeon trusted the Holy Spirit who brought him into the temple that day and gave his old eyes the sight to see the Face of God in the Face of Jesus. Now, he could freely embrace death as a gift, moving him from the vision of faith to the sight of heavenly vision. The proclamation of Simeon is indeed the proclamation of the Gospel. This old man finds his fulfillment in the new man, the New Adam, Jesus Christ, the salvation God has prepared in the sight of every people. Here at long last is the light of revelation to the nations and the glory of God’s chosen people, Israel. Again, neither the Virgin Mary nor Saint Joseph fully understood that which filled their eyes with joyful tears and their hearts with delightful love. Such a vision seen by Shepherds, Magi, the Carpenter, and the Virgin is now seen and understood by an Old Man. Soon, the world would see his sign, indeed the cross would pierce the Virgin Mother’s heart and reveal the hearts of many—those who welcome the New Born King and those who oppose him and the coming Kingdom.