1 John 2:3-11; Luke 2:22-35
Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness. 1 John 2
The parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord. Luke 2
We are just four days after Christmas and the first reading challenges us. Who among us, in our experience of Christmas, didn't have some difficult experience with someone? It is almost inevitable each year that Christmas time can become a very stressful time. Christmas often gathers us with family and friends. Sometimes the most difficult relationships of our lives come together. Alcohol - intended as a traditional holiday element to add "cheer" - can make everything much worse. A word was said meanly. An old wound was re-opened. Someone was going through a hard time and was coping very badly. I re-discover how much someone really drives me crazy. As a result, I can understand the challenge of the First Letter of John: I want to be in the Light that is Jesus, but at the same time, there is somebody that I really hate or really resent or simply can't stand to be around, and that places me still in the darkness.
Christmas is about the Love of God coming into the world, to be Light in the midst of the world's darkness. It is about the invitation to receive the Light into our hearts and to let that Light shine in us as it did in him. This first reading helps us so directly: "whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked." To be a disciple of the Light, we have to let go of the darkness and let the Light into our hearts. We have to forgive. We have to love the way he has loved. The only way we can do that is to continue to let the healing grace of Christmas touch us. Innocence is born in poverty and suffers greatly trying to be faithful to his way.
Mary and Joseph walked the simple way of innocent trust in God in a most loving way. In today's gospel - this year, the same as Sunday's Holy Family gospel - they go up to the temple in Jerusalem to be faithful to the law. They meet Simeon, such an Old Testament prophet type of person, who comes into the temple "in the Spirit." In that moment, Simeon is able to hold on to the promise he has hoped in with innocent trust. Simeon's hope has not been narrow. He has been listening to the promise carefully. He is beholding not only "the glory of your people, Israel," but "a light to reveal you to the nations." Simeon's longing coincided with God's longing - that all God's children be one. In the Spirit, how else could Simeon dream, except with a reconciling and loving spirit?
Simeon's hope is not naive. And so he instructs Joseph and Mary in its depths. There will be people who contradict this vision of unity and peace. They will choose being unique and special, being chosen and righteous over being inclusive and forgiving. And, of course, Mary's own heart will be part of the suffering that is the cost of discipleship. To see her precious son so rejected would be like a sword piercing her own heart. Simeon himself could not have imagined how true that would be as she would behold his heart opened with a lance on the cross.
The poor couple, who could only afford two small birds for their offering, came home blessed. We can only imagine what they taught their child about being a light for all people, about unity and forgiveness, about trust in God and sacrifice. When Jesus was led into the desert by the same Spirit that was with Simeon, he was ready for his mission.
Dear Lord, Jesus, we thank you for your becoming one with us. We thank you for these days to help us continue to understand and embrace your coming. We thank you for being light in our darkness. We thank you for these scriptures which help us see what you wish to reveal to us. So we ask you today to heal whatever darkness might be left over after Christmas. Restore your own peace in our hearts. Let your Spirit lead us to the places where we can reveal your light to others. Prepare us for the swords that will pierce our hearts as we give ourselves to being your disciples for others.
By Andy Alexander