In today’s world of commerce, marketers explain that it takes at least 7 creative “hits” before a message really is taken to heart. So the messages on billboards, on television, on the internet, on social media, on websites, on t-shirts and in magazine ads surround us. We hear or see or read the same message many times.
Today’s Gospel lesson describes how Mary, the mother of Jesus, responded to yet another “hit” about the importance of her child. She had, in recent times, experienced an angel prophecy, a visitation by the Holy Spirit, a star that followed her and Joseph and stopped to shine on the place where her baby was to be born, and the arrival of praising and singing shepherds …. Yet when they went to the temple and an elderly Simeon took the baby in his arms and proclaimed the messianic heritage of her child, Mary is still AMAZED!
Likewise, Joseph had experienced a miraculous dream, Mary’s virgin birth and those really excited shepherds, and he too is amazed at Simeon’s prophecy.
Each time someone points out Jesus’ identity – amazement is the result! Each time someone else recognizes who Jesus is and his impending impact on the world, Mary and Joseph are speechless and amazed.
It is likely that we would all be speechless and amazed, for we are at heart practical and doubting people. For us to really “see’ something new, we have to see it multiple times in various ways before we are convinced it is ”real”. God’s presence, Jesus’ presence in the world, the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives will always surprise and challenge us in our times of doubt.
The birth of Jesus and everything about him that comes after it – his presentation in the Temple that we read about today, his visit to the Temple as a teen-ager, his baptism by John, his subsequent life and teaching, his death and resurrection – all of this is like a long campaign by God to help us pay attention to what God is doing in the world and in our lives.
God reveals his plan for redemption through the human presence of Jesus, and it seems to take a long time for us to really understand what this means and how we are to faithfully respond.
Simeon’s prophecy speaks to Mary in Particular: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of man in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Jesus, God’s greatest revelation, will by his presence reveal not only God’s plan for salvation but will have the power to reveal the truth and authenticity that lies in the hearts of all whom he encounters. Jesus would be able to see into the hearts and minds of people and know them intimately, know their faults and their personalities, know if they had faith in God and pure intentions, or whether they were driven by power or greed.
Simeon describes this ability as having an intuition like a “sword” with the power to “slice open” and reveal what’s inside the heart of every soul. For Jesus, this “sword of truth” would not just peer into one’s heart, but it would challenge that person’s intentions, reality, doubt and faith. Both Simeon and Anna see Jesus, even as a small child, to possess awesome powers.
Both Simeon and Anna predict Jesus’ ability to challenge the hearts of others, but they also know that this will bring opposition, heartbreak and tragedy. So Mary is blessed in bearing the messiah who will reveal the heart of God and the heart of humanity, but also knows that in the end there will be heartbreak.
For those marginalized, rejected or without voice, they will experience Jesus as salvation and hope. For those wielding unjust power, wickedness or betrayal, they will know the sharpness of Jesus’ tongue.
In a sense, Simeon’s prophecy is a blessing and a warning – that these parents’ lives will forever be altered, that Jesus’ birth marks a new era in which God will make a bold statement and will change the world as we know it, bringing about redemption in ways that will both bless and cause mourning and sorrow.
Change is never easy. Growth never comes without a period of struggle. Simeon warns Mary that the future times will not be easy, but that the favour of God was upon them and her son would change the world.
Simeon’s words are intended for Mary and Joseph, but we can also hear them as words for ourselves. Today Jesus, in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, continues to challenge our practical minds asking us to pay attention to what God is doing in our lives and in the world. God continues to be revealed to us in a multitude of ways, if only we open our hearts and recognize him in our midst.
Throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas, we held up Hope, Peace, Joy and Love as the focus for our celebrations. Now, going forward into a new year, we ask for God’s blessing as we seek to follow in the path of this amazing Jesus.