The “Second Week”: Week Thirteen/Session One.
Theme: The Childhood of Jesus.
Our reading for today: Luke 2: 21-38.
In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah of God before he died. Led by the Spirit, he entered the Temple. As the parents of the child Jesus brought Him in to carry out the rituals of the Law, Simeon took Him into his arms and blessed God: “God, you can now release your servant; release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes I’ve seen Your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see: A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for Your people Israel.”
Anna the prophetess was also there, a daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was by now a very old woman. She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers. At the very time Simeon was praying, she showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem. (Luke 2: 25-32, 36-38 MsgB)
Sadly, we don’t have many stories recorded for us in the New Testament about the childhood of Jesus. Luke and Matthew, of course, give us a couple of chapters each surrounding Jesus’ birth, but once the Holy Family travels south into Egypt to escape the murderous rampage of Herod (Matthew 2: 13-23), we only have a handful of word pictures that reference Jesus’ life between the ages of one or two and then again when He is thirty. As it is with the Gospel writers, they, on many occasions, seem to summarize a great amount of information into one or two quick sentences. We find Luke doing just that by writing these words (Luke 2:40)…
There (in Nazareth) the child grew strong in body and wise in spirit. And the grace of God was on Him.
So, when Ignatius suggests that we ponder carefully (contemplate) the childhood of Jesus (our Spiritual Exercises assignment this week), we will certainly need to use our creative imagination. Fortunately today’s Scripture reading from Luke 2: 21-38 contains one of those rare childhood stories…the amazing encounter Mary and Joseph had waiting for them as they presented the baby Jesus at the temple for His dedication.
To better understand this story, one must look back into the Old Testament. There we find, in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12, Exodus 13:12–15, etc.), that every newborn male was required to be circumcised and then, forty days after the child’s birth, the mother and father were required to report to the Temple in Jerusalem in order to dedicate their newborn to God and to complete the purification process of the mother of that child. In this ceremony of dedication, the parents were required to bring a sacrificial lamb, but for those who were too poor to afford that expense, the Law (Leviticus 12:8) states that the couple could substitute a pair of turtledoves or pigeons instead. As Luke states it here in his story, Mary and Joseph took that option, indicating to us that the Holy Family was indeed one with little provision to their name.
But now comes the surprise.
As Mary and Joseph are entering the Temple with the forty-day old Jesus in their arms, Luke tells us that two very old and honored God-followers stepped out of the crowd that day and proceeded to make, what was supposed to be a quiet little ceremony, into one big event. So big, in fact, that Luke makes sure to tell us about it here in his gospel, which means, ‘yes folks…pay attention.’ This is one important story to remember about this God-man named Jesus of Nazareth!
As I see it, I believe Simeon and Anna to be God-directed signposts at the corner of Old and New. Two honorable saints who represent all of God’s people who have gone before them. A pair of covenant-keepers who had faithfully followed in the footsteps of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A man and a woman of God’s own choosing who demonstrated the very best of all God had done from the earliest days of Abraham to the days of Jesus of Nazareth.
Yet, in many ways, Simeon and Anna represented much more than the glorious past. They were also there that day to be forerunners of the new work of God that was coming forth in the birth of Jesus Christ. Just think of it. No longer would men and women who love God be required to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to perform their ancient rituals of worship. From this point forward, both Jew and Gentile who desire relationship and reconciliation with the God of the Universe can have an open door into the Holy Presence of the Divine through the sacrificial peace-offering made by that impoverished little son of Mary and Joseph. The One we today call Lord and Savior of all.
Makes me wonder if God is looking for similar people in this day and age to stand at the corner of Old and New, looking for the second coming of Christ to this world. Men and women, like Simeon and Anna, who will willingly wait in “prayerful expectancy” for the return of Jesus which will once again transform society as we now know it.
Even so come, Lord Jesus, come!
My prayer: Thank You, Father, for preserving the stories of Simeon and Anna. In them, I find a great reassurance that all You had been doing prior to the birth of Jesus found great meaning and fulfillment as You poured out this ‘new’ work of salvation. Today, Holy Spirit, may I be more and more like these saints of old, who learned the fine art of waiting in prayerful expectancy for the ‘new’ work of Christ as He returns to earth a second time. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: As I see it, the heart-warming stories of Simeon and Anna have great meaning in our day and time, here two thousand years after the birth of Christ. If indeed we might be living just prior to Christ’s second arrival to earth, what might my ‘waiting in prayerful expectancy’ look like in my life?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Ignatian Adventure?
Over an eight month period, you and I will be working our way through the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. For more information on our journey and how to begin…click here!
To go onto the next journal entry…click here.
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