A priest and performer considers religion, the arts, and the often thin space between sacred and secular, church and culture, pulpit and pew.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Fifth Day of Christmas: December 29 (Luke 2:22-35)

On the fifth day of Christmas, God’s true Love gave to me…

…a glimpse into Mary’s own heart as she begins to understand what has been asked of her.

Mary is the mother of our Lord. An angelic visitor had told her just who her son would be; she could hardly forget that, given the shepherd’s adoration at his birth, and neither can, or should, we. Yet today, now that her time of uncleanness is over, she and Joseph present themselves and Jesus, a first-born son, in the Temple in Jerusalem. (The church celebrates this event as the Feast of the Presentation on February 2, but today we get the story in the sequential gospel readings for Christmas week.) This was a common practice, and a requirement under the Law; all parents of sons would do this. For Mary, its sense of routine and ordinariness might be comforting. Yet out of the crowds in the temple comes a man named Simeon, full of the Holy Spirit, who’d been promised by God that he would not die prior to seeing the Messiah. This stranger takes the infant Jesus in his arms, praises God in the beautiful hymn we’ve come to know as the Nunc dimittis (“Now I am dismissed in peace….”, a canticle second only in importance to the Song of Mary – Magnificat – for the Church). Basically, Simeon is saying that now he can die a blessed man. And Mary and Joseph are “amazed”. Even in these crowds of people, their son is singled out and recognized by a total stranger as the savior of Israel and a revelation to all the nations. And Simeon’s cryptic words – that Jesus will be “destined for the falling and rising of many…and a sword will pierce your own soul too” - will likely come back to Mary as her firstborn grows into manhood and begins to fulfill his mission: a mission that will be divisive among families and friends, and will take her to the foot of his cross as she witnesses his death.

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