2 February 2020 This homily was never delivered in liturgy, but simply prepared for this use while I am on vacation in France.
Malachi 3, 1-4 + Psalm 24 + Hebrews 2, 14-18 + Luke 2, 22-40
The Law for the Hebrew people (Leviticus 12) commanded that a woman who had given birth to a son should not approach the Tabernacle for 40 days; after which time she was to offer a sacrifice for her purification. By another law, every first-born son was to be considered as belonging to God, since the first-born sons had been spared in Egypt. They were to be redeemed by a small sum of money. With this historical context clear in our minds, we can dig deeper into what Luke is revealing to us in these verses today.
It is the first visit of Jesus to the Temple, and in Luke’s Gospel, there will be others. Think of it this way: on this first visit it would seem that the Temple sanctifies and redeems Jesus. On the last visit, it is Jesus who sanctifies and purifies the Temple as he proclaims it to be the House of God, House of Prayer, driving out money changers and others who made profit from the Temple. In some ways it seems odd that this one conceived without sin, who is Blessed among women would need to be purified, and that the one who has come to set us free from slavery to sin would himself need to be ransomed in this ritual way. But this odd arrangement of things is exactly what Luke wants to put before us shaking off preconceived ideas about how God should work and opening us to the new wonder of a Divine plan that does not match our human ways and expectations.
The hour has come for Emmanuel to take possession of his Temple. Two remarkable and memorable figures emerge from the commotion of that busy Temple. Mary and Joseph cannot have been the only ones observing the law that day. It was a busy place, a meeting place, a place of commerce and exchange as well as a place of sacrifice and prayer. We could get an impression from the later story that it was more about commerce and exchange than sacrifice and prayer. It had to have been noisy not just with the sounds of buyers and sellers, but with the animals themselves caged for purchase and eventual sacrifice. Out of all that comes these two, Simeon and Anna. They are for us representatives of the Old Testament, longing for and waiting for the Messiah, and they unite their voices to celebrate the happy coming of the child who will renew the face of the earth. What I find remarkable is that these old people whose eyes dimmed with age are able to see in this child what others cannot and will not see in the years to come.
Eighty-four-year-old Anna begins to speak about the child to everyone who was looking for the liberation of Jerusalem, and you wonder if anyone is listening to an old lady who is there every day. Then old Simeon steps up. Some traditions suggest that he was blind. Yet, he can see something no one else can see. He proclaims this child to be “the light and glory of his people.” Then, he gives back to Mary the child she is about to offer to the Lord. The two doves presented to the priest, who sacrifices them on the Altar, are the price of the ransom paid. The whole Law is satisfied. This child is set free now to proclaim liberty to captives, and sight to the blind.
My friends, today is the Feast for Light for those of us who wait in prayer and fasting. Some hide in the darkness because of shame or guilt. We do not want to admit the truth of our lives even to ourselves, let alone others. It is the things we have not done that often matter the most. Often, we live in a night of fear not knowing what will come next or how we can handle it. A sense of powerlessness lurks around us. A black hole of sorrow and grief can suck the life and light out of our world. There is the darkness of ignorance and confusion making us blind to our own goodness and identity as God’s children.
The light we proclaim like Simeon today reveals mercy and forgiveness in the shadow of guilt and shame, presence and courage in the night of fear, compassion and hope in the black holes of sorrow and loss, a way forward in the blindness of ignorance and confusion, and life in the darkness of death. The flame of God’s love consumes the darkness. It fills us, and it frees us to go in peace just as God promised. We have seen salvation, and Simeon’s song has become our song.