Feast of the Holy family
December 31, 2017
Mary and Joseph arrived at the temple, not unlike any typical Jewish couple of the time. They are following the law of the Lord. Notice that the offering they are bringing is a pigeon or a turtledove, the offering of the poor who could not afford the much more expensive customary lamb. Yet here is the irony: while not being able to secure a lamb, Mary and Joseph bring the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
Anna recognizes Jesus for who he really is when she encounters him. How does she do this? That she was in the temple at just the right moment was no accident. Scripture says that, as a widow of many years, she was always to be found in the temple area. She has made herself available to God. She would not have been in the temple itself, of course, but either in the court of the women, the court of the gentiles, or the portico of Solomon, a beautiful colonnaded area for sitting and gathering that surrounded the temple platform on three sides.
Anna also carries the temple of the Lord in her heart. Most of us are unable to be constantly in church or the adoration chapel (like Anna), but all of us can aspire to keeping Jesus company, that is, inviting him in and making him feel welcome in the temple of our own hearts; and here, Jesus will speak to us in the scriptures, the church, and in the circumstances and events of our daily lives. Anna, then, is a sign to us of the insights and help that Christ will give us if he is welcome within our soul.
Simeon, by contrast, just happens to be in the temple. He has received a word of knowledge from God that he would recognize the messiah before he died. But how could he have possibly anticipated seeing the messiah as a baby, looking like any other? Simeon is a righteous man, and on this day God has arranged for Simeon to be at the right place and at the right time, and with the inner vision to recognize at that moment who Jesus really was, and his family as well.
It is from Simeon that Mary and Joseph first learn that Jesus will be rejected, and that Mary, his mother, will have so very much to suffer as a result of her “yes” to the angel Gabriel nine months earlier. Indeed, she already has: being forced to travel a far distance when nine months pregnant, having to give birth in a cave, having Joseph threaten to divorce her before he understood.
Anna, then represents the fact that God wishes to always dwell in our hearts, so that he will help us recognize his actions and will in our daily lives and encounters. Simeon, on the other hand, represents that quality of openness to God’s will that may come only a few times in our lifetimes, when God has arranged everything for us: those times when we must be ready and recognize what God has for us in an extraordinary way. Both ways of perceiving God’s will and acting on them are the normal and regular life of prayer and action in the faithful Christian life.