After Christmas Day , our celebration of the birth of Christ focuses on family. Consider a Scripture reflection by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. This content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here Franciscan Gospel Reflection December 27 2020. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photo: Rembrandt_-_Simeon_and_Anna_Recognize_the_Lord_in_Jesus_-_WGA19102.jpg (1000×1252) (wikimedia.org)
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,” and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
While the gospel text includes Simeon’s and Anna’s responses to Jesus being brought to the temple in Jerusalem, the focus is on the Holy Family—Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In the alternative shortened form of today’s gospel, the part that includes Simeon and Anna is held back. The same long version text for today is read for the feast of the presentation on February 2.
The gospel text presents a picture of the faithfulness of Joseph and Mary. In the first verses of the second chapter of his gospel, Luke tells his community that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be enrolled to fulfill the decree of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-5). Just as Joseph and Mary are faithful in fulfilling the command of the civil authorities, they are also faithful in fulfilling their religious requirements of purification. In this text, Luke states five times that Joseph and Mary are acting to fulfill the law (verses 22, 23, 24, 27, and 39).
This faithful home of Joseph and Mary is the home in which Jesus will be raised, and he will grow not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually. Following this gospel text, Luke will also recount the occasion when Mary and Joseph found the “lost” Jesus in the temple. (Luke 2:41-51) While many have tried to fill in the missing details of Jesus’ early life, the early Christians would have had access to those who would have remembered Jesus’s early life. While the early church did not choose to record all those accounts, they include these incidents. This text is an important window into the family and the early life of Jesus that deserves our attention.
The Jews believed that blood contained a life-power, belonged to God, and was sacred. Therefore, it was kept separated from the mundane things of life. When that separation was not preserved, the people and the object that came in contact with the blood needed to be ritually purified. Naturally both birth and death became the focus of purification practices. A second belief within the Jewish tradition was that the first-born son belonged to God. Therefore, an offering was made to God as a way to acknowledge God’s claim on the child.
- What stories are told about your early family life? What do those stories say about what was important to your parents and grandparents?
- How much did their values influence how you were raised?
- As you remember that experience now, are there places where you are grateful, and other places where you experience anger or disappointment?
- In what ways has the pandemic affected your family life and its connection to the holy family?
- Being more aware of the importance of your family, what insights do you have on the impact that Mary and Joseph had on Jesus?
- Can you name some of the things Mary and Joseph gave to God by accepting God’s invitation to become the parents of Jesus?
- Can you talk to God about choosing to bring Jesus into the world through the welcome of Joseph and Mary as their son, or perhaps about your hopes to be a place of hospitality for God’s presence in your own life?