February 2, 2020
Deacon Bill Hough
Forty days ago, we celebrated the great feast of the birth of Christ. Now, as the Jewish custom proscribed in the Book of Exodus, Mary is presenting her firstborn son to God. Firstborn male children belonged to the Lord and were to be taken to the temple so that parents could ransom them back with money – in this case with the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. It was also a rite of purification for Mary after the delivery of her baby.
So, as she was faithfully following the law, you can imagine her surprise when Simeon, a man she doesn’t know, takes Jesus in his arms and starts praising God and proclaiming Mary’s son as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel.”
God had promised Simeon that he would not see death until he saw the Messiah, the Savior of the world. In his proclamation he is sharing with all people that – here He is – the visible sign of God’s saving presence.
As Simeon held Jesus in his arms, you can just sense his feeling of peace and consolation as he is holding his Savior. Now everything is going to be alright. For Mary, also, these words of Simeon would have been of great comfort to her. They confirmed what the angel Gabriel revealed to her at the Annunciation.
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of David his father, and He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of His Kingdom there will be no end.”
But then, Simeon begins to speak directly to Mary, and the message to her doesn’t seem quite so joyful. Jesus is “to be a sign that will be contradicted – and you yourself a sword will pierce.”
St. John Paul II called this the second Annunciation. In the first Annunciation we have the revelation of the great Messiah. In the second, we get a clearer picture of what this will mean. The message of Jesus will bring about turmoil. The sword foreshadows the violence of the crucifixion where Jesus will literally be pierced by a sword on the Cross.
In this second Annunciation, Mary is invited to participate in everything – the glory and the sorrow that comes from following Christ. She does – and it seems almost without questioning. She is right there at the Cross when almost everyone else has run away and denied or betrayed her Son.
You know, the Gospel message is always about Jesus. In the past, this feast was called Candlemas recalling Simeon’s proclamation that Christ will be a light to the world. We are always called to be like Jesus, bringing His compassion and unconditional love to the world around us. He gives us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist to strengthen us for this task.