The Irvine Tartan ē My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
I have presided at the Churching of Women only once in my ministry as a parish priest. Thanksgiving After Childbirth itís called and itís reminiscent of the Feast of the Purification. Forty days after the holy birth, Joseph and Mary, with Jesus in arm, went to the Temple Mount in obedience to the Law.
We know it as the Feast of the Presentation, and when Jesus was redeemed according to the Law. As their first-born, Jesus obligated Joseph and Mary to observe the customary rite after the prescribed waiting period of forty days. On the eighth day, Jesus had been circumcised and given his name. Now came the time for his redemption: a gesture of recompense reminiscent of the Exodus and the deliverance that touched each Jew.
The day now dawned on another oppression and deliverance was once again in the hearts and minds of the children of Israel. Simeon was such a child, and on this occasion he met the dutiful parents and the infant in the Temple precincts.
The encounter may well have appeared accidental, even coincidental. However it may have appeared to Joseph and Mary, and to others standing and jostling in the crowd, Simeon paused on a personal note. In his old age, he had frequented the Temple Mount and had given expression to his faith. He was a child of the covenant and knew the promise of God in a personal way. Simeon had reflected on the word of God, he had studied the Torah. He had given expression to God in praise and thanksgiving. His had been a life of doxology. And now he had discovered an infant.
His beard muffled his words. Had Joseph heard him correctly? Had Mary caught the phrases? They may have been words spoken to himself, reminding him of what he had hoped for and what he had just seen. In any event, Simeon saw first an infant wrapped and cradled; and beyond that he saw what God had done to save his people, Israel. And more than that, foreigners would see it too.
Simeonís epiphany is a culmination of the Holy Birth. Having eyes to see, he sees! He sees a babe, and in that gift of new life, he recognizes hope and salvation. That hope for him is a spark in a dark age promising light, a light for all nations. His sense of Godís redemption spanned generations and drew together the Dark Age first under Pharaoh and now under Caesar. This power of God enlightens us all, he affirmed. But the honour? What of the honour? The Contemporary English Version translation challenged me when I read the Nunc Dimittis in an unfamiliar phrasing. The Prayer Book phrasing had led me to understand that this child would be the glory of Israel. Jesus was the one glorified. Hmmm. Simeon suggests a change in focus.
In this light, I began to see a long shadow cast over generations of Christian faith and worship. Seldom has honour been brought to Israel. Israel has been held with disdain. Our suspicion, our fear and distrust, our envy and our faithlessness have allowed us to discover Jesus, keeping him to ourselves selfishly and graspingly while at the same time dishonouring the source, the very womb of our salvation. We have held in contempt the antecedents of him we have come to call the Christ, the Messiah. And in this insipid faith we diminish the power of God in our lives by our limiting our honour to His people, Israel.
Our honour of others is to be in spite of alternative choices made by others; our honour of others is because of Godís choice of them, as His people, Israel. Simeon could die, in the knowledge of Godís favour and promise fulfilled.
© 2001 James T. Irvine