Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our gospel we have three generations of people represented. First of all there are the newly-weds, Mary and Joseph and their pride and joy, Jesus, their first born; a young couple and their baby. They are eager to do everything right, even though they were poor in the eyes of the world. Then we have the older generation represented by Simeon and Anna, both well on in years, full of experience and patience. Yet despite their advanced age, they were people of hope and expectation.
It is interesting that we are told five times in the gospel about Joseph and Mary’s eagerness to fulfil “the law of the Lord”. This young couple had no intention of going it alone. They were like the people described in our Psalm, “O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!” They were obedient to the Law of God; they listened to the word of God spoken to them in the Scriptures and in their hearts. Their Son, Jesus, would later on proclaim that he had come not to do his own will but the will of the Father who sent him. We can see a ready obedience in the parents and in the Son – obedience, listening to the word of God and acting upon it.
Simeon and Anna had stayed close to God all their lives. Simeon, like Abraham and Sarah before him had been made a promise by God – that he would not die before he saw the longed-for Messiah. Even though it had taken almost his whole life-time for that promise to be fulfilled he continued to trust and believe. Anna spent her time serving God in the Temple, fasting and praying night and day. She was a prophetess; one who listened to God’s word and announced it to the people. Both were directed by and filled with the Holy Spirit, and it was the same Spirit of God who transformed their patience, their obedient listening to God’s word into hope and wisdom. It was these precious gifts that our elderly characters were able to share with the young couple. Both spoke of the child’s future mission and how he would bring salvation to all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, but not without pain and rejection.
Reflecting on this gospel Pope Francis said: “It’s good for the elderly to communicate their wisdom to the young; and it’s good for the young people to gather this wealth of experience and wisdom, and to carry it forward … addressing the challenges that life brings.”
So, we have had placed before us the idea of obedience – listening to God’s word and learning to act on it. We recognise also as Christians that we should not go it alone. We have the ways of the Lord to guide us and strengthen us in everything that we do. We have the assurance that God will fulfil his promises to us. Generations of people have gone before us and passed on their experience that hope in God is never disappointed. God never deceives us. Just as the older couple, Simeon and Anna, through the power of the Spirit, offered hope and wisdom to Mary and Joseph and their new-born child, so there are today spirit-filled people who will do the same for us, if we expect and listen.
The celebrations of Christmas and of today’s Feast of the Holy Family are great sources of hope for us. We see how that hope for salvation has been passed from one generation to the next. And as we reflect on this we are given the opportunity to recognise how God’s promises have been fulfilled in our lives and how we can pass that same hope on to others, especially the next generation. Once again, Pope Francis expresses this so well. “We have inherited this hymn of hope from our elders. That hope was rewarded when they encountered Jesus. When Mary let Simeon take the Son of the Promise into his arms, the old man began to sing – celebrating a true ‘liturgy’ – he sings his dreams. Whenever (Mary) puts Jesus in the midst of his people, they encounter joy.”
Yours in blessed hope,
Bishop of Middlesbrough