Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family by commemorating a very family thing: the naming of their child, which was done according to Jewish custom as Mary and Joseph were devout Jews. (Luke 2:22-23) It’s worth noting here that, for the occasion, they offered ‘a pair of turtle doves’ as a sacrifice in the Temple. This is the offering prescribed for those of more humble means: Mary and Joseph were of the lower economic class; Jesus was born into a poor family. The Good News of this season is not about the rich and powerful, nor is it directed at them. In this story marking the naming of Jesus, there is no mention of High Priests, nor Temple Officials of any kind, nor any members of the Sanhedrin … but only of two unknown people of steadfast faith who are never mentioned again in the Gospels; they disappear into history without trace, as is the lot of all the poor.

In the Temple, as they went about the rites associated with the naming of their child, Simeon, one of these otherwise unknowns, takes the child in his arms and starts prophesying over the him. Three times we are told that he is led by the Holy Spirit. (Luke 2:25-27) In Judaism, prophecy had always been attributed to the Holy Spirit. (Numbers 11:25-29) So, all that Simeon says and does here is to be understood as under the influence of this Holy Spirit. Simeon’s testimony is corroborated by Anna, that other unknown in this story, who as a prophetess must also be thought of as speaking under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Of her it is said: ‘She began to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.’ (Luke 2:38) These are all nobodies, like Anna and Simeon themselves, who represent the largely unknown faithful, those ordinary people of faith like you and me, who in the face of all the world’s troubles continue trustingly to place all their hope in the Lord, waiting on him alone to fulfil their hope. (C.f.: Luke 2:25) In some senses, Simeon and Anna fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor’ (Isaiah 61:1) — a prophecy Jesus will later take to himself as he began his mission. (Luke 4:16-21)

The Good News is directed at those ‘poor in spirit’ who remain faithful to God in times of difficulty as well as in good times; it is they who can receive it … in the form/under the sign of a helpless child. (C.f.: Luke 2:12) In taking the child ‘in his arms,’ Simeon does just that: he receives the Good News, something we are all called to do. His action is a prophetic fulfilment of the hope of all God’s poor little ones (Luke 10:21); he is indeed among those blessed by the Lord. (Matthew 5:3. The ‘anawim,’ those powerless poor whose only hope is in the Lord) For, in the child he sees the long-awaited Messiah, just as he had been promised he would (Luke 2:26), though as a child of poor parents the fulfilment still remains largely as a hope. (C.f.: Luke 1:66) We are called to receive the Good News of our redemption in Jesus in just the same way (C.f.: Luke 2:29-32); in the crucified one we are called to embrace a sign that is just as helpless (c.f.: Matthew 20:25-28) as a little child wrapped in swathing bands. (C.f.: 1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-24)

The Good News, however, does not always come as easy news. (C.f.: John 6:60) Simeon gives voice to a prophecy that is in essence a repeat of God’s Word given to the prophet Isaiah to say to King Ahaz. (Isaiah 8:14-15) When Isaiah spoke that Word, it caused offence and division. So here, what Simeon’s Word is telling us is that the Word-made-flesh in Jesus will likewise cause division: there will be some who will not understand (C.f.: Luke 2:35; Mark 4:11-12), whereas for others he will seem the answer to their prayers; Jesus’ advent will provoke a crisis bringing darkness to one side and light to the other. (C.f.: John 1:4-5; Exodus 13:21-22; 14:20) The division Jesus causes will separate even those of the same household and causing grief between us, and we who can see will have to walk on, leaving those others behind. (C.f.: Luke 6:14-16; 11:29-32; 12:51-53; 17:34- 35) We who welcome the Christ must expect to have to bear some grief of soul in accepting the Good News and following our Lord (Luke 2:35. C.f.: Romans 9:2-3); following the Lord is not without its cost. (Luke 14:26ff) The question, then, becomes for us: Are we willing to pay it? (Luke 2:35. C.f.: 8:11-15; 12:34)

By Dom Steele Hartmann OCSO