Though most people still wait for COVID vaccines, by December 27th our liturgical Advent waiting will be complete. As we move beyond the nativity story, what do we learn about Jesus and his family in this week’s Scripture passage? We firstly see that like their cousins Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph demonstrate their faithfulness by naming their son with the name that the angel Gabriel had previously given them. Joseph and Mary also take great measures to follow Jewish law in three ways: they have Christ circumcised eight days after his birth, then they later trek to Jerusalem for Mary’s purification, as well as for the firstborn dedication of Jesus.
In addition to highlighting their faithfulness, Luke 2 also clarifies that Joseph and Mary are from humble means. Yet Luke makes clear in verse 24 that “the law of the Lord” accommodates their modest offering; their “pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” still demonstrate their righteousness.
Jesus and his family follow in the footsteps of other righteous Jewish families like Hannah, Elkanah, and Samuel in 1 Samuel 1-2, as well as Elizabeth, Zechariah, and John in Luke 1. In each of these families, the child’s extraordinary birth is foretold beforehand, we learn about the child’s dedication and/or circumcision, and others proclaim blessing in response to the child’s birth. For Luke, the parallels are intentional. From the beginning, the devout parents of Jesus steep him in his Jewish tradition, and by the end of today’s reading, Luke tells us explicitly, “[Mary and Joseph] had finished everything required by the law of the Lord”(verse 39).
As we move through Luke 2, the birth of Christ makes expanding waves. Righteous Simeon and prophet Anna tell us so themselves. Well, to be accurate, only Simeon speaks directly. In a Gospel that has already given women capacious airtime, why does Luke leave out Anna’s words, even as he affirms that she’s a prophet?
Luke mentions the practices as well as the words of Simeon and Anna. How did these two faithful people recognize that Jesus brought “salvation”(verse 30) and “redemption”(verse 38)? Did Anna’s fasting, prayer, and worship help her to discern that Jesus was no ordinary child?
Luke tells us three times that the Holy Spirit guided Simeon. What did Simeon’s “looking forward to the consolation of Israel” and blessing of Mary look like, minute by minute, and in the flesh? Did it involve kneeling, pacing, and/or sitting still? Did this blessing involve oil, laying on of hands, a warm embrace? We can only imagine, and perhaps that’s the point.
This week’s lectionary passage, saturated in ritual and tradition, invites us to consider the rituals of our own lives. How do we use our bodies to heighten our discernment of the Holy Spirit? If salvation and redemption were to appear in our midst, how would we know?
It’s probably not a coincidence that these verses from Luke, verses of ritual and blessing, have inspired bountiful poems, songs, and writings:
- The Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon and Latin for “now let depart,” is an ancient ecclesial song. Art & Theology has a video of a gorgeous sung version by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
- Check out the poems “Song for Simeon” by TS Eliot (scroll down to find it; no need to download anything), and a more contemporary poem, “Anna” by Julie L. Moore published just this month at Vita Poetica.
- The Seven Sorrows of Mary, which start with Simeon’s admonition to her, may resonate with those grieving this year. Joyce Rupp has written a thoughtful book on the topic.
How could we weave these poems, songs, and writings into our own contexts? What rituals may we create in response?
Melanie Weldon-Soiset, a #ChurchToo survivor, served as a pastor at a nondenominational church for immigrants in Shanghai, China, and preached regularly at a United Methodist congregation in Washington, DC. She’s now a poet and contemplative prayer leader. Follow her blog, and/or sign up for her newsletter on poetry and prayer resources, at melanieweldonsoiset.com.
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