"We remember that the Lord said himself, I am the way. And just now when the gospel was read, we heard how the old man, the blessed Simeon, had received a divine response that he would not taste death unless he had first seen the Christ of the Lord. When he took the infant Christ in his arms, and recognized how great this little one was, Now Lord, he said, you are letting your servant go, according to your word, in peace, since my eyes have seen your salvation.
So let us proclaim the good news of the day from day, his salvation; let us proclaim among the nations his glory, among all the peoples his wonders. He lies in a manger, but he holds the whole world in his hands; he sucks his mother’s breats, but feeds the angels; he is swaddled in rags, but clothes us in immortality; he is suckled, but also worshipped; he could find no room in the inn, but makes a temple for himself in the hearts of believers. It was in order, you see, that weakness might become strong, that strength became weak. Let us therefore rather wonder at than make light of his birth in the flesh, and there recognize the lowliness on our behalf of such loftiness. From there let us kindle charity in ourselves, in order to attain to his eternity."
Augustine Sermon 190, 4
Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, When Mary and Joseph brought their son, our Lord Jesus into the Temple, according to custom, to make an offering for their son. The event is described in the Gospel reading of today. (Luke 2:22-40).
The history and origin of the custom is spelled out in Exodus 13: “Consecrate to me every first-born… for it belongs to me… you shall dedicate to the Lord every son that opens the womb; and all the male firstlings shall belong to the Lord. If your son should ask later on, ‘what does this mean?’ you shall tell him, ‘ with a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, that place of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed every first-born in the land of Egypt, every first-born in the land of Egypt, every first-born of man and of beat. That is why I sacrifice to the Lord everything of the male sex that opens the womb, and why I redeem every first-born of my sons.”
I can gather a commonality of two themes from this feast: Gratitude and Rest.
Gratitude is a tough topic to think about during an economic crisis, and financial instability. The Israelites came out of Egypt, and were faced with much instability, over the insecurity of their future. Would they find the rest they longed for? Many of them returned to their former ways, perhaps searching for a perverted continuity with their Egyptian prison. They did escape with their lives, but they also escape with some security of their legacy, when their first born sons survived the passing over of the Spirit of God.
I could also imagine the elder Israelites telling the young men, how easy they have it, after all, they do not have to worry about the spirit of God coming through and wiping out their children do they? When you fend for the very essentials of life, you have to begin being grateful for what you have. When the deception of consumerism drives us to buy more, and have more. Sometimes its as if consumerism is the new mystery religion, that promises initiation into esoteric knowledge, if we purchase the appropriate product. Perhaps, we get convinced that we will dwell in ecstacy with the right product, while blinding ourselves to the joys that surround us. For those of us who have children, that is something amazing to be grateful for, children are a blessing, and hopefully we have the courage to acknowledge that. Our own lives are a blessing, and let us be brave with hope, to live a life without regret, in accord with the plan that God has for us.
I think, in the deepest sense, its easier for us to be grateful when we have a moment of rest. Conversely, sometimes its easier for us to get lazier and more ungrateful when we have a moment of rest, at least I know it is true of me. The trouble is, with gratitude, we have to train ourselves to be grateful. We have to force ourselves to sit and reflect, despite the business. If we do not fight the urge to constantly work, we cannot experience the joy and freedom to give thanks without cease. Gratitude does not just magically come to us, it is a grace, that we must cooperate with. It is there that we will find rest.
Now, if we could only have a little more faith like Simeon, faith of seeing the work of the Lord with our own eyes, and touching it with out own hands. We can die without regret, and live the rest of our lives with gratitude and satisfaction. We are guaranteed death, and Simeon I am sure was aware of it. He could have the satisfaction of knowing that the Lord was working. HOWEVER, Simeon, had to look deeper. Our Lord did not appear with all sorts of special effects, smoke and mirrors, bells and whistles. Jesus did not show up with a theme song, an intro credits. Simeon would not have experienced the rest and gratitude if he did not open himself to the impossible. Security, stability? Sound impossible? I dare you to take a leap of faith, and see the freedom that happens as a result.