Reflection for Sunday – December 31, 2023

Readings: Sirach 3: 2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3: 12-21; Luke 2: 22-40 
Preacher: Sr. Barbara Moore

In Jesus’ day, the concept of family was in many ways more expansive than it is today.  Often families lived close to or with each other; loyalty and roots were deep. 

Betrothals (engagements) and wedding feasts were carefully planned and joined families together. John’s Gospel shares with us the joy and problems of the wedding feast at Cana, and Jesus often used a wedding banquet as a symbol for the Kingdom of Heaven.  Weddings also appear in his parables.

 But we do not have any mention about the wedding of Mary and Joseph after Joseph’s encounter with the Angel.  Does that seem strange or was Joseph making efforts to keep Mary’s pregnancy very quiet to protect her?  Matthew tells us that, “Joseph took her as his wife.”  They appear to be a small family of three but an extended family of many.  Our Gospel this weekend shares the story of the family fulfilling their obligations as parents of a Jewish son.

Think of the burden they faced both economically and effort wise, to make the trip to Jerusalem, and to stay as the text says, “until they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the Lord.”  Just the size of Jerusalem and the Temple itself must have been a unique experience and rather overwhelming.  The text also tells us that their roots after this ritual, were to be in Galilee in the town of Nazareth.  As you may remember a town that was not deeply admired.  “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

But it is two older people Luke introduces today who speak about the role of this child and his destiny. Simeon and Anna had a great deal to share.  Most of us, when we were baptized have no memory about the event.  It usually was done on a Sunday afternoon.  Our parents asked members of their families to be our godparents.  But there was no one there to state what we were destined to be.  There were hopes and joy to be sure, but the future was unknown.  

Through the words of Simeon and Anna, Luke shares with us what his community already knew and believed.  This child, Simeon says, “is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel…”  Luke’s community knew this was true.  They were living it.  Mary was forewarned of heartache and suffering, and Luke’s community, sometime in the ‘70s, also knew the truth of this statement.  Simeon proclaims that the child would be a “light to the gentiles” and Luke’s community and Luke’s Gospel were focused on the Gentiles who were a growing presence in the new Christian community.

Simeon’s wisdom is enhanced by the presence and words of the prophetess Anna. She “came forward and spoke about the child to all were awaiting the redemption of Israel.”  Her family is named which indicates her status.

Families these days also have high hopes for their children.  But when we think about the Middle East, we know that, so many suffer awaiting the release of their family members who are hostages.  Parents see the starvation of their children and the effects on their families of civil wars, droughts. and conflicts.

Our families are very different today from Jesus’ day but many are so similar in their commitment to one another and the healing they can offer in the midst of their sufferings.  Often the older voices of grandparents and friends walk with the parents in raising and support of their children.

Returning to Nazareth, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus joined their extended family. They assumed their daily lives and we are told in the Gospel that the child grew in “age and wisdom.”

This Sunday and this feast offer us a wonderful gift—to thank God for the many positive gifts our families have given us; to forgive our and their weaknesses; and to support the families around us as we assist others guiding their children to grow in “age and wisdom.”

Sr. Barbara Moore, RSM
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