Promise and Purpose

This week’s Gospel is one I have always been deeply interested in. The story of Simeon and Anna and the Presentation of the Lord, on which we meditate in the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, is full of rich, spiritual lessons. It is highly appropriate that such an event—perhaps so easily overlooked in the larger story of Jesus—should be the object of our meditation.

There are many ways to go about unpacking this mystery, but I’ll limit myself to just two themes: Promise and Purpose.

The first thing to note about Simeon is that he was already about the task of growing in holiness. We are told he was already “righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2:25). This is the description of a man with a deep and abundant prayer life, who was already in step with the Lord’s will for his life—as is evidenced by the fact that the Spirit of the Lord had revealed that he would see the Messiah before dying.

Simeon had not planned to be there that day, per se, but neither did he idly stumble upon the fulfilment of God’s promise to him. He had gone to the temple in Jerusalem, the holiest site in the world to the Jewish people for centuries, “in the Spirit” (Luke 2:27). He was led there, and he encountered the Christ, the Messiah of God. In this one moment, Simeon’s life of prayer and waiting, and God’s promise to him—and to Israel—were brought to fruition. 

Giving thanks, he praised God aloud for the arrival of this child at that moment. Saying, “according to your word,” (Luke 2:29) in his joy to God, he accepts Jesus as the answer to the promise God had given him privately. More than that, he declared that Jesus was God’s salvation for his people Israel. No small praise for one so young, and his foretelling of the “rise and fall of many in Israel (Luke 2:34) is almost as chilling as his words to the child’s mother, Mary, that a sword would pierce her as well on his account.

Next we read of Anna, who was quite aged and a prophetess, but also deeply devout, worshipping “night and day with fasting and prayer” (Luke 2:37). I’m sure she might have overheard Simeon and recognized, too, that what was said of Jesus was true. She stepped forward and gave praise to God. Clearly, the very object of her prophecy had come, and she made it known to everyone who was hoping to see Israel redeemed or renewed.

For Simeon, Jesus was a promise—in fact, the thing that kept him alive. For Anna, Jesus was a purpose—the reason to go on living, even at 84 years of age and long a widow.

When Simeon beholds the child Jesus, he is joyfully dismissed from his God-given charge to wait and watch in the Spirit for the promised Messiah. Meanwhile, Anna’s life had become nothing more than dwelling in the house of God in prayer, worshipping, and testifying that the time of Israel’s redemption was coming.

To both, however, Jesus is the answer to generations-long hope.

For us, as well, Jesus is the release from lifelong searching and the sending forth with the message of an answer to every longing of humanity, the aching of each human heart.

If we don’t, perhaps, experience him as these things, recall that Simeon and Anna had long been about the business of making God’s presence the absolute focus of their lives. On the other hand, if we don’t experience Jesus as the satisfaction of the aching in our hearts and souls, or maybe we don’t even recognize the aching for what it is, we haven’t yet done the work of sitting in silence, in deep contemplation about the nagging and perpetual sense that we just don’t have all we feel we want in this life.

Consider the Presentation of the Lord an invitation to go back and visit the Nativity, the birth of Jesus. Dwell upon Jesus’s own purpose to exercise and embody God’s great, great love for us and God’s own promise to save us from our sins. Where better to embark on this mission than our own Chapel of the Nativity?

Like Anna, let us come to Him in that holy place, night and day. Like Simeon, let us come and wait upon His word. Let us imitate their great intimacy with God, that we may share in their experience of finding in Christ all for which they longed.

David Dunst
Director of Music and Liturgy


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