Sunday Within the Christmas Octave, A.D. 2001
God's New Chosen People
The Gospel this morning is a little out of chronological order -- it refers to the events that took place when Mary and Joseph brought the child Jesus to present Him in the temple on His fortieth day, something that we will celebrate in greater detail on Candlemas, which falls of February 2nd. It seems, though, that the Church is trying to establish the idea in our minds that the very birth of Christ marked a definite transition between the Old Covenant and the New.
Simeon and Anna are prophets of the Old Covenant. Simeon is an old man -- a devout Jew, awaiting the restoration of the Jewish nation, who had been promised by the Holy Ghost that he would not die until he had seen the anointed Savior. A few verses prior to what we read today, he held the Christ child in his arms and recited the famous canticle:
Now Lord, Thou mayest dismiss Thy servant,
"The waiting is over Lord, You can send me on my way." But not before revealing that our Lord would be a momentous force for change in Israel; that in many ways His message and His whole life would contradict the prevailing wisdom, setting unexpected new standards to measure the usefulness of one's time on earth; and that contradictions in His own life would be matched by deep sorrow in the life of His holy Mother. Even if it was not then yet clear exactly what would happen, it was clear that the times had changed.
Anna was, likewise, an old woman. After losing her husband she spent many years in the temple in prayer and fasting. Her first act after meeting the Infant Jesus was to go out and proclaim Him to the others whom she knew to be waiting for the Redeemer of Israel. The centuries of waiting had finally ended -- redemption was at hand.
Saint Paul's Epistle to the Galatians teaches substantially the same. The old Law of Moses is over with. It had served its purpose, teaching morality and ordering the worship of God until the promise to Abraham could be fulfilled. Paul compared it to the legal fiction of a "Trust." Until the inheritor arrived and reached maturity, his people were held to an awkward set of rules -- rules that could be broken easily enough, but which never returned a dividend in grace. The people of the Old Covenant were essentially trustees or servants hired to administer God's kingdom on earth. But with the Redemption of Jesus Christ, all this has changed -- the servants have the power to become sons and daughters of God. They may call upon God as "Father" or "Abba," a term that probably translates better as "Dad" or "Daddy."
The Church presents this transition from the old to the new early in Her liturgical year so that we may keep it in mind as we see it play out in seasonal Masses between now and Pentecost.
The Old Testament records the beginning of God's plan for mankind. In it God revealed Himself exclusively to the Jewish people through Abraham and his descendents, and through Moses and the prophets. In the New Testament we see God's plans coming to their intended conclusion, and involving the entire world. Salvation is no longer the prerogative of a tiny ethnic group sacrificing bulls and goats in the temple at Jerusalem -- with the coming of Christ it has become the prerogative of all who will believe on faith what God has revealed through His divine Son, who are washed with the saving waters of Baptism, and offer the unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass on altars throughout the world.
On a personal level, we would do well to recognize the graciousness of God -- to recognize that there is no more valuable gift than the extension of His "chosen people" to include all of us -- and to accept us not merely as hired servants but as the adopted sons and daughters of God, Whom we are privileged to call "Abba."