After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’ Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Christmas is a time for doing things that while not ‘stated in the law’ are certainly familiar traditions. These may be like second nature to us and seem perfectly ordinary. But put yourself in a different family over the Christmas period and you soon find that there is suddenly a very different set of traditions. Sometimes these feel like improvements to the festival while other traditions are not something you will ever warm to.
The Holy Family went to Jerusalem to do what was expected after the birth of Jesus – making a sacrifice to God. Yet in doing so they are faced by Simeon and Anna who have other ideas. Anna praises God for what will come. Simeon embraces the Child and gives thanks. This is what he has been waiting his life for – a celebration that brings together the one person who will change his world – change the whole world. There’s a lot to be said about being brought together in extended families, interacting with a wider fellowship or engaging in a different set of traditions. Sometimes we can encounter differences that cause us discomfort or distress – relationships that are destructive or painful – and these give us desire to ‘depart in peace’. But at other times we can be embraced by those who know we are part of a changed, improved and lifegiving future. We may be brought into new traditions and new ways forward – not just for these to be done to us but for us to become part of forming new and changed futures.
Old traditions, familiar though they are, can always be improved, and new light can shine and worlds can be changed if we embrace the new in our midst. What new traditions may our lives need when faced with the incarnate Christ?
Master God, reveal your new light to me. Help me to see how you will change my actions. Help me to be a catalyst for change. Guide me into new ways for your kingdom. Amen.
The Revd Dr Matthew Prevett, Chaplaincy Coordinator, Newcastle University