by Fr. Tommy Lane
It had been a long, very long time for Simeon as he waited for Jesus. Then Simeon, a righteous and devout man, had the singular privilege of taking the baby Jesus in his arms (Luke 2:28). He held the baby Jesus close to his heart. As he held the baby Jesus close to his heart, he held the answer to his hopes and the hopes of Israel, the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25). He held in his arms, as he said, the glory of Israel and the light of the Gentiles (Luke 2:32). The glory of God was seen in the form of a cloud a number of times in the Old Testament, on Mount Sinai (Ex 24:16), in the Tabernacle in the desert (Num 9:16-18), and when the temple in Jerusalem was consecrated (1Kings 8:10-11). But now Jesus is the glory of Israel, the revelation to Israel. Before now, Judaism had a partial glimpse of God by means of a glory cloud, now everyone can see the glory or revelation of God in the baby Jesus. Simeon also says Jesus is the light. Up to now the big light in the temple was the giant menorah or lampstand, but now Jesus is the light and not just lighting up the temple but to give light also to the Gentiles, to enlighten and brighten the whole world. Simeon’s very long wait has come to an end with Jesus the fulfillment of Judaism, the glory of Israel and the light of the world, in his arms.
Simeon and many other devout Jews had very good reason to hope that God would do something for Israel. In the prophets we see critique after critique of the Jewish priests. The prophets said the Jewish priests had forgotten God’s law and had abandoned God. Even the office of the high priest did not escape corruption. Around the 170’s BC the direct line of succession of high priests going back to Aaron was broken forever. Despite this mess, the first reading from Malachi (3:1-4) gives hope for a renewal in the priesthood and that renewal is promised to take place when the Lord, the messenger of the covenant, comes to the temple. Malachi says the Lord will refine the Levite priests, refining them like gold and silver, until they will offer a sacrifice pleasing to God (Mal 3:3-4). Malachi sees in prophecy the priesthood of the New Covenant, the high priesthood of Jesus referenced in our second reading (Heb 2:17). But how will Jesus refine the priesthood of the Old Covenant so that the priesthood of the New Covenant can offer a sacrifice pleasing to God? Jesus offers the one perfect sacrifice that suffices for all time, the priestly sacrifice of himself on the cross, to take the place of all the Jewish sacrifices in the temple. When Jesus consecrated the apostles during the Last Supper and said to them, “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19), Jesus shared his priesthood with the apostles and their successors and their assistants the priests. Now when they celebrate the Eucharist in memory of Jesus, we are spiritually present and benefit from the one priestly sacrifice of Jesus that suffices and atones for all time before God.
Another visit of Jesus to the temple sheds more light on this when Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers. The moneychangers facilitated the collection of the tax for the morning and evening sacrifice a of lamb every day in the temple and when Jesus overturned their tables, this could be seen indicating that there is something much better coming than the daily atoning sacrifice of a lamb. Jesus did offer something much better, the table of the Eucharist. The table of the Eucharist replaced the table of the moneychangers. Malachi’s prophecy of the Lord entering his temple and refining and purifying the Jewish priesthood was fulfilled by Jesus in ways unimaginable beforehand, the priests of the New Covenant, sharing in the one priesthood of Jesus, offering the sacrifice of the Eucharist. In Mal 1:11, which unfortunately never made it into our lectionary but has made it into the text of Eucharistic Prayer III, Malachi promised that from the rising of the sun to its setting, i.e. from east to west all over the world, a pure offering would be offered to God. That pure offering is the Eucharist offered by priests of the New Covenant all over the world celebrating the one perfect priestly sacrifice of Christ. Simeon and devout Jews looked to the consolation of Israel, and now in Jesus in the arms of Simeon that consolation has arrived, and Jesus the glory of Israel and light to the Gentiles will fulfill their expectations in ways never imagined.
Simeon took Jesus in his arms, close to his heart. Jesus was the fulfillment of all Simeon’s expectations. Jesus is the fulfillment of all our longings and hopes also. We can take Jesus not only in our arms close to our heart, but into our hearts as we contemplate his words to us and receive him around the table of the Eucharist in the pure sacrifice offered from the rising of the sun to its setting.
© Fr. Tommy Lane 2016
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