December 30, 2015
In today's Mass readings, as we move beyond Simeon's reflection in the Gospel, things get even more cryptic...or maybe just out of context.
Here is today's gospel, a nice little non sequitur:
There was a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee,
to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.
Now where does this information come from? What does it mean? Who is Anna? And come on, who is Phanuel? "Phan-is-with-us"? Is this verse even from the New Testament? The Bible? I don't remember this at all...
Wikipedia humorously offers this:
From these three verses in Luke, the following is known of Anna:
- She was a prophetess.
- She was a daughter of Phanuel.
- She was a member of the tribe of Asher.
- She was widowed after seven years of marriage (her husband is not named).
- She was a devout Jew who regularly practiced prayer and fasting.
- Luke describes Anna as "very old." Many Bibles and older commentaries state that she was 84 years old
But scroll down a bit, and we find this: "The prophetess Anna and Simeon the God-Receiver are revered in the Eastern Orthodox Church as the last Old Testament prophets."
That's crazy! After the birth and presentation of Christ, we no longer needed prophecy; Christ is the Fulfillment and Fulfiller of these prophecies.
When Christ broke into our world in all His baby-ness and God-ness, he shattered the division between hopes and reality. He was the "perfect [Christmas] present," everything we could have wished for and hoped for.
Is this how we receive our Redeemer? Or has that term lost its meaning in our hearts?
See the joy that Anna and Simeon express! Simeon poetically declares that since he's seen the fullness of life in the flesh, he is ready to pass into God's presence in the life to come. Anna "spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the renewal in Jerusalem".
Was this Christmas everything you had hoped for? If so, great! Odds are, however, it probably wasn't. You may not have felt fulfilled at all. But don't forget to give Christ your "imperfect present," your here-and-now, your broken heart, your hardened heart, your end-of-the-year-and-I-didn't-fulfill-all-of-my-resolutions malaise.
Father Mike (who I got to see as he celebrated Christmas Eve Mass in our shared hometown of Brainerd, MN!) explains the necessity of receiving Jesus into our "imperfect present" much better than I can here and here (longer version).
I pray that all of us would truly celebrate this Christmas feast octave party extravaganza, because the value of Christmas comes from Christ's perfection. In response to His perfection, we don't have to be perfect (though we ought to try), we just have to say, "Thank you."
Praised be Jesus Christ.