The Baby Jesus was brought to the Temple for the event we call the Presentation, forty days after His birth. The Church often celebrates this event on February second. Today also, the Sunday after Christmas, we ponder the prophetic words of Simeon that point forward to what lies ahead for this Babyís life: ďBehold, this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be spoken against Ö that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.Ē This may not sound very Christmasy. Yet this past week was Saint Stephenís day and the day of the Holy Innocents. Both of these are martyrís days. How shocked we are by the words of Simeon depends on what we have thought of Christmas.
Simeon shows us a Jesus who reveals what is really in peopleís hearts. Their response to Christ is actually their response to God. Have they rejected Christ? Then they have rejected God. Have they welcomed and received Christ as their only Savior? Then they have received God. This is not surprising to us, since we know that Christ IS God. But a person also cannot do a sneaky maneuver where they avoid Christ but they believe in the Father or in a generic god. The Father and the Son are one, to the extent that one cannot come to the Father without coming through the Son. It is Christ or nothing.
Likewise, it is not enough to have a Jesus. One must have the one and only real Jesus. People may have all kinds of jesuses which are not actually the One born of Mary. No one gets to God through a counterfeit jesus. A personís feelings toward an imaginary jesus do not make him real. Only those who trust in the real Jesus have the true God.
In this way, Christ reveals the thoughts of many hearts, by showing whether people truly believe in God or not.
In another way, He revealed what is in our hearts when He suffered on Calvary. So many people think that they are basically good and loving at heart. But look at the Cross. Look at the agony of the Son of God suffering hell for mankind. Does it look like He suffered for people who are basically good and loving? No, He suffered for people with hearts filled with vile uncleanness. In this way also, He shows us our hearts.
Simeon also calls Jesus ďa signĒ. A sign in Scripture usually means something that contains and conveys what God is doing and giving. At the same time, a sign often hides under what appears to be its opposite. When we hear a word of God that tells us the meaning of a sign, it requires us to listen, to believe, and to receive. For instance, the shepherds were told that a Baby was the Savior who is Christ the Lord. They went and found the Baby, believing the angelís words, and received Jesus as the One who was exactly what the angel described.
Simeon received a word from God that promised that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. As Simeon grew older and older, he might have been tempted to doubt. Yet he clung to the promise, in spite of the long wait for its fulfillment.
When the sign of Maryís Baby came to the Temple, Simeon rejoiced. The Baby Jesus was a sign that contained the meaning that this was the Savior, but also the meaning that Simeon would die. Both death and salvation were conveyed by the little Baby. In faith, Simeon looked at his life and death through the gracious sign of the Christ Child. So he was able to depart in peace. Christ was a sign of Simeonís death and salvation, or as his own words said, falling and rising.
But Simeonís prophecy was not only for him. He was speaking to Mary at the time. She was told that her Child was a sign of her falling and rising. Mary had to learn that she had a Son, yet she did not have Him. She was really His mother, yet sometimes He would not be like other sons. His path was different.
To her, the sign of the Baby meant that she would suffer loss. To some extent, all mothers might have to lose their children. But Christ specifically was born to die. He was placed in Maryís arms only temporarily. God already had a date set when Christ would lay down His life. Simeon told her of a sword that would pierce her. At the foot of the Cross, her heart was pierced.
So Mary had to receive the sign of the Cross while she was crushed with sorrow. Yet the sign pointed to salvation and life, the opposite of what it looked like. She had to fall in the lowliness of loss to be also raised up by the sacrifice of her Son.
It is much the same for us. We must be pierced in heart in repentance. We must experience lowliness. We do not rise up to God, as if we could make ourselves worthy. Instead, He pushes us down so that we are able to receive Him. There must be falling and rising.
Many people do not want to be pushed down to lowliness. They refuse, because it is an insult to their pride. They want a jesus and a god who will deal with them the way they want, without upsetting their honor. Such people will eventually fall, but not rise. They will be humbled in judgment, without salvation.
Mary fell when she was crumpled up by tears at Calvary. Yet she did not reject the cruel sword that went through her soul. So she fell, but also rose, like Simeon.
Many in Israel did not want the lowly, weak Messiah who suffered. He did not meet their self-honoring purposes. Many spoke against the sign of the Man whose throne was the Cross. Those who refused to fall in humility stumbled and fell forever.
It is always going to be either falling and rising, or only falling. It all depends how we receive the sign of the Child of Mary.
When God deals with us, we are shown for what we are. When God deals with us, the thoughts of our hearts are revealed. If we cling to our thoughts and to our insistence about God and what we think He must produce for us, we are undone and remain under judgment. If we are shown what we are and come clean in repentance, we receive the gifts of salvation that raise us up. These gifts come in the unlikely sign of the infant in Simeonís arms, the sign of the Man dying on the Cross, the sign of the bread and wine. We fall in repentance. We are raised by forgiveness and given life. We receive the Body and Blood of Christ hidden in the lowly sign of bread and wine. The Body and Blood are conveyed by this sign whether we believe it or not, whether we fall and rise or fall only. As Godís messengers revealed the true meaning hidden under the sign of Maryís Baby, so Christís Words of Institution reveal what is hidden under the sign of bread and wine.
Simeon embraced the Savior in the sign given to him, the sign of the Baby that brought Simeon both death and salvation. We embrace the Savior in the sign of this Sacrament where the thoughts of our hearts become clear. This sign means death to us in our self-affirmation and our demands of God. It means our rising, for we are joined more closely with Christ and share His life that no sword through your soul nor anything can destroy. All this we rejoice in as we join in the Song of Simeon after the Sacrament, rejoicing in the Savior in whom we have our falling and rising, our departure and our salvation.
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