The Gospel for the first Sunday of Christmas, and Feast of the Holy Family, has a notably cross-generational cast. A new-born child, a young mother, a (by tradition) late middle-aged father, and a notably old woman, and a man self- confessedly anticipating his death.
In their encounter they find fulfilment of past promises and anticipate the fulfilment of their hopes for the future (and the cost at which these will come).
When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, – observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:
‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,
just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared for all the nations to see,
a light to enlighten the pagans
and the glory of your people Israel.’
As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’
There was a prophetess also, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.
When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.
Such cross- generational gatherings are probably rarer than once they were. The commercialising of leisure and the pressures that lead to the fragmentation of families and communities work against the easy mutual encounter of old and young, employed and unemployed or retired.
Churches are maybe in a privileged position of being focuses for such meetings and the sharing of wisdom and experience for the benefit of the health of communities.
The present invitation by the Bishops for spiritual discernment on family life will surely be assisted by opportunities for individuals to have their personal experiences and reflections contextualised by hearing them contextualised by those of others.
- How often do you have the opportunity of reflecting on key aspects of your life with some notably different to you in terms of age and experience?
- How many of your regular acquaintances are like you? How many unlike you?
- Where do you get your understanding of how life is for those who are unlike you?
Photograph of carving In Perspex of the Presentation in the Temple, a detail of the Rosary Triptych by Arthur Fleischmann. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.