A Candlemas Homily
The holy prophet Malachi urges us to be ready when “the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple.” But that day is not today. That day will come, but not today. Today Our Lord comes into His temple quietly, without fanfare, as an infant. To fulfill a law that does not apply to Him. And it does not apply to the Virgin Mother. Because Our Lord’s birth was not a cursed birth where the womb was opened with bloodshed. And so, both boy and mother do not need to be purified and sanctified. Our Lord with His holy mother enter the temple, then, not because they must, but because He wants to be seen as the light of God living in all humanity; that is, the salvation prepared for all peoples, languages, ethnicities, and nations.
So today, exactly forty days after His birth, the Blessed Virgin and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord. It is a joyful day, a day of thanksgiving. For Mary especially, the joy and thanksgiving exceeds the joy and thanksgiving of any other mother. For she holds in her arms God Himself in the flesh. She carries the One who will carry and bear and take away the sin of the world.
Yet notice how they celebrate—by killing animals, by sacrificing pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. What a strange way to show joy and give thanks! Yet the sacrifice is not just some ancient custom they mindlessly do. These sacrifices point forward to the way the Lord’s mercy, help, and salvation comes. By His later sacrifice and death, coupled with the putting to death and sacrificing of our ungodly desires, our fears and self-serving ambitions, everything that we think matters more than this tiny Christ Child—that is the path of our salvation; the way we will gain what we lost.
Into the temple, then, the Holy Family goes to perform a duty that is not required for them; a sacrifice that does not purify but that anticipates the purification of the entire world; a sacrifice that makes holy everyone washed in this Child’s blood. Truly, then, this is for us a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.
And who is there waiting for Jesus and His parents? It is Simeon, a just and devout man. He was waiting for the Consolation of Israel, the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Simeon is there because it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
Notice the juxtaposition of the old man and the divine Child. Just as Our Lord Jesus comes to the temple, Simeon comes by the Spirit into the temple. God comes to the old man, and the old man goes to greet God. The old man will cradle God in His arms, just as God will embrace and hold fast the old man.
As Simeon enters, he is full of anticipation and expectation. For He eagerly looks forward to beholding not simply the fulfillment of some ancient promise, but the actual salvation and mercy of God embodied in this nursing infant.
Learn from old St. Simeon. He not only knows that the Lord sticks to His Word. Simeon also knows where that promise is kept, where his heart’s desire is given, where his longings and expectations come true, and where he can latch onto and cling to the God and Savior that he so desperately desires.
But don’t just learn from Simeon. Imitate his faith and confidence. For what Simeon hopes for and sees comes true today, right in front of your eyes. By entering His temple in this place, the same Christ Jesus stands before your eyes. Here, in this place, you also Behold the Lamb of God, you also behold Him that takest away the sins of the world. And so also, if you can believe it, if your mind’s eyes are opened to see this Light of the world—you also get to cradle here, in this place, that same Christ Child, that same God and Savior, not only mentally or emotionally, but really and truly as He speaks through His ministers, and even more so as His flesh and blood are placed in your mouth.
Imitate the eagerness, the longing and the joy of Simeon. He is moved to take the baby Jesus in his arms and bless God. Yet what a strange blessing Simeon speaks to God. He says, “Lord, now I can die in peace. For just as You said, my eyes now see Your salvation.” What does this mean? It is as Simeon is saying this:
“O Lord, no longer do I pin my hopes to a promise I cannot see or a wish I hope for. Salvation is now alive and real, before my eyes, in my arms, ready for me to partake. For salvation is this Child who is the only-begotten Son of God. And just as the priests prepare the Lamb for sacrifice, in this way Thou hast prepared Him before the face of all people. For He comes to the temple, the place of Holy Sacrifice, to be, for our salvation, ‘a pure victim, a holy victim, a spotless victim, the holy Bread of eternal life, and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.’ So now I can rejoice that our Lord is here and that His sacrifice is eminent. And in His sacrifice, this Jesus is the light that reveals Thy grace and kindness to all nations. And in His blood, He shows that is the glory of Thy Israel, Thy Church. In Him, then, I greatly rejoice. For He is everything I hoped He would be, the salvation I have desired.”
What a blessing Simeon speaks. And in it, we see true worship. For Simeon takes the Lord at His Word. The old man does not know how it will all play out, but he is confident that this Child is the Father’s sacrifice prepared for the salvation of all mankind. And with that he is content—to the extent that he now longs for death. Not just because he has seen it all, but because he now holds in his arms the Life of the world. And when you hold to Christ the Life of all the living, death no longer has a hold on you.
Imitate, then, the worship of St. Simeon. Take to heart the Word Our Lord speaks and gives to you. Take in the Christ Child as He places His own flesh and blood within your flesh and blood. Receive Him as He comes to you, as He makes good on His promise, as He keeps His Word. And then relax, knowing that the Lord has made known to you also His salvation, and revealed to you the glory which is His sacrificed Son; to whom with the Father in the Holy Spirit belongs all glory, honor and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.