Love is compassionate and caring: it flows freely, a never-failing Stream that refreshes and sustains all those it encounters.
told by Deborah
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought the baby Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as the Torah states: “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and to offer an appropriate sacrifice: “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
In Jerusalem there was an upstanding and devout man named Simeon, who lived in hope of seeing Israel’s restoration. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would live to see the Lord’s Messiah.
Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came to the temple when the parents brought in the child Jesus, and Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, “Lord, I can now die happy, because I’ve seen Your salvation — which You have prepared for all humanity: lighting the way for Gentiles and Jews, too.”
The child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.
Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be dismissed and ignored by many — which will reveal their true character. Even your own soul will be sliced open and examined.”
There was also a prophet, Anna, a heaven-sent messenger descended from the tribe of Asher. She was an old lady who had been widowed after seven years, and was now eighty-four. She was a fixture in the temple, worshipping and praying there night and day.
She approached the family and began to praise God; and from that moment on she told everyone who looked for the redemption of Jerusalem about the child.
After they accomplished all that was necessary according to the law of the Lord, they went back home to Nazareth in Galilee.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and God’s grace and blessings were upon him.
“What a good baby!” The phrase was repeated with a tender smile over each infant, every time. I was accompanying my friend, a home health nurse, on her rounds as she visited new mothers and their babies, doing health checks, coaching breast feeding, and generally making sure that everyone was safe and well.
“Why do you always say that?” I asked her when we stopped for a break, “Why do you say that every baby is ‘a good baby’?”
Dianne looked at me in shock, nearly spilling her coffee, “Because they are!” She shook her head in disbelief, “All babies are good babies!”
“Yes, well,” I stuttered a bit, “I.. I’m not saying that they aren’t. I didn’t mean that some are good and some are bad, I was only wondering why you always said it.”
“After all,” I continued, delving for shreds of self-justification, “A couple of them were pretty fussy. Not particularly…” My friend was scowling at me. Wisely, I shut up.
“So. When you’re having an off day, you are no longer a ‘good’ person?” Dianne asked.
Wisely, I remained silent.
“It’s important for parents to realize that their children are good — and it’s good for the babies to know it, too,” she continued thoughtfully, stirring sugar into her coffee. “It builds expectations; sets intentions; gives encouragement to the parents. Saying that won’t fix problems, but helps to frame how people think of themselves and their kids: ‘My child has been declared “a good baby” — by a professional.’ As opposed to ‘a problem child,’ or a ‘difficult’ one. Or,” she frowned at me, “A ‘fussy baby.’
“So much of life is about attitude.”
I was reminded of Dianne’s philosophy when reading this Scripture passage, particularly the part telling us that “the child’s parents were amazed at what was being said about him.” Why would they be amazed? After all, this was the holy infant the angel promised to Mary; the blessed child revealed to Joseph in a dream. How could any of these remarks have been even remotely surprising?
Perhaps it was because the little fellow was crying or irritable (considering what had just been done to him, that certainly wouldn’t be surprising!); perhaps this behavior made them question whether Jesus was genuinely a “good” baby. Maybe they had expected that the promised Messiah would be charming and sweet-tempered from the day of his birth. Maybe they were beginning to have some doubts.
Or it may have been that the new parents were simply exhausted, overwhelmed, uncertain, and frightened. Here, in their midst, a helpless child had been delivered into their care. Perhaps they wondered if they were really up to the task.
And that’s when Simeon and Anna stepped in.
Each was seeking the Divine in a particular way: Simeon’s yearning for the restoration of the kingdom of Israel; Anna’s desire to dwell constantly in God’s Presence, sheltering in the temple, night and day. On that day both were granted what they sought, although not in the ways they anticipated.
Drawn to the temple by the Spirit, Simeon encountered the holy family. It was an epiphany: not only did he recognize Jesus as the messiah, Simeon was also gifted with an understanding of the Lord’s mission: not for the Jews only, but as a light to the Gentiles, as well. God’s kingdom was going to be greater, more expansive than he had imagined. After this, nothing further need be said or done: life was complete and completely glorious; he felt that now he could die happy.
Anna, too, experienced an epiphany that day; seeing the divinely-sent messiah, there in the midst of the temple. It was no longer a hope, but a certainty: the kingdom of God had come near and, from that moment on, she proclaimed that good news to all who longed for the restoration of that kingdom.
Both Simeon and Anna were inspired and encouraged by that encounter in the temple — just as, in their own way, they must have inspired and encouraged two other souls who had come there that day. In their recognition and blessing of the Holy Child, these faithful people affirmed Joseph and Mary’s decisions and beliefs. And I suspect that, in their hearts of hearts, those two each breathed a little sigh of relief.
It was a big responsibility they had undertaken — an enormous one, in fact. And, in going forward, it would take strength and courage and unshakeable faith. That doesn’t come easy; not in the midst of living life in this world. It’s complicated here, filled with stresses and challenges — not least of all for a young family just starting out. Who was this little stranger who had been sent to live with them? Were they up to the challenge of raising him? Would they be able to guide him, to teach him, to care adequately for him? On an immediate note: what could they do to make him stop crying?
(Babies, especially when you’re new to the business, can be downright scary.)
Dwarfed by the size and awed by the majesty of the temple, shuffled along by religious officials, overwhelmed by the noise and the crowding, Joseph and Mary were a pair of small country mice on their own in the big city. And then two kindly folks showed up — older, and wiser, and genuinely caring — and, instantly, they were part of a community.
Love is like that. It shelters and encourages, blesses and lifts up. Too often love has been misidentified as romance — fleeting passion that can wither like cut roses, when it is something far greater. Love is compassionate and caring: it flows freely, a never-failing Stream that refreshes and sustains all those it encounters. It is never selfish or self-aggrandizing, never stingy or scheming. Love, as another has written, is patient and kind.
Anna and Simeon were embodiments of this holy, transforming love: love that inspires, uplifts, and encourages those it encounters. Why on earth would we imagine that Joseph and Mary would not need love and encouragement? They were human beings called to an extraordinary work, with extraordinary responsibilities: to nurture and raise up Jesus, our Lord Christ.
Like Joseph and Mary, we, too, have extraordinary responsibilities. We have been called — invited, summoned, or challenged, whatever term you choose — to be bearers of the Light of Christ, embodiments of divine love. Simply. Gently. In our everyday lives.
We are called to the work of love, and we are in need of that love. We need to be kind to one another, and to ourselves. Life is complicated and often confusing; we all have known doubts that disturb and distress us, experiences that intimidate and overwhelm us; we all need reminders that we’re on the right path. We need to remember that God’s very own Self declared us to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
This does not mean that we are faultless or free from responsibility to right conduct — rather the contrary. People judge the Lord Christ, based on us. We carry His name, and are, therefore, guardians of His reputation, embodiments of His love.
May Christ’s grace and healing love abound,
Recognize and celebrate the goodness and grace (and challenges!) in the lives of all those you meet. And always: love one another.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no account of wrongs. Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-8