The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas
(I John 2:3-11; Luke 2:22-35)
Fifty years ago Dutch theologian Edward Schillebeeckx wrote a revolutionary book entitled Christ: The Sacrament of the Encounter with God. In this work the author showed how Jesus in the flesh signifies God’s love for the world. The humanity of Jesus then can be legitimately called a sacrament – a visible sign of invisible grace. The idea sounded almost heretical at the time but is now accepted as a valid way of considering Christ’s redemptive work.
In the gospel the visionary Simeon sees the infant Jesus as “a sign that will be contradicted.” He too recognizes that Jesus manifests God’s redemptive love for all. But he has the insight to realize that the sign will be rejected by some. Indeed, Jesus will become the test for the world. Anyone who accepts him or, at least, his commandments of love of God and love of neighbor he proclaims will find salvation. Anyone who rejects him or his message will be lost. Simeon’s reference to the sword piercing Mary seems to include her in this test.
Often we dwell on Simeon’s words to Mary as prophesying Jesus’ death on the cross which she witnesses in John’s gospel. However rich for some that way of thinking is, we do well to ponder the prophecy as a matter of acceptance or rejection of Jesus as sign of God’s love. We can take note that Mary passes the test brilliantly. She is the first to follow Jesus by meditating on the events of his birth and acting on them. In doing so, she provides us an example for this Christmas week.