27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God…
We’ve had a week to digest the Nativity Feast. The magic of Christmas finds its way into even the most resistant of souls because it comes so unobtrusively and with such openness, vulnerability, and without the slightest demand. Our souls leap almost involuntarily in the presence of the Incarnation. In it, we see our true selves mirrored in the true One who comes to greet us with complete delight.
One Christmas text (Year C) tells of Simeon in the temple. With Simeon, our souls leap for joy as we hold Jesus in our hands. To hold the One who holds us is the mystery of this day. It is no accident that Simeon is in the temple, which is the sacred center of his people. It is the place where God is worshipped, infusing life with new meaning, but it is also the place that represents all the ways we use God to sanctify our deceptions.
In holding salvation, Simeon rejoices and realizes he is now free to depart. When we find ourselves in the presence of God, life as we know it, with all our striving, is no longer necessary. While some of us strive by grasping for what we cannot obtain, others strive by withholding what we fear to lose. It is the same thing. In Christ, we are not only free to live, but also free to die. This is what Simeon teaches us.
Persuaded by unbounded goodness, Simeon then turns to Joseph and Mary and helps them understand that the gift he holds in his hands will cause the rise and fall of many-and will even pierce their own souls. Salvation is free, but it is never easy to accept, especially for a fearful humanity clinging to its own wounds. There is no salvation without the piercing. What is being pierced is not the true essence of who we are-God has nothing but blessing for the true self. One way to understand what Simeon called “piercing” is to recognize what happens when Jesus begins to touch the wounds that have come to define us in such deceptive and destructive ways. These wounds go deep and are usually formed at such an early age that we hardly recognize them, or we’ve organized our lives to protect them and avoid them. They rule us at deep levels.
Jesus comes to free us from our habitual, addictive, over-identification with our own wounds-whether real or imagined. Such freedom first feels like a piercing and it scares the hell out of us. How else are we to explain the “rising and falling”?
Allow me (Kris writing here) to speak a bit more personally to make the point. As the youngest of four kids, one of my great wounds is the wound of powerlessness or at least the perception of being powerless. My perceived inability to affect change and get what I want has created an overinflated impulse to force, manipulate or cajole my way into getting what I fear I would not get otherwise. These behaviors are ruled by fears that lay beneath the surface of my consciousness. They are habitual. I am Jacob in this regard. He is my patron saint. The “piercing” is the awakening of this wound in ways that help me recognize how I have let this wound run my life. More often than not, there is the feeling of absolute terror at the thought of giving up my well-crafted strategies to protect the wound. Who will protect me if I don’t? When Jesus touches this wound in me, and gently but firmly calls me to live free of the wound, it feels very much like a piercing-perhaps worse, a crucifixion.
Like Kris (Scott speaking here), my family experience shaped my own experience of woundedness. As the oldest of ten children, I developed a powerful sense of responsibility, or at least perceived responsibility, that persists to this day. I didn’t get into much trouble, and when I did, I worked almost frantically to justify my actions. More often, I tried to keep others out of trouble or harm. One ordinary night at home as a boy, I happened to hear my sister in the next bedroom gasping. She was suffering a major seizure, and stopped breathing. She was okay in the end, but the cause was unclear. For months and even years, I awakened each night and sat in the hallway, listening for anything unusual about my sister’s breathing as she slept. Much later as a young man, I moved overseas to work among the poorest of the poor in an Asian slum. Amid the shacks in the squalor of open sewers, mothers would bring me their dying babies and beg me to save them. I was overwhelmed, aghast and grief-stricken that I could not. I began to unravel, crushed by the hopelessness I had given my life to alleviate.
But Jesus comes to remind us that we are not our wounds! This is our salvation. Yes, our wounds may shape us and, yes, we may have come up with perfectly reasonable strategies in our life to survive them, but we are not our wounds and we do not have to live lives that are run by them. This dynamic is true at a personal level, and even within communities and nations. We are free in Christ.
Modified Excerpt from “Meal from Below: A Five Course Feast with Jesus”
by Kris Rocke and Scott Dewey
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