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Light and shadow: Imagine hearing Simeon’s words spoken over your infant

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How Mary must have gasped to hear such a prophecy...

Today is Candlemas, the day the Church blesses all of the candles it will use, for the whole of the year.

It is also the we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord. Christ is carried into the temple: Mary, the Theotokos (the God-bearer) carries within her arms the Light, which is immediately recognized and proclaimed by both man (dear Simeon, who gives us our great prayer before sleep) and woman, Anna (who I like to think of as the first female monastic). Their presence emphasizes for us, in a way, how truly Christ Jesus is — as the angels said at his Nativity — a light “for all the people,” from prophets to lowly widows.

And then there is Simeon’s great prophecy, made to Mary; one that as a mother, I can barely read for understanding how it must have sounded to young Mary. Imagine it. You bring your child into the temple and an old man praises God for your wonderful baby, and then tells you:

“…this child is going to be great, so great that the whole world will respond to his birth, and the response will never abate. And in that greatness, he will be the focus of tremendous love. And because he is great, he will also be the object of unfathomable hatred. He will be spoken against and contradicted — forever! Over him wars will be justly and unjustly fought. In his name men will justly and unjustly die. For his having come into the world, men and women will kill and be killed! And yet… over him great wars will be prevented or resolved. In his name, men will awaken from the sleep of the spirit and arise. For his having come into the world, men and women will perform great and lasting deeds of mercy, charity and unselfish love, which might otherwise never have occurred…”

How Mary must have gasped to hear such a prophecy. It’s one thing to internalize an understanding born of an angel’s words, but quite another to get it spelled out to you from another person. To hear such jarring words spoken about the tiny, sleeping child she held to her chest! Perhaps, at Simeon’s words, she held Jesus that much closer and thought, “Do not wish such awful things on my child, such terrible power and strife! He is my little boy…”

Her little boy, and her God. He is taken from her flesh, as Eve was taken from Adam’s — Eden is recalled here, in a reverse-mirror. The serpent told Eve the lie she wanted to hear; Simeon tells Mary (the New Eve) the truth she would perhaps rather not know.

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