The old man held the boy, but the boy held the old man.
~ Antiphon from the
Feast of Simeon
Ritual is something of a dirty word in these days in which institutions and their traditions are in question.
There is, surely, good reason for the distrust that has grown around our institutions—all of them, our religious ones among them! Traditions and their rites are designed to bless society, to pass on life-giving mores and practices, to ensure that justice and equity and wonder and peace have a firm hold on us, that we progress in the ways that make for life to the full.
When they don’t, when they have lost their value, then a change is going to come. It must!
The tension, then, that we are presented with in these ancient texts is deserving of our attention. Here this family, with their child of promise, their child of revolution—the “consolation of Israel” is presented, and Anna and Simeon, representing all that has been, all that was, see in this moment what might be: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
How does a weary world rejoice?
I would guess
soul by soul
and day by day.
But if you ask me,
I bet most of it counts.
~Sarah A. Speed @writingthegood, December 4, 2021
How does a weary world rejoice? We root ourselves in ritual. In ritual, that is, that prepares us for what is to come, that opens us to the wisdom that holds us in our weariness, and that compels us to life abundant, no matter what must be sacrificed for it.
Enter into worship this Advent Sunday.
Readings: Isaiah 61:10-62:3 † Psalm 148 † Luke 2:21-38
About the art: Revelation. Lisle Gwynn Garrity. Acrylic painting on canvas with digital drawing. Inspired by Luke 2:21-38. Used by permission.
From the artist:
I wonder what Mary and Joseph expect when they enter the temple to dedicate their newborn son. This customary ritual quickly unravels into an astonishing scene. A stranger named Simeon pronounces Jesus to be a “light” and “revelation,” and his dying wish is fulfilled. A prophet named Anna also draws near to the child, praising God for the redemption he will bring.
Simeon and Anna’s words fill Mary and Joseph with amazement. But that can’t be the only emotion taking up space in the room. For Simeon turns to Mary, perhaps privately, to continue sharing his message: the boy will also become the cause of great turmoil, the catalyst for opposition. He will expose the inner thoughts of many. A sword will pierce her innermost being. The mother of God will grieve as she bears witness to the suffering of the child she birthed.
In this image, Simeon bestows his blessing and prophecy with the urgency of a man desperate to say everything that needs to be said before his time runs out. Anna looks off into the distance, as if peering into the future. Her devotion to God over the years has sharpened her gaze; she knows redemption when she sees it.
In the top left, I depicted Jesus’ hand being cradled by the hands of his parents. This tender moment is frozen in time, like a Polaroid photograph placed in a scrapbook. Mary and Joseph treasure their child as they receive the fullness of his calling. I imagine them memorizing each wrinkle and tiny fingernail, treasuring the smallness of a hand that will one day become a strong fist, fighting for justice for the oppressed and liberation for those held captive.
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