Today’s Mass reading describes when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to “present Him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22-35). While Mary and Joseph certainly “marveled” (i.e. “to be filled with wonder”) over many things during their lives with Jesus, today’s reading describes the only use of the word “marvel” in the Gospels associated with Mary and Joseph.
What caused Mary and Joseph to marvel?
The righteous and devout Simeon, an old man, is filled with the Holy Spirit and takes Jesus in his arms. Simeon says:
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about Him. (Luke 2:29-33).
It is moving, but why would Mary and Joseph be filled with wonder?
- When Simeon offers his Nunc Dimittis (Latin for “now dismiss”: “now let test thou thy servant depart in peace”) , what he is saying is “God, now that I have seen this child, I can die in peace.” Imagine the day when you might say, “God, I’m ready, you can take me now.”. This alone is a big deal.
- “My eyes have seen your salvation”. As pious Jews, Mary and Joseph recognized that the “salvation” that Simeon was describing was prophesized by Isaiah 700+ years earlier (Is 40:5; 46:13; 52:9-10) and that their son Jesus was the object of that prophecy.
- “A light for revelation to the Gentiles.” Another 700 year old prophecy from Isaiah (Is 42:6; 49:6) that would have caused great wonder.
Reflecting on this passage, we too should be filled with wonder:
- What could it be like to have your child be identified by a holy person to be the fulfillment of prophecy?
- Thinking of a 700 year old prophecy is mind boggling to our modern minds, for we live in the relatively young country of the USA. 700 years ago was the 1300’s, the Middle Ages. Imagine a prophecy from the Middle Ages being heralded as coming true today.
- Jews had been anticipating the Messiah for generations; it was deeply embedded in their minds and culture. Finally, the Messiah had arrived! And Jesus is the Messiah! There would be a rush of unprecedented emotion and excitement.
- Here is something that astounds: Jesus, Himself, as God, is preexistent with the Father since the beginning (John 1:1). Jesus, Himself, was the one who gave the prophecy to Isaiah in the first place! And now Jesus, the little baby, is fulfilling the prophecy. Simply amazing.
- Simeon’s 2000 year old prophecy about Jesus being the Messiah who is a light to the Gentiles has actually happened! At every Mass there are “Gentiles” (and certainly many Jews) who are in Mass, celebrating the Light of the World!
One of the great strengtheners of faith, is the use of our intellects to grapple with the “facts” of scripture and the many prophecies described in the Bible that have come true. Marvelous!