A few months ago, on a rainy day, I left an umbrella at some friends’ house. They called to inform me that they had found the umbrella. When I returned to the house to retrieve the forgotten umbrella, I disturbed their three-year-old who had just been put down for his nap. When he heard my voice, he came running out of his bedroom. Inadvertently, I had provided him with an excuse to escape his afternoon confinement.
I felt guilty about being complicit in the toddler’s avoidance of a necessary routine. When I turned to leave, I tried to make amends with the parents by saying loudly enough to be heard by the toddler, “I’m going home now because it’s time for my nap!”
I had hoped that my announcement would inspire the toddler to return to his room. Instead, it inspired incredulity in his five-year-old brother. The five-year-old asked me, “You’re going to take a nap? Like a baby?” I responded, “Yes, like an old, tired, worn-out baby.”
Sometimes, the whole world seems old, tired, and worn-out. The pandemic has afforded everyone, even the young, with an unwelcome experience of mortality. Despite our wishes to the contrary, all of us face burdensome inconvenience; some have been confronted with mortal risk or a threat to loved ones. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could simply nap through the pandemic and wake when it has passed?
The Gospel offers an alternative to feeling burdened by life or wanting to escape life’s burdens.
In today’s Gospel reading, Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Holy Family attracted the attention of a hopeful old man who expected that God’s salvation was close at hand. Seeing the infant, the old man prayed aloud to God, “Now, Lord, you can let your servant go in peace, for I have seen your salvation.” (Lk. 2:29-30)
Apparently, even in infancy, Jesus had a transformative effect on those who encountered him.
The events in today’s Gospel are meant to foreshadow what was to come in Jesus’ ministry. His life unfolded to reveal him as “a light for the nations, and glory for Israel.” (Lk. 2:32) Those who, like Simeon, wait in hope for God’s salvation, still find Jesus to be a light for the soul and a reflection of God’s glory.
Over the centuries, numerous metaphors have been used to illustrate how Jesus is the Light of the world. One of those images recommends itself to our present circumstances.
Jesus is often described in the Scriptures and ancient Christian texts as being the source of new life. Very often, this image of new life is used to describe the effects of Baptism: by Baptism into Jesus’ death, we are raised to new life based on the promise of a share in his Resurrection. It should be clear now to everyone, including non-believers, that the world is in need of new life.
The birth of Jesus renews the youth of the universe. God’s favor, poured out in Jesus, heals a broken, tired world. Jesus’ birth makes all things new, even us, by giving us cause for hope. The hope inspired by Christianity is neither complicated nor obscure. It is the hope that every person wants but few attain. It is the hope that the world is a graced place, that human existence enjoys God’s favor, and that the limited experience of created blessings will eventually be given a perfect and limitless quality by God’s power.
At his birth, it was apparent to the hopeful that God’s favor rested on Jesus. God’s favor rests on the hopeful today, even though we live in a world that sometimes seems old, tired, and worn-out.