30 December 2007

The Old Man's Strange Blessing

The following is an excerpt from the sermon preached today at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church. Using the propers for Gregorian Use parishes in the Western Rite Vicariate, the sermon is based on the Gospel reading for the Sunday within the Octave of the Nativity of Our Lord.

Now as this devout just man holds the child and blesses God, he then blesses the holy Child’s parents. This blessing is as unexpected as it is strange. For who blesses a foster father when he could bless the true Father? And who blesses a mother after he has called her child the Lord’s light and glory? Yet St Simeon blesses St Mary and St Joseph—but which such an unlikely blessing. For the old man’s blessing is that their child is not destined for greatness, as men count greatness. For His greatness will not consist in defying death, but in embracing it. And His notoriety will be achieved not by consolidating power, but by refusing to exercise His overwhelming strength. And His victory will be sealed not by conquering but by being conquered. But above all this, the saint’s blessing is that this holy Child will win over hearts by leading them not to pride, but to humiliation; not to earthly riches, but to poverty; not to great praise, but to ridicule; not to a life of ease, but to suffering; and not to length of days, but to certain death. Yet this leadership will attain more than anyone could ever imagine; and achieve greater riches than any man could ever hope for. Yet His way—both where He leads and how He leads—His way will be so paradoxical, so against the grain, so contrary to our survival instincts, that He will be the most despised and rejected of men. And so, says the pious old saint, this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted.

Yet there is more to the old man’s blessing. To the mother he flatly declares, “Thy own soul a sword shall pierce.” And so she also shall not escape suffering, but will grieve as she sees these things come to pass. For which mother, even when she knows how it all ends, wishes to see her son, her only son, endure the ridicule, the spitting, the suffering, the shame? Yet this is her blessing. Not just because an old man said so. But because in his words she sees coming together the glory the angels proclaimed, the joy the Forerunner showed, the sacrifices the Magi offered, the blessings that her once mute and barren relatives declared. For the blessed Mother sees what old man means: that her Child will not go the way of famous men, by rising and then falling. Rather, in her Son’s fall, many shall rise; in His humiliation, many shall be exalted; in His suffering, many will achieve glory; and in His death, all men shall find life.

So in St. Simeon’s words, the Blessed Virgin Mary sees the death of martyrs, the endurance of confessors, and the willing sacrifice of virgins. In that blessing, she sees the Church arise. For she understands and perceives, she knows and believes, that in her Son is the salvation of all men. In Him, all the seeming contradictions become the way of Truth. In Him, all that we are prone to resist become the way of Life. And in Him, all that she suffers—and all that we suffer—become the way to glory. Yet Mary sees and knows that all these things come to be not simply in what her Son does or says, but in Him; that is, in His Body. For those incorporated into Him—in His flesh and in His bones—they shall never be wanting but shall receive what they have hoped for. For in Him all men shall both die and rise; die to self and rise to true life. For that is this holy Child’s destiny—to die all men’s death so that, in Him, all men might live life to the fullest.

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