I love the figure of Anna, the prophetess in the temple in the Gospel of Luke (2:36-40). She usually is paired with Simeon, whose story we heard yesterday and last Sunday and will her again on the feast of the Presentation on February 2nd. But today (December 30th) she gets a whole day to herself. You’ll recall that especially the infancy narratives in the Gospel of Luke are all about the fulfillment of promises, and especially the canticles of Mary, Zechariah and Simeon from the Gospel of Luke are chock full of images from the Hebrew Scriptures that are brought to their completion, their fulfillment in this story of Jesus’ birth.
For the longest time theologically I was sort of obsessed with the Spirit, both the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God––the spirit that is power, the spirit that pervades the universe, the spirit that is the source and the summit in whom we live and move and have our being, and also that indefinable part of ourselves that we sometimes call our spirit, the deepest part of our own being beyond all name and form, the cave of the heart. But that has slowly shifted. Now I seem to be totally obsessed with the Incarnation. And that of course is what we celebrate at Christmas––yes, the birth of Jesus, but really the Incarnation of God. Or maybe I should make that more specific: What I’ve been fascinated with is the Word-made-flesh.
From today on (December 19th) we’re going to hear nothing but the Gospel of Luke until Christmas. As you know, Mark and John don’t even tell the story of Jesus’ birth. All of the images that we have around Jesus’ birth (which, one must admit, contradict each other sometimes) are from Matthew or Luke. I spent a lot of time with the infancy narratives of Luke, so it’s the one I like the best because it’s the one I know the best.
We had our Advent Communal Penance Service here at the Hermitage Tuesday night. Besides the fact that our Constitutions call for us to do those twice a year, I just love the fact that we do it. We do one on the Wednesday before Holy Thursday as we are about to enter the “strongest” liturgical days of the year, the Triduum. And we do it on December 16th, the evening before we begin that last strong period of Advent with the singing of the O Antiphons. They are like that little moment before the Sprinkling Rite each evening when we pause and do an examination of our conscience: I think it is good that we take seriously the call to conversion, ongoing conversion.
Both of the readings that we had today (Monday of the 3rd week in Advent) cause us to reflect on the nature of authority, especially, of course, on the nature of spiritual authority, religious authority. Suddenly out of nowhere we get this reading from the Book of Numbers (24:2-7, 15-17a) and the prophet Barlaam gets held up to us as an example, as a prefiguring even of both John the Baptist and Jesus. All of them in their own way––Barlaam, John the Baptist and Jesus––are challenging legitimate authority figures, challenging those who have been given positions of authority, rank and privilege within their communities. All of them are challenging the status quo, the accepted way of seeing things and the normal way of ordering life.