One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul.
Eric Holder, First Black Attorney General of the United States
Today is January 1, 2018 which marks the 155th anniversary of President Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation into law. This is the lesser known celebration for most since the news of this law took time to travel throughout our contiguous states.
And so, let us, together, examine our nation’s soul in the light of Luke’s Gospel. On the surface, this is a simple story of a family participating in the obligations of their faith. They confront two people who offer praise to God for their newborn child. We can all imagine this scene. Perhaps some of us have recently witnessed a baptism or a homecoming of a newborn and how sensational the greeting of hope actually is.
But this hope is grounded in God’s promise.
This Gospel is written just after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. Perhaps this simply serves as a nostalgic memory, recalling a time when families were safe to worship the one true God and were not in danger. And yet, Simeon and Anna are two artifacts of resistance and hope as they both embody decades of struggle, fight, rejection, and hopefulness. Professor Holly Hearon says, “Simeon is one looking forward to the consolation of Israel. Between past and present, another catastrophic event has occurred. In 586 B.C.E., the Babylonians destroyed the Temple, an event echoed by the Roman destruction of the Temple.” Simeon’s faithful persistence points to the saving power of God through Jesus. The prophetess Anna also demonstrates a long devotion to God’s promise. After years of mourning in the Temple, Anna gave raise to God and spoke of the good news of Jesus.
Our Founding Fathers are not just the white men etched in stone in the center of our nation. Our founding is on the backs of many people – free, enslaved, and indentured, African, European, and Indigenous, men, women, and folks in between.
Can January 1st be an invitation to freedom for all our families? Whether we are broken by stories of violence or broken by an old narrative we are still mourning, can we experience true unity and freedom in the Good News of a child born to the poor teenage mom and her faithful husband? Can we recognize this good news in this new generation just as Simeon and Anna had?
- In this new year, what good news are you invited to share in that will free you from mourning?
- How do you understand God’s promise for a better, whole world made new?
- How can an active practice of reverence renew your spirit in a God that remains faithful actually leads you and others to freedom?
Note: This is written in memory of Dr. Steve Phelps, educator, administrator, and friend whose loss is felt deeply in the Jesuit and Catholic educational networks particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Jocelyn A. Sideco is a retreat leader, spiritual director and innovative minister who specializes in mission-centered ministry. She directs the Community Service and Social Justice office at St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco, Calif., prays at St. Agnes Church, blogs for NCRonline.org, and consults with organizations like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Visit her online ecumenical ministry, In Good Company, at ingoodcompany.net.co or email her at email@example.com.