Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
Mal 3:1-4; Heb 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40 (2:22-32)
One night in bed a wife said to her husband: “You used to hold my hand when we were courting.” Wearily he reached across, held her hand for a second and tried to get back to sleep. A few moments later she said: “Then you used to kiss me.” Mildly irritated, he reached across, gave her a peck on the cheek and settled down to sleep.
Thirty seconds later she said: “Then you used to bite my neck” Angrily, he threw back the bed clothes and got out of bed. “Where are you going?” she asked. He answered, “To get my teeth!”
We are celebrating every year Mother’s Day (every 2nd Sunday of May) and Father’s Day (every 3rd Sunday of June). But why don’t we have Parents’ Day where we celebrate father and mother together as a couple?
Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. And for me this can be a good day to focus on both parents together. In the image of Joseph and Mary presenting Jesus in the Temple, we have a wonderful model of husband and wife united together in practicing the faith and in raising their child in the faith. In today’s gospel both parents of Jesus, together, they make the long journey to Jerusalem to present their firstborn Child Jesus in the Temple as the law of God requires them to do.
The Law is mentioned three times in this reading: everything is being done “according to the Law,” that is, the Law of Moses. Jesus appears as fully within the Law; everything is being done the right way; he is fully identified with the Jewish people, or as a commentator with a lot of hindsight put it, “completely immersed in humanity.” Very well, if there is to be hindsight, then let’s see this child as a grown man put to death in accordance with the same Law.
The Law of Moses requires every firstborn of the people of Israel to be offered to God, for God had slain the firstborn of the Egyptians but spared those of the Israelites when he liberated Israel from slavery. Every firstborn of the Israelites was therefore a memorial of this great event in Israel’s history.
I am sure that this is the first time the child Jesus enters His Temple. And His presence in the Temple makes a difference particularly on Simeon and Anna. It is because His presence is worth dying for. Just look at Simeon, he was ready to die not because of old age but because of his encounter with Jesus which simply completed and satisfied all his longings. For Simeon, only Jesus satisfies.
They are wonderful examples of the clarity that can be found in old people. Every night of life the Church’s Night Prayer repeats Simeon’s canticle. “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace….” It is deeply meaningful. Every day is like a short lifetime, and nightfall reminds us of approaching death. The end is therefore not to be dreaded as something we have always excluded from our consciousness, but welcomed as a fulfillment – much as the body welcomes the prospect of rest and sleep.
I read this story of a young boy who was as naughty as can be. He had already been transferred from one school to another to help him with formative interventions offered by the different schools but to no avail. Finally, his parents transferred him to a Catholic school. And lo and behold, the boy changed on day one. Asked why the sudden change in his attitude, the boy replied: “When I saw that man nailed on the cross on every wall of my new school I knew they really mean business. It was like being told always, ‘Behave or else…’”
Anyway, the presence of the crucified Christ changed the boy, although for a wrong reason. But if God is always before us or present in us would it spell a big difference on how do we do things?
Actually we are not only celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. As we celebrate this feast, we are also celebrating other two occasions and these are: Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Candle-mass. In this feast of the Presentation, we are also celebrating the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Actually, she is not subject to the law of purification, but devotion and zeal to honor God by every observance prescribed by His law, prompted Mary to perform this act of religion.
It is also called the Feast of Encounter because the New Testament, represented by the baby Jesus, encountered the Old Testament, represented by Simeon and Anna. The Law of Moses ordained that after childbirth a woman should continue for a certain period of time the law calls her unclean, during which time she was not to appear in public. This term was of forty days following the birth of a son, and double that time for a daughter. When the term expired, the mother was to bring to the Temple a lamb and a young pigeon or turtle-dove, as an offering to God.
Today Mary is bringing her sacrifice to the temple: two birds. She was supposed to bring one bird and one lamb, but a poor woman is allowed to bring two birds instead. Here is another sign that our Lord was not ashamed to be poor. The lamb or the first bird was a burnt offering to the Lord. It was not eaten as most sacrifices are. It was burned up entirely.
The odor of the burning animal rose with the smoke and the sweet smell made atonement to the Lord for the mother. The second animal, always a bird, was killed with a thumbnail, its blood squeezed out, and then the meat was eaten by the priest’s family. It was an offering for unintentional or unavoidable sin, in this case, touching blood.
These sacrifices are bizarre to us, even more so than sacrifices in general. The idea that a woman would need to atone for giving birth or had committed a sin while doing so is strange; we are uncomfortable that such a thing would be required in the Law given to Moses by God.
It seems that Luke was also uncomfortable with the idea since he makes no mention of the actual sacrifice. He instead tells us about two people whom Mary and Joseph met on their way in: an old man and an old woman. The old man, Simeon, just runs up and takes Jesus, blessing and praising God. The old woman, Anna, appears, thanks God, and begins telling people about the child.
Here Jesus is welcomed by the people Israel in the way that he ought to have been welcomed. All Israel is represented in these two people who were longing for the Messiah. We celebrate today the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
Let us be more like Simeon and Anna. Let us be joyful and announce to the world that Jesus Christ is the light that enlightens our lives. Let us strive to imitate also the humility of the ever-blessed Mother of God, remembering that humility is the path which leads to lasting peace and brings us closer to God, who gives His grace to the humble. Amen.