By Sr. Doreen, SSJD.
1st reading: Malachi 3: 1-4 Psalm: Common Praise #376 Epistle: Hebrews 2: 14-18 Gospel: Luke 2: 22-40
BUT first –
A little background to this feast: In the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican Church this is a Principle Feast and Major Celebration in many places in accompanied with processions and feasting.
Over the years it has had several names: coming 40 days after Christmas
- The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary … was the time after childbirth, 40 days, which was considered the time to present oneself in thanksgiving for the gift of a child and to know that one was once again ritually ‘clean’. We stopped calling this Feast Day the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple around the beginning of the 1970’s – influenced at that time by the many changes associated with Vatican 2 However, there is in the BAS a service of thanksgiving for the birth of a child.
- The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple … according to the Law of Moses every first born was to be given to the God: it was an acting out of an ancestral belief that the 1st born was to be sacrificed to the god of Molock … the law of Moses required that the 1st born be presented to God in the temple and an animal (appropriate to one’s economic status) be sacrificed rather than the child. So Mary and Joseph brought Jesus, and 2 small pigeons to do what the law required – gave the child Jesus to the priest who held the child over the fire pit and chanted, then gave the child back, took the 2 pigeons, killed them and threw them on the fire. Herbert O’Driscoll’s book for All The Saints describes this very graphically, it is worth reading.
Candlemas … traditionally a time when new candles were bought to be blessed – candles enough for use for the whole year – with a procession – and as a sign that Jesus was the light of the world, and we were also prepared to be a light for the world.. It is also in many countries and traditions a time when Christmas decorations are taken down, and is the end of the Christmas season.
Now the homily – in the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifying Spirit Amen.
When we read gospel stories, especially ones like this one, one so family oriented and familiar, I think that sometimes we miss some of what it might be saying to each one of us in our own situation and life today.
Luke the evangelist tells us that Jesus was presented in the house of God as the Law of Moses required – and Mary and Joseph offered what the law said for the first-born of poor parents: a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. They offered Jesus to God and received Jesus back, entrusted to their care. They came to give thanks for the gift of this child. I am sure they prayed for the quiet strength and patient wisdom to nurture this child Jesus in all that is good, true, just and pure. This ritual was a symbolic act, an outward sign of a deep inward understanding and mystery. What they were willing to give up returned to them as a great gift. In letting go, in releasing control … the gift is the freedom to receive much more in return. As you look at a young child with this inner understanding and mystery, you know that giving up – not possessing – allows them to become who they were meant to be – and it means that you receive a far greater gift in return. We know this is our own relationships with each other, we know this in our life together in community as we learn to live together with our differences. This giving and receiving – is a paradox – the more we give, the more we are able to receive, the more we hold on to and guard, the less we are able to be open to more. How do we come as individuals, as families, as a community – and present ourselves to the God, offer ourselves to God – give ourselves as gift: and with that same quiet strength that Mary and Joseph asked for -and wait to receive back what God longs to give to us?
Luke then goes on to tell how two people came to the temple and praised God when they saw the child Jesus. What I would like to focus on today in this gospel story are these two people: Simeon and Anna.
Simeon took the child Jesus into his arms, and danced and sang praises to God: a song that celebrated the child’s birth, a song that proclaimed the child as the glory of Israel and a light to the Gentiles – and a song that also spoke chillingly in prophecy of what a contradiction this child would be – destined for the rising and falling of many and a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.
Jesus, as contradictions sign – You and I know something of contradictions in our own lives … what we do not always see, and what I believe we need to begin to see, is that Jesus is in the midst of all those contradictions … so that the inner thoughts and desires, the deeper meanings and experiences that God longs for for us, can become clear. Simeon takes this Jesus, contradictions sign, in his arms, accepts and celebrates the contradiction, lingering over it, pondering it, accepting it as it is … willing to enter into the contradiction in order to discover deeper meaning, deeper understanding, deeper relationships. As Simeon takes the child Jesus in his arms, and offers Jesus to God in praise and dance … I believe he also experienced being offered himself and that indeed he, Simeon, also was held in the arms of God. I know that when I hold a small baby held in my arms … I also experience that same overwhelming experience of being held myself within the mystery of love. This is perhaps something that all of us have experienced at some time in our life.
This feast day – the Presentation – it is an opportunity for our own presentation – a personal presentation and a communal presentation: a time to join Simeon – and it becomes, I believe, God’s gift to us of being ourselves held within the mystery of love. Like Simeon who held the infant Jesus, the light of the world, in his arms … we too are called to hold Jesus, the light of the world in our arms for the life of the world, and to discover that we too are held in the arms of God.
Then Anna appears on the scene! Again there are praises and joy. In this little child, Anna saw God and spoke to everyone who was there. This little child was the light of the world, whom they were all waiting for. Anna had waited and prayed for a long time … I am sure that she too took the baby in her arms, and walked up and down showing the child to anyone passing by, telling them that this was what they had been waiting for. This child would make a wonderful contribution to the world … the child they were waiting for … the redemption of Jerusalem: the healer, the saviour, the light of the world. Anna had waited a long time … what she now saw was like an icon: she saw what the child means. She had eyes to see through Jesus, and like Simeon, saw that we are called to hold Jesus, the light of the world in our arms for the life of the world. Her waiting had given her the gift of seeing through … with understanding, compassion and an accepting heart, with courage and patience .. and to all who were passing by … in praise and joy … in this little child, Anna presented God.
Can we, you and I, in our waiting and longing for understanding, compassion and an accepting heart … can we with courage and patience … receive that gift of seeing through? Seeing deeply with the eyes of our heart … seeing in the child Jesus, each other. On this feast of the presentation can we hold the child Jesus in our arms for the life of the world … can we hold each other in the heart of God, can this community of faith here at St John’s Convent enter into the presentation – and with each other hold out in praise and joy the light of the world for the world?