Sister Doreen’s Reflections
“His name is Jesus, the promise of God’s love fulfilled.”
Simeon took the child in his arms and blessed God, …with my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see … (Message Translation Luke 2:32) This feast proclaims that the whole world, everyone and everything, is held in God’s hands.
The feast of the Presentation is a principal feast and major celebration, coming 40 days after Christmas, and in many places in the world it is accompanied with processions and feasting. Over the years it has been called by many names:
- The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple: the purification period after childbirth was something we stopped naming as part of this feast day 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 lovely 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 God. it was an acting out of an ancestral belief that the first born was to be sacrificed to the god of Molock. The law of Moses required that the first born be presented to God in the temple and an animal (appropriate to one’s economic status) be sacrificed rather than the child.
- On this Feast it was also referred to as 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 that we were also prepared to be a light for the world.
- This feast is also in many countries and traditions a time when Christmas decorations are taken down, and it is the end of the Christmas season. It is an opportunity to be counter-cultural – to keep Advent as Advent, and to keep Christmas for the 40 days following December 25, a real celebration of the Incarnation of God, rather than following the cultural celebration that happens shortly after Thanksgiving and ends on Boxing Day!
On this day, 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. I believe that with some fear and trepidation, they handed their precious newborn baby to a temple stranger, to observe a noisy and somewhat crowded ritual service. They offered that child to God, and they received that child back, entrusted to their care. As new parents they wanted 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 in all that is good, true, just and pure. (from the BAS Thanksgiving for the Birth of a Child). This ritual was a symbolic act, an outward sign of a deep inward understanding and mystery. What they were willing to give up was 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 in giving up, not possessing, we offer the gift that 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 in our own relationships with each other, as we learn to live together with all 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. This leaves me with a question: how do we present ourselves to God, offer ourselves to God, give ourselves as gift, and with that same quiet strength that Mary and Joseph asked for, wait to receive back what God longs to give to us?
This day unfolds even more gifts, as In a very real way, at the heart of the celebration in the temple, Simeon who had waited for a long time for this moment, took the child into his arms, and danced and sang praises, a song we know as the Nunc Dimittus or Song of Simeon, that celebrated a child, God, coming amongst us as the Light of the world, and a prophecy that is not part of the song, that also spoke chillingly in prophecy of what a contradiction this would be – “destined for the rising and falling of many so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed, and he tells Mary that a sword will pierce her own soul too”. (Luke 2: 25-35). What Simeon does is takes this child, this contradiction of dancing and joy in the midst also of tension and suffering, in his arms, accepts and celebrates the contradiction, lingering over it, pondering it, accepting it as it is, and lifting it up as the Light of the world. This is the salvation and deliverance, out in the open now, that the world is waiting for today. When we can do this, hold something up as an offering, I am sure that Simeon also felt himself lifted up to God, and held in the arms of God, along with the child. When we are able to linger, ponder, accept life as it is, and allow ourselves to hold the Light of the world in our arms for the life of the world, I believe that we too will discover that we too, the whole world regardless of our faith tradition, are held in the arms of God.
Then the prophetess, Anna, appears on the scene! This is such a wonderful family like celebration when meeting the new baby for the first time! 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 for this day, and 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 waited for. She spoke of the redemption of Jerusalem, the healer, the saviour, the light of the world. What Anna saw was like an icon – she saw what the child means, her waiting had given her the gift of seeing with her heart, with understanding, with compassion, and with 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.
This feast day – the Presentation – is an opportunity for our own presentation – a personal presentation: a time to join Simeon and Anna. It can become, I believe, God’s gift to us of knowing that we are being held in the arms of God, held within the mystery of Love. Like Simeon and Anna who held the infant child, the light of the world, in their arms, we too are called to hold our God, the Light of the World, in our arms for the life of the world. It is when we do this that we discover we too are held in the arms of God. Here is salvation and deliverance, freedom, that God so desires for that greater life in the world for all people.
This feast day is sandwiched between two weeks dedicated to prayer for our world: the week of prayer for Christian unity that we have just kept and now this week, the week of prayer for World Interfaith Harmony. How the world in its darkness longs for the Light of the world to draw it together, to bring sure salvation and deliverance to every nation. The feast of the Presentation for me this year highlights that unity, that love for God and for neighbour that we long for and that God holds out as gift for us to take.
Below a paraphrase of the Song of Simeon written by Sister Sue Elwyn SSJD:
Creator God, my governor, my guide, you give me leave at last to go to that great space where even stars do hide, their fire in your more brilliant glow.
I’ve been your servant; still, I serve and will, from birth until all ages end, and then, in peace and love, will I serve still, nor cease when time itself you rend.
You send me forth, each vow and promise kept, according to the prophets’ word. My eyes, which searched so long, so often wept, are opened now in joy assured.
You’ve brought salvation clear, deliverance sure, to every nation, settled, wild, for Israel’s glory – hope of rich and poor is God, embodied in a child.