|Feast of the Presentation of
Psalm 24:7, 8, 9, 10
Luke 2:22-40 or 2:22-32
So as to be more receptive to the graces of the scriptures we might imagine Mary presenting Jesus to the priests in the temple and Joseph handing over two pigeons as signs of their being poor and yet obedient to their religious traditions. There are other couples presenting their babies accompanied by their ritual offerings of one-year-old lambs. There is much noise and confusion with all these animal offerings and excited parents who rejoice in God’s fidelity in giving them children.
Mary comes according to the Levitical law to be reconciled to God the source of life after her having lost blood, the sign of life, during the motherly process of extending life through the act of birth. She who was conceived without sin stays faithful to that which is required by her religious observance. This presenting of her son and her completing the birth experience as a truly religious act confirms her as woman and Jew which must have been quite a joyful and peaceful time for her and her husband. The words of the two temple holy persons, Anna and Simeon would both delight and confound these new parents.
We can pray in preparation for the liturgy by our being called personally to respond to God’s law each day. We have received life as a pure gift and while we do not offer turtledoves or pigeons as sin offerings, we are invited to return something in recognition of God’s goodness. We prepare to offer a perfect Thanksgiving Offering in the Eucharist “for the forgiveness of sin,” and we can pray for a more joyful spirit even when confounded.
We can pray these days of preparation with the many opportunities in our lives to acknowledge from where, from whom all good things come. We can pray to be as receptive as Mary and Joseph to life and life’s joys and sorrows. The God who gives us life is faithful in caring for all gifts given. We can pray with the tenderness with which Mary carries the Word of Life in her arms and how well she knows from whence he comes through and to her. We can pray likewise with Joseph’s fidelity to the mysteries which surround his marriage and fatherhood. We pray gently with the mysteries of life which are our own.
Today’s liturgy celebrates several themes. This feast has been known as “Candlemas”, because of Simeon’s declaration that this child is the salvation, “prepared in the sight of all the people, a light for revelation to the gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
As the three Wise Magi came seeking and were guided by the light of a star, so in today’s Gospel we have the Holy Three coming to the temple carrying the Light who is the “long sought” of Israel. It is Luke’s account of the Epiphany in a way. Simeon announces that this Light is for all outside Israel and a confirmation of God’s faithfulness to the covenants made with the Jewish people.
In the First Reading, the prophet Malachi, we hear a sense of impending arrival and suddenness. God is entering the temple and this is the God who has been the “sought-for” and desired. This is the beginning of a relational shift. The One who has been so sought for is to become the seeker. As light seeks to penetrate and uncover the darkness, so this Light will disclose and purify while also perfecting again the relationship between God and God’s people as they were in the early days of Israel’s relationship with the God of the covenants.
This is the exact Gospel text we heard recently on the Sunday after Christmas, the feast of the Holy Family. Their holiness, as is our own, comes from the “fountain of all holiness” and expresses itself in the actions of this faithful couple. According to the Law written in the fifth chapter of Leviticus, a woman who gives birth to a son must recover for thirty-three days after the child is presented to the ritual act by which he becomes a member of the Jewish community, the circumcision which we recalled in the liturgy of January first. So she is presenting herself as well as her male child to the Lord in the temple in fulfillment of the Law.
For our part, we can not give what we do not have. Mary could offer Jesus ritually to God and totally because she had received him totally. She offered herself totally in the same way; she who was conceived without sin. We might be moved to desire to offer ourselves totally to God, but lo, we do not possess ourselves totally. We can not offer perfect thanks to the Giver, because we are not perfectly thankful. This is the grace for which we pray in this liturgy.
Jesus offered himself perfectly on the cross and we are given the wonderful gift of joining what thanks, what receptivity, what self possession we do have, to the perfect reception and offering of the cross which we celebrate in the Eucharist. We are offered again as well, asking God to make us a gift in Christ back to God. Jesus is offered to us, a new presentation, to be received by us in our limited way.
When we are offered a gift, we are invited to receive it and all that is expressed in that gesture; what is the giver saying to us and about us.
We can give what we do possess. What we have received, like Mary herself, Jesus, we can offer back to the Giver, the Sender, and the Seeker. Mary had two little birds to fulfill the ritual. We have the poverty of ourselves and the perfect offering of Jesus and that makes all the difference.
The Light has come to brighten this world. The salvation he brings is not the eternal redemption only, but lightens the burden of who we are in our eyes. Jesus saves us from the inability of offering perfect thanks; he gives us himself and gives us more of ourselves with which to join his sacrifice of love.
When Mary presented Jesus in the temple, the ever-lasting epiphany was beginning. From then on Jesus was dedicated to seeking, enlightening and saving us. What we present is our open hands to both receive and possess and offer Jesus to his Father and to his holy family.
“Of her flesh he took flesh
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