When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate of the laws of the Lord. Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you prepared in the sight of all the people: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted — and you yourself a sword will pierce — so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Today is the Feast of the Presentation. In some cultures, this feast represents the end of the Christmas-Epiphany season. The feast is also known as Candlemas because of the tradition of having candles blessed on this day that will be used throughout the rest of the year.
The Jewish law mandated that first-born sons belonged to God. Those that were not of the priestly tribe of Levi had to be redeemed in the temple to demonstrate their continued status as God’s unique possessions (Ex 13:1-2; Nm 3:11-13). The redemption price was five silver shekels, and the ritual usually took place within a month of the child’s birth. After giving birth to a male child, the mother was regarded as unclean for seven days and was required to go to the temple after forty days to undergo a purification rite and make an offering of a lamb or, if she were poor, of two turtledoves or pigeons (Lev 12:1-8). Mary, of course, being free of sin from the moment of her conception, was not obliged to carry out the ritual of purification. However, just as her Son would later submit to being baptized, Mary submitted to the law of Moses in all things according to human expectations. Naturally, they offered the gift prescribed for the poor, rather than the lamb offered by the rich.
Simeon was a righteous man, filled with the Holy Spirit. He had been promised by God not to die until he had set his eyes on the face of the Redeemer. God kept this promise, and Simeon praised God with the prayer now known as the Nunc Dimittis, a prayer offered every night by those who recite Night Prayer for the Liturgy of the Hours: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace, your word has been fulfilled…” It is a beautiful prayer, one that reflects both on God keeping His promises and our hope for new life after death. Simeon testifies to the mission of Jesus, to be a “light” to all people and the “glory” of Israel. Jesus has not come only for the sake of Israel. He will be Savior for all humankind. Simeon also has a word for Mary. She will share in her Son’s suffering. A sword will pierce her heart. She will not be spared the sacrifice of her Son. But, she will share in His glory. First among His disciples, she is our model for faithfulness and the first to experience the fullness of redemption. Anna’s testimony, similar to Simeon’s, is directed toward the redemption of Jerusalem. Both Simeon and Ann have been faithful for their many years. They are rewarded for their fidelity by receiving the privilege of being among the first witnesses of the Incarnation and the mission of Jesus Christ.
There is much to reflect on for this feast. There is the dedication of Mary and Joseph to the obligations of the law of Moses. They do not regard themselves as special or exempt from what binds their people to God. They are faithful. They offer their sacrifice, just as Mary hears from Simeon of the greater sacrifice her Son will make, and of her own. There is the faithfulness of Simeon and Anna, who dedicate years, decades of their lives to the worship of God and to faith in His promises. And, there is the promise of God, to Mary (you will bear a son), to Simeon (you will see the Christ), to Anna, (the redemption of Jerusalem) and, of course, to all humankind in the person, mission, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
The Feast of the Presentation is all about the promises of God and remaining faithful because of our hope in His promises.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.