February 2, 2014 – Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
On this Feast of the Presentation of the Lord we celebrate what St. Luke describes in his Gospel, “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.”
This “presentation” was to occur 40 days after a birth. Thus, it falls on February 2, 40 days after Christmas. In our Catholic tradition this feast is also called Candlemas, a day when candles are blessed. That tradition developed from the statement of Simeon upon holding the baby Jesus in the Temple, calling the Lord: “…a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” In last week’s readings we heard Jesus called “the light of the world.”
As good stewards we need to understand our Catholic traditions and practices. Too often we may hear the Word without complete understanding. Learning the historical background of our traditions and being able to explain those to others should be a notable part of our sense of stewardship.
Our readings for this Feast Day reflect the significance of the Presentation of Jesus. The Book of Malachi is the final book of the Old Testament. It was written more than 400 years prior to the birth of Christ. Yet, it anticipates the events described in our Gospel readings of today and the past few weeks. “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.” This is a prophesy of St. John the Baptist. The Gospel of Mark, as a matter of fact, declares John the Baptist as the messenger in the first few verses of that Gospel. Malachi 3: 2 continues by stating “And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek.” It is this “coming” we celebrate today.
Our understanding that Jesus became human as one of us is manifested in the reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, the second reading. The Presentation of the Lord at the temple fulfills this very human requirement of a baby at that time. Paul speaks of Jesus as being “flesh and blood” and that rather than being descended from angels, heavenly creatures, He is from the seed of Abraham, very human: “…he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way.” (Note that this reference is to the fact that we all are “brothers and sisters” to Christ. It is not a declaration that Jesus had blood brothers and sisters.)
Thus we have the prediction of Jesus’ presentation in the temple in Malachi, and the pronouncement that this Holy Baby is one of us in the second reading. Nevertheless, it is in the Gospel from Luke that we see the fulfillment of the prophesy as well as the indication of the God/Man nature of Jesus. Two people in the temple perceive and recognize the Lord for what He is. Simeon (many scholars identify Simeon as one of the most honored and respected men in Jerusalem at that time) not only sees the divinity of Christ, but he also embraces it, “…he took him (Jesus) in his arms.” Anna, an elderly widow, also sees Jesus for what He really is.
If we truly wish to be good stewards, we must also embrace and hold Christ. The Lord is our guide, our light, and needs to be at the center of our lives. The image of Simeon holding the baby Jesus in the temple is one which we need to carry with us every day, as we, too, hold the Lord not just in our arms, but in our hearts, so that we may like Simeon “go in peace” for we have seen “salvation.” We thank God for Jesus’ presence in our lives.