Monday, February 10, 2014

PRESENTATION OF THE LORD “Arise and shine, Jerusalem, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.”

Dear Friends,

1. St. Luke is our evangelist today. Luke’s Gospel rests on four pillars: the infancy narratives, Jesus’ public ministry, Christ’s passion, and Christ’s resurrection. Our Gospel reading at this Eucharist concludes Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ birth with an account of what happened to Jesus, in accordance with Israel’s Law on the eighth day and on the fortieth day following his birth at Christmastime. On January 1, the eighth day of Christmas, we celebrated the day of the Lord’s circumcision, when Jesus was formally taken up into the promises extending back in history to Abraham. On that day Jesus became legally and officially a member of God’s people, Israel.

2. Today we celebrate what happened to Jesus on the fortieth day after his birth. Listen to what the celebrant-presider would say to us if we were actually celebrating, with procession and all the trimmings, the full drama of Jesus being presented in the Temple:

“Dear sisters and brothers, forty days have passed since we celebrated the joyful feast of the Nativity of the Lord. Today is the blessed day when Jesus was presented in the Temple by Mary and Joseph. Outwardly he was fulfilling the Law, but in reality he was coming to meet his believing people. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Simeon and Anna came to the Temple. Enlightened by the same Spirit, they recognized the Lord and confessed him with exultation. So let us also, gathered together by the Holy Spirit, proceed to the house of God to encounter Christ. There we shall find him and recognize him in the breaking of the bread, until he comes again.”

3. Today’s feast of the Presentation celebrates an event, a person, the Lord Jesus himself. Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox call today’s feast “A mystery of meeting”. In rough translation, an ancient Byzantine hymn says to us:

“Today the gate of heaven is opened, the Word of the Father, God’s only-begotten Son, who is without beginning, has assumed a beginning in time but without losing his divinity. An infant of forty days, he is offered in the Temple to God by Mary, his mother – according to the Law of Israel.”

The Feast of the Presentation celebrates, as does Christmas, the mystery of Christ, truly the light of the world; but today’s feast also looks ahead to the darkness of the cross which alone can lead us to God and eternal life.

4. If today is a celebration of a mystery of meeting, the appropriate question would be – Who is meeting whom, and why? Most obviously, it is a meeting of God’s Messiah, God’s Promised One, with his people, Israel – even though, in great numbers, as John’s Gospel tells us, “Jesus came among his own, but his own in great measure did not receive him”. But there was also the meeting of Simeon with the young child Jesus. The old man, Simeon, carried the child, yet the child ruled over the old man Simeon. The child lies in the arms of this old man, yet receives the offering due to God. No wonder the psalmist can shout with joy as the psalmist looks to the future: “Rejoice and exult, new city of God. See how humbly your King comes to save you.”

5. It is not easy for us today to become excited or involved in today’s feast. By the way, this is the first time in eleven years that February 2, our feast day, has fallen on a Sunday. The implications of the feast are most significant – for Jesus himself, for the four other actors in the drama and for ourselves. Today we see the fulfillment of the religion of Israel and the coming end of the first Temple (though not the end of the Jews as God’s chosen ones). Jesus being presented in the Temple represents a turning point in mankind’s relationship with God. It is the beginning of God’s New Testament people involving the Jews and the Gentiles in God’s saving plan.

6. Important statements are made by our feast day about the Lord Jesus. He is light to the Gentiles; he is the glory of God’s people, Israel; he is destined, Simeon tells us, for the fall and rise of many in Israel; he is a sign that will be contradicted. Though he is the light of the world, he fulfills his mission through the darkness of the cross. Though he is the glory of Israel, as we have said – he came among his own, though his own received him not. His Gospel is one of life and truth and love and consolation, although these all come to fruition for us only through the mystery of the cross.

7. On this day of the Presentation, we are not talking about what happened long ago. Our Gospel today truly impacts our present world and ourselves. To quote Pope Benedict – “We all know to what extent Christ remains a sign of contradiction, a contradiction that in the final analysis is directed at God. God himself is constantly regarded as a limitation placed on our freedom that must be set aside if man is ever to be completely himself. God, with his truth, stands in opposition to man’s manifold lies, his self-seeking and his pride.”

8. This God of ours is love but love also can be hated when it challenges us to transcend ourselves. Staying with this thought of Pope Benedict, this love is not romantic “good-feeling”; it is not about basking in self-indulgence; on the contrary, it is liberation from imprisonment in self-absorption. This love comes with a price – the mystery of the cross. Our feast today, as we look back on Christmas and look forward to Lent and Easter, shows us that the prophecy of light and the prophecy of the cross this side of the grave always belong together.