Thursday, February 3, 2011
Presented to the Lord
The Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary is both a Christological feast and a Marian one. It represents the end of the Scriptural narrative of Christ’s birth and we skip to age twelve and then to the waters of the Jordan and His baptism by John. If is often called Candlemas from the blessing of candles (both for the Church’s use and the devotions of the home) throughout the coming year.
Saint Luke alone tells about this but then he is the only one who fills in the details of Jesus’ birth. Luke 2:22-40 tells us what, how, and why of this day. According to St. Luke, Mary and Joseph took the Baby to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth to consecrate Jesus to God and to complete the ritual purification of Mary, both because of the command of God’s Law (Exodus 13:1-2, 11-16; Leviticus 12).
Mary and Joseph keep the law. Mary comes after forty days of solitude with the child Jesus to make her first appearance in public. For forty days she has kept solitude with Jesus. While this is the command of God, surely we can the beneficial consequences of her concern only for her child. Childbirth was fraught with danger then (even as it is now, though we have forgotten so). So she bonds with Jesus as mother to her child even as she recovers her own strength. And through it all she ponders all this in her heart, as Scripture reminds us. When it is time, the first place she goes is the Temple, to offer the sacrifice of her cleansing and to give thanks for His providential care during the rigors and dangers of child birth.
In olden days this was commonly done among Christians, called the churching of women. I am sad that we have let this fall on the wayside. I well recall when the local Episcopal priest came to my wife’s bedside and prayed the prayers for the churching of women for her.
And then Jesus was presented to the Lord, consecrated as God’s own child. He is already the Lord’s Son in the veil of human flesh and blood but again Jesus fulfills the Law and keeps its requirements. He is offered formally and in Him all of us are offered to the Lord, consecrated and set apart as the children of God, that you and I might so be presented to the Father in Him.
Now these things were no private acts. This was not some secret prayer but the public affirmation that God’s law is good and wise. And there in the midst of it all they meet Simeon and Anna. It must have been disconcerting for Mary to have this strange, craggily old man come up and scoop up Jesus right from her arms and then sing out a prayer to God. We have come to call this prayer the Nunc Dimittis. In it a faithful old man acknowledged that God had kept His Word, shone His light upon the Gentiles and showed His glorify to His people. Israel has its consolation and the world its Savior – all hidden in the form of a child.
Simeon too had words about the future that lay before this child who was at once like all and unlike any child, the One who will be set for the rising and falling of many. But Mary, whose soul would also be pierced, was also included in this prophecy to be fulfilled when Jesus was mounted on the cross.
Treasure this in your heart because it is one of very few passages of Scripture that tell us anything of Jesus before He is 30 years old and stands in the Jordan River to take on the mantle of the world’s redeemer. Yet even in what seems to be private moments with the Holy Family, Jesus divine and saving purpose cannot be hidden. His grace speaks whether we want to hear it or not... and it speaks now, in the day of salvation, but one day the door of grace shall be sealed and those outside its domain will find only judgment. So we rejoice with Simeon and with Anna. God is good.
And think of how our Lord presents us before the Father as He once was – Look, Lord, here is one of Yours. It is as if Jesus still scoops us up in His arms every time we pass the entry into God’s House and shows us to the Father, “This is one of Yours, Lord.”
In the response of faith, what can we say to what God has said and done for us in Christ? Nothing but echo Simeon’s own words. Lord, I am ready, my life is fulfilled because Your Word and promise has been kept. I have seen my salvation... Can you see why it was that Luther took this ancient canticle so often sung in the evening offices of the Church’s daily prayer and connected it to the Lord’s Supper. There we see what Simeon once saw – there we see our salvation. There we see Jesus.
Today we pray with thanksgiving for the faithfulness of Joseph and Mary, of Simeon and Anna, of Jesus (the Lord’s Christ), and we ask God to guide us and keep us that we may be faithful. Today we are grateful that Jesus was presented to the Father according to the Law so that we might be presented to the Father in Christ as the fruits of His redeeming work, the children of His grace and light.
Today we acknowledge that in the midst of all that God has done through His Son, all we can is respond with Simeon of old.
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
Your word has been fulfilled.
My eyes have seen the salvation
You have prepared in the sight of every people,
A light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people, Israel. Amen.