Homily – ‘Presentation of the Lord in the Temple at Jerusalem.’ 02.02.14. Year A 2014
Today we celebrate Mass 40 days after Christmas Day. Therefore, this Feast of the ‘Presentation of the Lord in the temple at Jerusalem,’ completes our celebrations of the birth of our Lord. He the Word made Flesh, the True Light has come into the world. Amen.
Mary, purest Mother and Virgin undefiled, goes to the temple to be “purified” in accordance with Jewish Law, accompanied by her husband Joseph. They were poor or of at least very modest means. The Jewish Law required that ideally a lamb should be offered for sacrifice, or if the mother could not afford a lamb, then a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. The irony of course is that Mary carried within her arms someone more important than a lamb, she was carrying the true lamb, the Lamb of God, who in time would sacrifice himself for us on Calvary in an act of terrifying love, and a sword would pierce Mary’s heart.
There would have been a shared sense between Mary and Joseph that they were fulfilling a ritual practice that was common to all new mothers, and probably didn't expect the events that unfolded. Can you imagine the conversation when they got home! “What was all that about Mary?” “ I don’t know Joseph, I'll have to give it some thought.”
Waylaid by an elderly couple who seemed to spend most of their time hanging around the temple, Anna certainly did. Luke tells us that she never left the temple. Simeon, dedicated to observance of the Law, would have also spent a lot of time at the Temple. Both of them would have been respected by the Temple authorities. The Temple would have been a busy place, with people coming and going all day long about the business of official Temple administration and worship.
Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus would have looked just like any other young couple, undertaking their religious business. Nothing to look at here folks, keep moving. However, Holy Simeon and Anna, are to be used by God as witnesses to a moment of public encounter between God, the Jewish people and indeed the whole world. Until now only the shepherds and the wise men from the East have seen the baby Jesus. It’s been a bit of a private affair.
Holy Simeon, whose name means, God has heard us and Anna, whose name means grace, mercy, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit are in the right place at the right time. They have been inspired by the Holy Spirit to be public witnesses and prophets to the arrival of the Messiah. Two elderly frail human beings, these are the people whom God uses, to publicly reveal himself to a nation, that has waited and prayed for a Messiah for so long. In the busyness of the Temple no one else recognises him! Only, Holy Simeon and the prophetess Anna. He comes not in circumstances of great power, wealth and influence, surrounded by a royal entourage, like other royal babies, but in a condition of poverty, weakness and vulnerability. He comes in a condition that would be taken full advantage of on Calvary.
Holy Simeon represents the historical expectation of Israel for a Saviour; he is the first public witness to the presence of the promised Messiah amongst the Jewish people. On the other hand Anna, being a prophetess suggests, that a new era has at the same time begun as well as the old one being fulfilled. In this new era, the living voice of God will continue to speak, but now in a far more personal and direct way, through his chosen one, Jesus, the promised Messiah. Anna is the first in a line of prophetic disciples who will speak about Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel. She is the first evangelizer for the Good News of Jesus Christ.
What can we draw for our meditation this week, from this public presentation of Jesus? God has his faithful people here, Holy Simeon and Anna, who play no extended role in the history of salvation. We’re not talking about Moses or King David type figures They have limited but significant "bit parts." Their characteristics are that they are people filled with hope regarding God’s promises; they are loyal and put God first above all things. They are prayerful people. And because of those characteristics, they are sensitive to God's voice, and available to respond to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when God prompts them. In that respect they are good role models for us. Well worth of our prayerful meditation for the week ahead.
The Holy Spirit can speak to us and show us things that others cannot know or understand. The Holy Spirit promised Holy Simeon that he would see the Messiah before he died. But we are unlikely to hear God's voice, the Holy Spirit, unless we prepare ourselves to do so by living in God's will for us, by imitating the behaviours of Holy Simeon and Anna. That means prayer, reading our Bibles, penance, participation in the sacramental life of the church and right living. Allowing ourselves to be drawn deeper into God's amazing and fantastic friendship.
Devout people are full of praise, as were Holy Simeon and Anna. Worshipping God can be a worthy full-time occupation. Some people give their lives over to God as monks and nuns, where there primary task is scheduled prayer through the day. All the church asks of us is to attend Mass once a week. But we know in our hearts, don't we, that we want to give more of ourselves to prayer. Yes?
Jesus offers hope, light, and salvation to all people. The Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in this public presentation of Jesus. When we are really convicted by the Holy Spirit that Jesus is Lord, we have that personal relationship with him, then we will not be so shy to speak about him to others. We don’t have to proselytise and ram religion down people’s throats. But perhaps this week we could look for opportunities to speak to someone at our place of work about Jesus. We don’t even have to start the conversation. We just answer their questions, if they know we go to church on Sunday and ask why, or notice that we abstain from meat on Friday, or ask about the rosary beads or small crucifix, or pocket prayer book lying casually on our desk. Or perhaps they’ve seen something about our Catholic faith on our FaceBook page?
Holy Simeon and Anna are now long since gone and completely with the Master. The job of carrying on their work in terms of letting others publicly see the salvation that has been prepared for them, and talking to them about the answer to their deepest needs, that is Jesus, falls to us.
Just as Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple, a very public place in Jerusalem, we need to take Jesus to the public places where we go. And just like Holy Simeon and Anna, we are all called to be his witnesses and prophets.