Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of the Lord which occurs forty days after the birth of Jesus and is also known as Candlemas day, since the blessing and procession of candles is included in today’s liturgy.
To present a firstborn child in Jesus’ days meant the purification of the mother, which in turn demanded a sacrifice. The Book of Leviticus gives the prescription for purification: killing of a year-old lamb, or another animal. Poor people such as Joseph and Mary could not afford a first-born lamb, so they were allowed to sacrifice just a pigeon or a turtledove.
The gospel of Luke does not only narrates Mary and Joseph doing what the Mosaic Law required regarding the purification of a new mother and the consecration of a newborn child but also narrates the prayer and joy of Simeon and Anna upon seeing the baby Jesus.
The prayer that Luke puts into the mouth of Simeon is so full of poetic power that it has long been at the heart of the Church’s night prayer as the canticle called the Nunc Dimittis. The old man speaks for all Israel as he takes the child in his arms and prays to God using words from Isaiah 40:5,
“My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all the peoples” (Luke 2:31).
Drawing on imagery from other parts of that prophetic scroll (Isa 42:6 and 49:6), he celebrates the child as
“a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Lk 2:32).
Then he addresses Mary,
“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” (Lk 2:34),
thereby forecasting what will be elaborated in the rest of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. When he tells Mary,
“(And you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:35),
he is not only speaking of the personal sorrow that lies_ahead for her as mother of a rejected prophet and pilloried enemy of the empire; he is also addressing her as representative of a people that will be painfully divided in its response to this news of the fulfillment of time. At this, the prophetess Anna, representing responsive Israel, joins the shepherds of Christmas night as one of those first non-writing evangelists who, early on, emerge from among the little people.
Like Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna, today’s feast calls us to present Jesus worthily today. Today’s feast invites us to reflect on our own ‘presentation of the Lord.’
How do we present Jesus Christ to others? Is the Jesus we present to others a convenient cover and justification of our misdeeds and social indifference or do we present him as our Saviour whose gospel values we live individually and collectively? Do we present Jesus to others on such a pedestal that he is so distant and alienated from our daily struggles and suffering or is he one of us, a brother human whose love of justice and peace can and should be imitated? Is the Jesus we present to others an indictment of them, or is he God’s “saving deed displayed for all the peoples to see,” the Messiah who rescues us from our personal and social sinfulness?
Is the Jesus we present to others a support for our dealings with injustice, violence, corruption, death, wars, abortions, and death penalties, or is he “a lamb without blemish (offered) for the life of the world”? Is the Jesus we present others a special ‘god’ for the privileged, or is he “the light of all peoples,” including people who are weak and outcast?.
To be Christians today is not just going to church every Sunday but presenting Jesus worthily both in word and in deed. Christianity in recent times has gotten a bad name because of our unworthy and hypocritical presentation of Jesus. The burning task before us now is returning to the gospel of Jesus and witnessing to the true values that Jesus died for us–unconditional love especially for the sinners, seeking out the lost and defense of the poor and the weak, and the proclamation of God’s kingdom of justice, peace and abundance for all now and in the life to come.