Sitting in the front seat at the Chapel as a junior seminarian many years ago, I heard a sermon on the Presentation of the Lord. The priest who celebrated the mass could have said other things, but what I could recall vividly was his emphasis that the parents of Jesus brought him to the temple for dedication and that is the reason why every child is dedicated in the Church after birth. This idea formed my knowledge about the Presentation of the Lord for a long time until I began to have deep introspective reading of the scriptures. Today I can boldly say that the Presentation of the Lord in the temple is beyond child dedication!
Life is generally littered with so many forms of presentations. In order to be admitted into any worthwhile venture, profession or to excel in anything, one must present oneself for assessment before the individual is finally given a pass. Whenever you are sitting for an examination, be it written or oral, you are making a presentation. Whenever you are talking to someone, writing, dancing or walking, you are making a presentation; even praying is a form of presentation. To attempt a definition, presentation is an activity in which one shows one’s self or what one can do. One common denominator in all forms of presentations is that they can either bring merits or demerits; they can either be acceptable or unacceptable; they can bring ovation or booing.
Today we celebrate the presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the temple. This feast leaves us with so much to chew and digest. In the first place the presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ concludes his infancy narrative and took place forty days after his birth. It is also the last of his “epiphanies”. The first was during the visit of the shepherds and the Wise Men from the east when he was made known to the Israelites and the Gentile world respectively, the second was at his Baptism when his mission was confirmed to John the Baptist and all present by the Father and the Holy Spirit and now at the presentation he was shown forth as the light of the world and the glory of Israel.
We are told that during the time of THEIR PURIFICATION, the parents of our Lord Jesus Christ brought him to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. There is need to inquire more about this “THEIR PURIFICATION” as we are told. Normally, in accordance with the Jewish law, it is the woman that undergoes purification after birth (Lev. 12:1-4). But here, the purification seems to extend to Joseph and even to the infant Jesus; why?
To throw light to the fact above, we can say that it was not only in accordance with the law, but also an indication of the unity and oneness that characterized the Holy Family. It is also an instruction to us that we should identify with one another in sickness and in health; in good times and in bad times. Another explanation which is linked with the above, is that since she (Mary) was in touch with Joseph and the infant, it could have been assumed that they had all become unclean in the eyes of the law but not in the eyes of God. In the eyes of God who is with her, and she is full of grace (Luke 1:28).
If we look carefully into the gospel periscope, we will discover that Luke was insistent in telling us that the presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the temple was in accordance with one of the Laws of Moses. This is true but there is something beyond advertence to the Law of Moses. We should note primarily that our Lord Jesus Christ is not only above that Law, but also he is the actual fulfilment of the law (Matt. 5:17).
This entrance of our Lord Jesus Christ into the temple at the instance of the Law of Moses actually meant a significant transition from the old to the new. In the old, purification was done with animals but in the new it is centred on Jesus Christ the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the world (John 1:29). The presence of Simeon (the priest) and Anna (the prophetess) before Jesus Christ (the King) confirms the three significant offices of Christ as Priest, Prophet and King.
The real purpose of the presentation is beyond purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the dedication of her first son to the Lord. Just like our Lord Jesus Christ sanctified the water of Baptism when he stepped into the Jordan to be baptized by John, on this day he sanctified the temple. The Son of God at this point replaced the victim of the sacrifice of the old law (later he would come back to the temple not to abolish the law but to fulfil it). If you pay attention to the commentaries about Simeon and Anna you will discover that the high point in the presentation is our Lord Jesus Christ not the temple nor the animals like in the old Law. Simeon was meant to be alive until his eyes see the saviour and Anna would not leave the temple day and night until the Lord enters the temple to sanctify it.
It could rightly be said that humanity as a whole has been waiting eagerly for the entrance of our Lord Jesus Christ into the temple. The prophecy of Malachi (3:1-4) which serves as our first reading today gives us a very vivid picture of the real purpose of the Presentation. In the oracle we are told that the Lord we seek (Jesus Christ) will suddenly and irresistibly enter the temple to effect purification. This purification will begin among the sons of Levi; the priests. This points to the transition from the old priesthood whereby animals were offered as sacrifices to appease God. With the entrance of our Lord Jesus Christ into the temple priesthood took a new dimension; if you like transformed; here the priest becomes the victim. It is little wonder then that the letter to the Hebrews (2:17) refers to our Lord Jesus Christ as the high priest who became like us to function in expiating the sins of the people with his own life.
To put everything together, the presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ commemorates the transition from the old to the new. This is figuratively captured by the duality of persons and animals present: a pair of turtledoves (or two pigeons), Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph. Furthermore, we see Simeon ritually receiving the child in his arms. Here we are presented with the ENCOUNTER between the old and the new whereby there is a fulfilment of the old in the new; thusly Simeon (representing the old) proclaimed the power and efficacy of the infant Jesus Christ (representing the new).
By way of factual application we have so much to take home from the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ:
- God will never fail to fulfil His words. The prophecy of Malachi was realized in the account of the presentation as recorded in the gospel of Luke. God will surely fulfil His words in your life!
- Observance of the law is very important in our relationship with God. It shows our respect and dedication. Joseph and Mary may have known that the infant Jesus was peculiar and may not need to go through the rigours of the law, but they went ahead to present him to the Lord; that is “presenting the Lord to the Lord”. Very much like John baptizing the source of baptism. By going for the presentation they not only left a good example, they also observed the law to the letters. One of the problems facing us today is disobedience to or side tracking of the law by the high and mighty. There is always a way to evade the law on account of one connection or the other. Imagine if Jesus was born in the house of Herod!
- Steadfastness, patience and faith in God are very important virtues. Simeon believed and held firm to the promise of God that he will not see death until he sees the Lord enter the temple. He never lost hope even when the waiting seemed to take the whole of his lifetime. Anna was steadfast and unrelenting in her fasting and prayers and so was privileged to witness the “divine drama” of the transition from the old to the new. By their faith (Simeon and Anna) they became inter-testamental witnesses.
- We are challenged to be at our posts or preoccupations. Most of those called to become apostles where called at their duty posts; we can recall the fishermen and Matthew the tax collector (Matt. 4:18-22; 9:9). Simeon was at his post, Anna was attentive to her preoccupation: praying and fasting at the temple. Today going to Church has become optional for many people with the excuse that Church is in the heart. What if God comes to look for you in the temple today will He find you?
- We are called to be the light of the world (Matt. 5:14-16). We marched into the Church armed with burning candles while calling on the light of Christ to light our way. We are called today to become like those lighted candles. Wherever we go we should be able to make a difference like Christ did in the temple. In our world that is currently darkened by sin and general disobedience to God, there is need for us to bring in the light instead of cursing the darkness.
- Finally there is need for us to make good and acceptable presentation of ourselves. The things we do and say are our presentations before God and surely there will be results, hence the need for us to be careful about the kinds of presentations we make in our lives.
Have a rewarding celebration of the Presentation of the Lord while wishing you a blissful new month.