Today the Church reminds us of the faithful act of Mary and Joseph to present their child Jesus to the Temple with a humble sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. This ordinary action by a faithful Jewish couple purified Mary from the blood sacrifice of childbirth, 40 days after childbirth, and enables the couple to re-present their child to his true father above. The offering was accompanied by the humble sacrifice of a pigeon, a purchase symbolizing the Holy Family’s poverty.
At this ordinary event extraordinary things happened. Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus meet two elderly contemplatives in the Temple. Simeon receives the child at the presentation and offers both thanksgiving and prophesy before he dies with his prayer fulfilled. Simeon said, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” And Simeon closes, ““Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:28–32). Simeon then dies as a man whose mission is complete.
Anna, a woman devoted to prayer and fasting, then steps forth to proclaim the child as the Messiah. Rather than die, Anna proselytizes: “At that moment, she came and began to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Anna’s role complements Simeon’s: The introduction of Christ in the Temple bears recognition in the House of God and carries forth to all the world. While the Holy Family returns to their home to live a quiet life while the Child grows to maturity and to ready himself for the saving acts to come, this moment in the world seems to pass in the Biblical narrative.
The preconditions were set. The recognition registered. The Good News was shared. And then the moment passed. Another 30 years passed, a full generation, before Jesus began his three year public ministry culminating in the Sacrifice that restored man to God.
How many such moments pass in our lives: signs of God’s presence, a clear word of proclamation — to be buried in our re-submersion into the ordinary. This Feast of the Presentation offers us countless opportunities to heighten our awareness of the extraordinary amidst the ordinary. The traditional name for this feast is Candlemas, and this accompanies the blessing of candles. The lighting of candles always accompanies the liturgy, and having candles with your family meal in your domestic church images the presence of light in all dark places. “When two or three are gathered in my name, I am with you,” Jesus reminds.
The gift of a child is always a holy moment where the veil of heaven opens and brings forth a being with the divine spark into our very arms, to succor at the mother’s breasts, to be cared for, guided and nurtured in the embrace of family. As these children age, and they become more submerged in the world, sometimes the cacophony of the world’s bright lights seem to overpower that divine spark. Parents struggle sometimes to hold the hope of that divine spark amidst the distances and strains.
Saturday’s gospel reading reminds us that even as storms brew and dangers mount, Jesus is right in that boat with us — through all of life’s storms. Ultimately all we can do is trust in Him, hold close to His presence, keep His light shining in our hearts and in our homes, and carry His brightness to others.
The Presentation also reminds us of our Baptism, where parents re-present their child to God in thanksgiving. The pathway for parents involves a continuous giving over of our children to God. Ultimately we are simply proxies for His grace. Our time with our children is brief in the fullness of their lifespan and in the unimaginable expanse of heaven. Likewise, when children lose their parents, they often feel the time was just too short. While that primary bond between children and parents is so foundational to our identity and sense of wholeness, ultimately we have to adjust our eyes to a broader expanse — to image the wholeness and unity of heaven in the fulfillment of all loving relations.
Keep the lights burning as you illuminate dark pockets in our world and keep your eyes straining to adjust to the reality of that larger light that encompasses His Kingdom beyond the here and now. Most importantly, root out any dark places in your own life by frequenting the sacrament of Confession, for tending that delicate inner light is the challenge of our lives in pursuit of heaven.