Feast of the Presentation – February 2, 2014 – St. John’s, Goshen
Today’s feast of the Presentation of the Lord is considered so important that it takes precedence over the usual sequence of Sundays. Traditionally it has been the occasion for the blessing of candles so that it is sometimes called Candlemas and is considered to bring the Christmas season to an end.
That seems to be the focus of the Gospel reading for which the reading from the prophet Malachi was chosen to prepare us, the prophecy that the Lord will come to the temple, “the Lord whom you seek, the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.”
The people so in wait, so seeking, are then personified in the figures of Simeon and Anna in the account of the manifestation of the Lord in Luke’s Gospel. Simeon is described as “righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel,” that is, the fulfilment of the prophecies of Isaiah that one day the Lord would restore his people. Anna, the elderly woman haunts the temple area, as if also waiting, and this day she hastens to give thanks to God and to tell about the child “to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem,” this expectation running parallel to that of “the consolation of Israel.” In these two righteous people, Luke is saying, the Old Testament expectations are fulfilled as the child is brought to the temple in fulfilment of requirements of the Law. The beautiful brief canticle of Simeon expresses their joy: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory for your people Israel.”
But along with this recognition of the Lord’s presence and mercy we hear already in this account of a darker side. Simeon predicts what Luke’s Gospel will spell out in the following chapters. The child will cause division, will be a sign of contradiction, will encounter opposition, will be the criterion by which people’s thoughts will be revealed. And Mary, his mother, will not be spared: a sword of sorrow will pierce her heart also as she witnesses her Son’s ministry unfold. This prophecy, itself painful, will in later tradition become the first of the seven sorrows of the Blessed Virgin commemorated in Catholic devotion.
St. Luke has thus presented us with a beautiful conclusion of his infancy narrative and at the same time a kind of preparation for the public ministry of Christ that he will describe in the following chapters of his Gospel.
Perhaps we could go back to Simeon’s lovely canticle and make it and its sentiments of praise and thanksgiving our own. You may know that this canticle is recited by those who say the Divine Office every evening at Compline. To complete the day (the meaning of “Compline”), they use it to express their gratitude for the great blessing of being given to know the presence and power of God’s salvation in Christ and for other blessings received from God during the day. And within the peace of such knowledge and praise, they can say a simple prayer of surrender of themselves into the hands of God: “Now, Lord, you may dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory for your people Israel.” Could not we all include it in our night prayers–giving thanks for the blessings of the day, peacefully entrusting ourselves into the hands of God?