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Marylightmas, the literal translation of what today’s feast used to be called in the Netherlands. The focus on the Blessed Virgin, although deemed slightly inappropriate after Vatican II, is not entirely unjustified. In our celebration of today, which is now styled ‘the Presentation of the Lord at the Temple’, Mary, and her husband St. Joseph, are the instigators of the action. They are the ones who bring Jesus to the temple, but of course, it is His presence there that dictates what happens next:
And when the day came for them to be purified in keeping with the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord – observing what is written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is prescribed in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to the restoration of Israel and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said: “Now, Master, you are letting your servant go in peace as you promised; for my eyes have seen the salvation which you have made ready in the sight of the nations; a light of revelation for the gentiles and glory for your people Israel.”
As the child’s father and mother were wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed – and a sword will pierce your soul too — so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.”
There was a prophetess, too, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came up just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.
When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And as the child grew to maturity, he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.
Christmas is forty days behind us. Jesus, like any other firstborn Jewish male, is brought to the Temple to be consecrated to the Lord. He may be God, but He is also fully human and a such part of a human community with all its customs and habits. Maybe we can say that, just as the human Christ is consecrated to God, the divine Christ takes all of humanity with Him in His consecration. He has come to us, and already does He take us into Him.
The two elderly seers, for that is what we can call them, Simeon and Anna, again display that first characteristic that we saw the day before yesterday: faith. But here it is a joyful faith, a faith that praises God. He has come, “the salvation which you have made ready in the sight of the nations; a light of revelation for the gentiles and glory for your people Israel”. But the certainty of their faith also contains words of warning. There will be hardships and pain in order for Him to be our Saviour.
Things really start going here: not only the young life of Jesus with His family, friends and neighbours, but also the road to our salvation: God has come to live among us,
Art credit: ‘Simeon’s Moment’ by Ron DiCianni, who describes his work here.