And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek.
The Lord Jesus’ first entry into the temple sets the tone for this whole week, which begins with today’s great Feast of the Presentation. All week we will reflect on Jesus who comes as the “light for revelation.” As Pope Benedict says, his Presentation in the temple “contains the fundamental symbol of light; the light that comes from Christ and shines on Mary and Joseph, on Simeon and Anna, and through them, on everyone” (cf. this week’s Spiritual Reflection, p. 120). This light shines on us as well and gives us a mission. As our theme for the week states, we who have received Jesus are Light-bearers, meaning we carry Jesus, who is the Light, to those around us.
Mary can be called the original Light-bearer because she carried the Light in her womb for nine months. She is a prominent figure in today’s feast as she and Joseph carry Jesus to the temple. It is through Mary that Jesus came into the world, where he became “like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people.” Indeed, his Presentation in the temple foreshadows the “presentation” he will make to the Father on the Cross to redeem us from our sins.
Today’s Gospel tells us what happened when Jesus was forty days old. Mary and Joseph bring him to Jerusalem in order to fulfill the Jewish law. The purpose is twofold: for the ritual purification of Mary (this day used to be called the “Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary”) and for the consecration of her first-born son to God. At that time, a woman’s purification following childbirth was necessary before she could return to worship in the temple. It required the sacrifice of a lamb, or, if the family was poor, two turtledoves or young pigeons. In fact, Mary had no trace of impurity, and Jesus, the eternal Son of God, had no need to be consecrated, but as obedient Jews they humbly submit to the dictates of the law.
The aged Simeon, who knew in his heart that he would see the Messiah before his death, comes to the temple, inspired by the Holy Spirit. How long had he been waiting in hope for the Lord to fulfill his promise? He teaches us how to wait in faith. Now, suddenly, as Malachi had prophesied, the Lord whom Simeon was seeking comes to the temple. But the Lord does not look “like refiner’s fire” – he is still an infant! Simeon takes the baby Jesus in his arms and offers this profound and grateful prayer to the Father: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” With this public prayer, Jesus is acknowledged in the temple for the first time as the promised Messiah, the Savior, not only of the people of Israel but also of the Gentiles.
Simeon is aware, we learn from his next words, that this Messiah’s work will involve sacrifice. Jesus comes to the temple not only as an infant to be consecrated, but as Priest and Victim. In offering himself in sacrifice, he is the fulfillment of what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, that through his death “he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.”
Part of the joy of today’s feast comes from our awareness that darkness is scattered, that we need not fear anything, even death. The same Holy Spirit who inspired Simeon gives us the grace to persevere in faith. He strengthens us against the temptations of fear, anxiety, and discouragement when we suffer illness or face death (cf. CCC 1520).
Simeon is also enlightened by the Spirit regarding Mary’s role in the mission of her Son. In the plan of God, she is the predestined woman who will participate in the redemption by her share in the Cross. Simeon speaks to Mary about this mystery: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted – and you yourself a sword will pierce – so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Here Simeon prophesies the anguish Mary will suffer as she stands at the foot of the Cross. Yet, her faith will not waver; her trust in God’s word is absolute.
We are called to imitate Mary, and to be Light-bearers with her. Strengthened by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we place our trust in Jesus, the Messiah. “The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him” (St. Sophronius; cf. Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, February 2, Presentation of the Lord).
Am I a joyful bearer of Jesus, the Light, bringing him to those whom I encounter like Simeon and Anna? Am I aware of the workings of the Holy Spirit in my life as Simeon was open to the revelation that Jesus was the Messiah? In times of anguish and difficulties, does my faith and trust in God waver or do I imitate Mary as she hears the words of Simeon and stands at the foot of the Cross?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.