Friday, February 02, 2007

Homily for the Presentation and Purification

Luke 2:22-40
And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons." Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel." And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

As John's gospel tells us, the Light of God was coming into the world. This is the Christmas message--the Light of God coming into a dark world, the mystery of the Word made flesh. Today's commemoration brings to a close the Christmastide celebrations around the world. The true Light that comes down from heaven has filled the temple and blessed it anew. It is fitting that we bless candles used in God's temple on this day, and so we call it Candlemas.

They came to the temple in humble obedience to the Law of Moses. Jesus is presented to the Lord, since the firstborn son who opens the womb is especially dedidated to the Lord. Also, according to the Torah, an offering is made and the mother and child are certified to be ritually clean again. Incidently, we know that the holy family is poor at least at this time in life because Mary offers the alternative sacrifice appointed for the poor--a pair of turtledoves or pigeons.

John had written that the Light of God was coming into the world, but he also noted that many did not recognize it. We read in Luke's gospel that two people did recognize that Light very early on--the holy Simeon and the prophetess Anna.

There was no reason they should have recognized Jesus. He and his parents must have looked like any ordinary family, the same kind which come to the temple day in and day out. Jesus surely looked like any ordinary child. He was not wearing a crown or priestly vestments. Unlike many of the pictures you see, there was no glowing nimbus around his head, setting Jesus apart from all the other children. Yet, they saw something extraordinary in Jesus. They recognized the Light when it came into the temple becuase they already knew that light in the depths of their hearts.

Simeon and Anna are both old and wise. Age does not always come with wisdom, but wisdom seldom comes without age. Wisdom is shared through a long process of encountering and discovering. Their inner wisdom recognizes that Wisdom from on high who ordered all things, now wrapped up in a simple little baby.

Simeon and Anna both have a deep spirituality. Each one is continuously guides by the Holy Spirit. They know God personally in their own lives. Both demonstrate their gift of prophecy. Simeon prophesies that this little child Jesus will be the cause of great change in the world, and that Mary will share the pain that comes in that process. Anna began to proclaim God's praise for the work that Jesus will accomplish as Messiah.

Simeon and Anna have both longed for the fulfillment of God’s word, longed to see the promises made to Israel long ago realized in the world. They are eager to behold God's blessing upon the nations. Both respond to the Light they encounter by worshiping God and sharing the good news they have discovered for themselves. We are told that Simeon embraced Jesus and sang of the wonders of his glory. We are told that Anna was continually in the temple praising God.

On this day in which we commemorate the presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple and the purification of the blessed Virgin Mary, may we find the grace to be like Anna and Simeon, who were filled with the Light of God and were able to recognized that Light in the world.

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