Sunday, December 28, 2014
The one longed-for by all
The presentation of the Child in the Temple
1. Opening prayer
O God, our Creator and Father, you willed that your Son, generated before the dawn of the world, should become a member of the human family. Rekindle in us an appreciation for the gift of life, so that parents may participate in the fruitfulness of your love, old people may pass on to young ones their mature wisdom, and children may grow in wisdom, piety and grace, all giving praise to your holy name. Through Christ our Lord.
2. Reading: Luke 2:22-40
22 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 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons."
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27 And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29 "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; 30 for mine eyes have seen thy salvation 31 which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel."
33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; 34 and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed."
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, 37 and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
- that the Word of God may dwell in us and that we may allow it to enlighten our lives;
- that before we pass any comments, the very light of the Word may shine and dominate with the mystery of the living presence of the Lord.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) Why should Jesus, Son of the Most High, and his mother Mary, conceived without sin, obey the prescriptions of Moses? Maybe because Mary was not yet aware of her innocence and holiness?
b) Is there special significance in the words and attitudes of Simeon and the prophetess Anna? Do not their actions and joy perhaps recall the style of the ancient prophets?
c) How can we explain this "sword" that pierces: is it a rending of the consciences before the challenges and richness of Jesus? Or is it only the inner pains of the Mother?
d) Can this scene mean anything to parents today: for the religious formation of their children; for the plan that God has for each of their children; for the fears and sufferings that parents carry in their hearts when they think of the time when their children grow up?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish go deeper into the text.
a) As laid down in the law of Moses/of the Lord. This is a kind of refrain repeated several times. Luke mixes two prescriptions without making any distinction. The purification of the mother was foreseen in Leviticus (12:2-8) and was to take place forty days after the birth. Until then, the woman could not approach sacred places, and the ceremony was accompanied by the gift of a small animal. But the consecration of the first-born was prescribed in Exodus 13:11-16, and was considered a kind of "ransom" in memory of the saving action of God when he liberated the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. For this also the offering was a small animal. In all of this scene, the parents seem to be in the process of presenting/offering their son as was done with sacrifices and Levites, while through the persons of Simeon and Anna it seems rather God who offers/presents the son for the salvation of people.
b) Simeon and Anna: these are figures full of symbolical value. Their role is one of recognition, that comes from both the enlightenment and action of the Spirit and a life lived in expectation and faith. Simeon especially is defined as prodekòmenos, that is, one entirely absorbed in waiting, and one who goes forward to welcome. He, too, appears to be obedient to the law, the law of the Spirit, who leads him towards the child in the temple. The canticle he proclaims manifests his pro-existentia, he has lived in order to come to this moment and now he withdraws so that others may see the light and the salvation to come for Israel and the pagans. Anna completes the picture, by her very age (symbolical value: 84 equals 7x12, the twelve tribes of Israel; or 84 – 7 = 77, double perfection), but above all by her way of living (fasting and praying) and by her proclamation to all who "looked forward". She is led by the Spirit of prophecy, docile and purified in her heart. Besides, she belongs to the smallest of the tribes, that of Aser, a sign that the small and fragile are those more disposed to recognise Jesus, the Saviour. Both of these old persons – who look like an original couple – are symbols of the best of Judaism, of faithful and meek Jerusalem, that awaits and rejoices and that from now on allows the new light to shine.
c) A sword will pierce: generally these words are interpreted as meaning that Mary will suffer, a drama made visible of the Our Lady of Sorrows. Rather, we need to see the Mother as a symbol of Israel. Simeon feels the drama of his people who will be deeply torn by the living and sharp word of the redeemer (cf Lk 12:51-53). Mary represents the path: she must trust, but will go through times of pain and darkness, struggles and painful silences. The story of the suffering Messiah will be painful for all, even for the Mother. One does not follow the new light of the whole world without paying the cost, without being provoked to make risky choices, without being always born again from on high and in newness. But these images of the "sword that pierces", of the child who will "trip" and shake hearts from their lethargy, are not to be separated from the meaningful action of the two old persons: the one, Simeon, takes the child in his arms to show that faith is a meeting and an embrace, not an idea of theorem; the other, Anna, takes on the role of proclaiming and enkindles a bright light in the hearts of all who "looked forward" to him.
d) Daily life, an epiphany of God: finally, it is interesting to note that the whole episode emphasises the situation of the most simple and homely: the young couple with the child in their arms; the old man who rejoices and embraces, the old lady who prays and proclaims, those listening who appear to be indirectly involved. At the end of the passage, we also get a glimpse of the village of Nazareth, of the growth of the child in a normal context, the impression of a child extraordinarily gifted with wisdom and goodness. The theme of wisdom woven into the fabric of normal life and growth in a village context, leaves the story as if in suspense, and it will be taken up again precisely with the theme of the wisdom of the boy among the doctors in the temple. Indeed, this is the episode that follows immediately (Lk 2:41-52).
6. Psalm 122
I was glad when they said to me,
"Let us go to the house of the Lord!"
Our feet have been standing within your gates,
Jerusalem, built as a city which is bound firmly together,
to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
There thrones for judgment were set,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
"May they prosper who love you!
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers!"
For my brethren and companions' sake I will say,
"Peace be within you!"
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
7. Final Prayer
Father, we praise you and we bless you because through your Son, born of woman by the working of the Holy Spirit, born under the law, has ransomed us from the law and you have filled our life with light and new hope. May our families welcome and remain faithful to your designs, may they help and sustain in their children the new dreams and enthusiasm, wrap them in tenderness when they are fragile, educate them in love for you and for all creatures. All honour and glory to you, Father.