Our Lady of Lebanon Catholic Church, Norman, OK
Malachi 3, 1-4 + Psalm 24 + Hebrews 2, 14-18 + Luke 2, 22-40
Until now, we have been observers as the mystery of salvation unfolds in the Gospel. We heard about shepherds and then about magi. Until now, they were the privileged ones who saw with their own eyes the promised one. Today it changes. With the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, his presence among us becomes public for all to see. In Simeon and Anna, we must find ourselves among those who wait and watch as faithful people who, in the Temple of this Church, find the joy of salvation and the fulfillment of our hopes.
They are not significant people by the standards of their day. He is an old man waiting all his life to see the Messiah. Most people probably thought of him as an old fool, useless, and silly hanging around the Temple every day wandering through the crowds. Most people probably tried to avoid him, averting their eyes if he approached, or perhaps even turning away. He must have been a familiar sight to the regulars who had their shops and stalls selling what was needed for the rites. Those in charge probably thought he was a nuisance, and I suspect they probably brushed him aside so they could be about their duties. The old widow hangs around all day with her prayers, and she is probably not silent with those prayers either. Even the pious who came to pray probably avoided her. Suddenly a poor couple with a questionable story from a no-count village in a no-count country show up with a baby. It is a tender scene when you stop to think about it: old people and babies. They make a joyful match. The old ones near the end, and a little one at the beginning. There is something complete about this setting, and in it there is for us now a revelation. The Shepherds had one and the magi had theirs. Now it is our turn. Forty days have passed since Christmas. It is the mid-point of winter, and the light of the sun is returning to us as we assemble here in this temple to reflect upon the revelation that has been given to us.
This is our story now. We are Simeon and Anna, the ones who come to the temple with hopes and dreams resting on the promises we have heard from the prophets and in scriptures. When I think of this story I always wonder, “What if Simeon or Anna had not been there that day? What if they had stayed home or gone on vacation to the mountains or the beach. They had their experience because they were there, waiting, expecting, and open to whatever the Providence of God willed for that day. There is no reason to believe that Mary and Joseph were the only couple fulfilling the law that day. There is no reason to believe that there was anything special about Mary and Joseph that would have caught anyone’s attention. They were simply doing what was expected of them in the simplest way possible.
The sacrifice of turtle doves suggests a poor simplicity. The wealthy might have sacrificed a lamb, something much more costly. Remember, when a sacrificial offering is made it is way of setting something aside totally for God – by destroying what is offered, it can be used for nothing else – and by no one else: only God. If a portion of the first fruits of the field were offered back to the God who provided the harvest, it was the same with the first boy-child – in gratitude to God who provided the life, the first is offered back symbolically by a substitute offering. As the story of our salvation unfolds from this day in the Temple, the doves will be replaced by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
As always in Luke the Spirit is active, and it is that Spirit that drew Simeon and Anna to a child that day. Our hope and our prayer in this temple must be for that the same Spirit to move among us to praise God and speak about this child to all who look for redemption. With the Presentation in the Temple, this is no longer a private event that happens at night or in secret lest Herod find out about it. The word is out. The Word is Flesh among us. The Light has come. Yet, it is still a dark world that waits for the light. It is made all the more dark by the power of violence, hatred, and revenge. The darkness of racism, sexism, and prejudice still holds us in darkness. Injustice and poverty dim the glory that has been promised.
The favor of God no longer rests just upon Mary of Nazareth and her Son. The story we tell today is that the favor of God rests upon an old man and a widow in the Temple. Understanding what that story holds for us means that the favor of God rests upon us as well. It is time on this Feast to present ourselves to God. It is time to present what we have, what we do, and what we become. It is time to go from here as light and healing in a broken and dark world. We have the faith. We have the Spirit. We have the favor of God.