Father Donald Senior, CP

Feb. 2: Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Lord whom you seek

Mal 3:1-4; Ps 24:7, 8, 9, 10; Heb 2:14-18; Lk 2:22-40

With this beautiful feast the Christmas season takes its final bow. Only now does the Vatican take down its great creche that crowns St. Peter’s Square and, Queen Elizabeth waits until now to have the Christmas decorations removed from Buckingham Palace.

In Luke’s Gospel, the presentation of Jesus in the temple by Mary and Joseph brings his wondrous account of the conception and birth of Jesus to its beautiful finale (coming later is the Holy Family’s visit to Jerusalem for his bar mitzvah). 

Several themes favored by Luke are present here. The evangelist underscores the Jewish roots of Jesus and his mission.

The focus falls on Jerusalem, the heart of Judaism, and its magnificent temple. Jesus will return to Jerusalem and its temple at the climax of his mission, and in the wake of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the church is born in Jerusalem at the moment of Pentecost. 

The Jerusalem Christians will gather for prayer in the Temple each day. It is from Jerusalem that the Gospel will reach to the ends of the earth — proclaimed by the Spirit-filled missionaries of the early church.

Unlike Matthew’s infancy narrative that introduces threats against Jesus and his family and their displacement in exile under Herod’s murderous intent, Luke portrays the deeply faithful Jews of Bethlehem and Jerusalem welcoming Jesus with love and tenderness. This is especially true in the scene portrayed in our Gospel today. 

In accord with the command of the Jewish law (see especially Lv 12:1-4), 40 days after giving birth the mother is to bring her child to the temple, both as an act of purification and dedication. They offer as a gift “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” — a concession in the law for poorer families who could not afford more. Luke delights in portraying the parents of Jesus as faithful Jews, as will be their son. 

The first reading from the prophet Malachi and the response from Psalm 24 help us imagine the drama and beauty of this moment. Jesus, the infant Son of God and son of Mary, enters his Father’s house. Malachi foresees a day of liberation: “And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.” The psalmist exclaims: “Lift up, O gates, your lintels; reach up, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may come in!”

The focus now falls on the reception of this child and his parents. Again, the words of the Psalm response set the tone: “Who is this king of glory? The Lord of hosts; he is the king of glory!” 

Two prophets who live within the sacred confines of the temple greet the infant Jesus. Prompted by the Spirit, Simeon takes into his arms the Christ, the Messiah, the very one for whom he has been longing all his life. Simeon breaks out in ecstatic praise: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace … for my eyes have seen your salvation … a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel.” Simeon’s life is complete. (His canticle is repeated every evening in the Church’s prayer of compline.)

Attention also falls on Mary, whom Luke had earlier portrayed as a model disciple in the Annunciation scene. She listens to God’s Word and faithfully responds to it. Simeon foresees that her son’s mission will include strong opposition. These are words of sorrow and warning that pierce the heart of this young mother.

Typical also of Luke is that he pairs men and women in many scenes. Anna, another faithful Jew and a prophetess living in the Temple, also recognizes who this child is and gives thanks to God. She begins to proclaim this good news to “all those awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Today, in one vivid scene, we have the essence of our Christian faith: recognition of Jesus as God’s Son, the Word made Flesh; trust in God’s unconditional saving love for us; the compelling example of those who respond to this message with love and commitment.


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