Today is the feast of the presentation. It’s also traditionally known as Candlemas; it was a time when candles would be blessed —a candle, after all, emits light, and Jesus is the light of the world.
If Christmas were a forty-day season instead of just a 12-day season, today would be the fortieth day of Christmas! And indeed, in some Christian countries today, rather than the feast of the Epiphany or the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, is considered to be the end of the Christmas season.
There is a kind of liturgical rhythm to the Christmas cycle and the Easter cycle. Both begin with periods of preparation (Advent and Lent), and then after the feast is a season for celebration, culminating in a feast day that marks a manifestation of God — the Presentation marks the end of the “Christmas Cycle” in a way similar to how Pentecost completes the Easter season.
As Pentecost represents the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church, so today we commemorate Mary and Joseph bringing the child Jesus for his presentation in the temple, a rite of purification for the mother of the child, along with a dedication of a child which was customary for a firstborn son.
It’s a dramatic story, as our Gospel reading today makes clear. The encounter with Simeon and Anna the prophetess seems poignant, in this meeting between a newborn child with a life of promise ahead of him, receiving blessings from two older adults in the twilight of their lives.
Simeon’s words, which are now prayed every night in monasteries as part of the office of Compline, evoke a sense of benediction and a life completed: “Master, you may let your servant go in peace… for my eyes have seen your salvation.”
What I find particularly noteworthy about this story is the idea of bringing Jesus into the temple. For with the destruction of the second Jewish temple in the year 70, Christians have subsequently regarded Christ himself as our “new temple.”
But then add to that the theology of the Body of Christ: you, and I, and all the baptized — WE are the body, and so that means in a very real way, we are the temple. This is brought home by Saint Paul, who bluntly calls the human body “the temple of the Holy Spirit” in I Corinthians 6:9.
So a question for us to ponder: how can we follow Mary and Joseph, in a spiritual way, of presenting Christ in the Temple?
Perhaps every time we bring Christ to one another, in large ways or in small ways, we are, in our own way and guided by the Holy Spirit, “presenting” Christ in the temple of his ongoing mystical body.
But let’s not make the mistake of assuming that this calling — to present Christ to one another, presenting Christ in the temple of his mystical body — is all sweetness and light.
As the prophet Malachi reminds us, “Who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye.” Yes, we are called to bring Christ to one another — but that means we are asked to participate in the presentation of Love. Love with a capital “L.”
Authentic love is both joyful and passionate, but merciful and just, both affirming all that is good and true and beautiful, and relentless in its opposition to anything that negates love. So the call to present Christ is also the call to holiness — a holiness that is expressed in both personal and social ways.
One final thought. Even though this is not in today’s gospel reading, I must point out that twice in the second chapter of Luke, Mary is describing as pondering, or treasuring, in her heart, all the remarkable events that transpired around the birth and childhood of her son Jesus.
For Mary, you see, is not only the mother of God — she is also the mother of Contemplatives. May we, who are called to present Christ to one another, learn to ponder and treasure in our hearts, all the mysteries of Christ as well.
Note: this is a reflection offered to retreatants at Ignatius House Retreat Center in Atlanta, Georgia, based on the scripture readings for today: Malachi 3:1-4 and Luke 2:22-40.