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 firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.
It is normal human nature for parents to be proud of their children. Proud parents show off their new-born babies to family, friends and neighbours. Great care is taken over the choosing of names and, as children grow older, there is an ongoing hope that they will develop into a successful professional person in whom their pride can develop beyond the bounds of their wildest imaginings.
In today’s reading we see Mary and Joseph on the first steps of that journey. Just forty days ago we celebrated the birth of their miraculous son, that greatest of gifts from God. Mary was a virgin and yet she bore a son through the power of the Holy Spirit. At the birth of their son in the humblest of surroundings unusual events transpired, events that involved angels and shepherds and wise men. According to Jewish custom and practice he was formally named and circumcised although, uniquely, that baby boy was named by his heavenly Father, God himself. Then, as the daily routines of life must have reasserted themselves for Mary and Joseph, they encountered two faithful souls who reminded them of the truth that was represented in their tiny baby son.
Today, on this Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple all is revealed through the words and actions of Simeon and Anna. They see and recognize the Son of God in a baby who is brought to be designated as holy to the Lord. They will have seen many such moments in the lives of joyous families, but none with such world-changing significance. This baby, this Jesus, was different; this baby was destined for the falling and rising of many, and the human fate of this baby was to see a sword pierce Mary’s soul.
Today we are invited to turn our attention from the crib to the cross. In the coming weeks we will recall the life and ministry of Jesus as he leads us to the moment of his cruel execution. But, as we know, that will not be the end of the story. Three days after his humiliating death he will rise again and offer this world the salvation it needs. Today we are being invited to prepare ourselves for the challenges and horror that lies ahead, but we are also being invited to make that journey in the certain knowledge that this baby will conquer death and will, through his sacrifice, wash away our sins and open a new chapter on the human adventure.
Let us pray that we might stay the course as we journey through the coming days. Let us pray that, even as we stand alongside the heartbroken Mary at the foot of the cross, we might never forget the joy that lies ahead. Let us take the bliss of the incarnation through to the victory of the resurrection, no matter what lies ahead in the coming days.
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