Reflection for the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple - 2nd February 2021

Anna the Prophet

Liturgical time is a strange thing – we have gone from the infant in his mother’s arms to the adult Jesus bursting upon the world with signs and wonders in Galilee in the space of a few weeks, and now once more he is the babe in arms as he is presented in the Temple 40 days after his birth.

Perhaps this is a bit like the action replays you get when watching sports on TV – go back, watch that superb goal in slow motion, savour again and again the moment of victory. For us now at this Feast of the Presentation it’s an opportunity to go back after the glory and excitement of Epiphanytide and look again in more detail at what went before. Here in the temple, at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, there are pointers to his earthly ministry of teaching and healing but also there are hints of what is to come beyond this. Any number of action replays cannot plumb the depths of the victory won for us by Jesus, God incarnate, but I share a few thoughts from pondering this feast.

It was a moment of joy for his parents, presenting their first-born son to God, and a moment of joy for Simeon who welcomed him in words recorded in the Gospel according to Luke Chapter 2:

“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."

But after these glorious words:

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."

I’ve heard it said that this feast of Candlemas is when we leave behind the joy of Christmas and turn towards Good Friday and Easter. Simeon speaks of an important dynamic of Jesus’ life and of our own lives as Christians – that the joy of salvation comes through embracing and transcending conflict and suffering.

In the Epiphanytide readings we have heard of Jesus’ healing ministry but also the questioning thoughts of those who encountered him. Where is all this coming from? Who does he think he is? We like to think that true love would be so obvious that we could not miss it, yet this open, inclusive love that welcomes the broken, the maimed and the outcasts can be very threatening to our tidy lives. Jesus is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” but light so often reveals things that we’d rather keep hidden. In the words of our Epiphanytide Lauds hymn:

Alive as early morning light
Christ comes as daybreak to the world
A shaft of shining clarity
Revealing God’s pure holiness.

That pure holiness shines into our hearts to reveal both our glory and our sin. Yet it also reveals God’s infinite love for each one of us.

Our hymn continues:

May we with faith receive the Word,
With love make answer to his love,
Within the light of life now walk
As children of the living God.

This Christmas season we have been pondering the way of peace. Simeon’s words touch on the paradox that this way of peace is also a way of conflict. In the words of St. Benedict, we are not to make a false peace but rather have the courage to confront the brokenness of life. At the beginning of Advent we stood with the prophet Anna, one who had been unafraid to embrace all that life brought to her. She still praised God in the midst of the suffering and humiliation of her people, and in the face of the tragedy of her own life. We now see God blessing her in her faithfulness and opening her eyes to the glory of the child who would be the redemption of Jerusalem.

The salvation that Anna and Simeon, and all of us, long for will be no easy answer to the mess and pain but it will be a source of great joy. May we have the courage to walk this journey to the cross, and thence to resurrection and new life in abundance.

As our hymn concludes:

With joy we worship Christ our Lord;
May we embrace the life he brings,
Reflect the glory of his face,
Behold it for eternity.

Mother Anne - 2nd February 2021