Reflection for the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple - 1st February 2022
Of all the feasts of Our Lord I find the story of his presentation in the temple speaks most deeply to me of our own vocation as women of prayer. We meet Simeon and Anna who have lived faithful lives, deeply committed to seeking God in his temple and awaiting God’s salvation. We too are committed to seeking God, shaping our whole lives around this search in the life of this community. Our hope is to live out our lives here into old age, ever growing as we continually open ourselves to the work of God.
Simeon and Anna are beautiful examples of this gift of old age. They had not allowed themselves to become fixed in their ways, they had let go into openness to whatever life brings, when there is no longer anything to lose. Whatever expectations they may have had of the coming Messiah their eyes were open to see him in the baby brought to the temple by Joseph and Mary. As we sing in our hymn for this feast:
Simeon and Anna know him,
See the light of Israel,
Worship there the earth’s Redeemer
As he comes to be redeemed,
Know the sign, foresee the sorrow
of the mother and the Child.
Our expectations can so easily shape what we allow ourselves to see, of ourselves, of others and of God’s ways with us. To live in total openness to the unexpected is hard as we do need predictability in order to function, especially in community where we each have our roles to fulfil and need to know what is expected of us. At one level this story of Jesus being brought to the temple is completely predictable and expected. It was just another devout Jewish couple doing what was required for their first born son, part of a normal day in the business of the temple. But at another level only visible to those with eyes to see is something completely unexpected. The Lord has come to his temple as the saviour of his people and as a light for all nations, the Redeemer embodied in this tiny baby.
In the Old Testament the images of the Lord coming to his temple are very dramatic. Listen to this from the second book of the Chronicles, chapter 7:
When Solomon had ended his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord’s house.
Yet when Jesus was presented in the temple the coming of the Lord was missed by all but these two elderly people – there was no fire or thunder, no clouds of smoke. No doubt those getting on with their business around the temple were occupied in valuable activities, keeping the daily round of worship and sacrifices going. It was Simeon and Anna who had no particular role in the temple who were open to see what was happening. Their long devotion to prayer and worship had opened their eyes to the presence of the Lord in this child.
In a flight of fancy I found myself thinking of the person who must have sold the two young pigeons to Mary and Joseph – I imagine a youth helping his father in the family business. It was a useful and necessary business, enabling those who came to the temple to fulfil what the law required. But in his preoccupation with the job his eyes were not open to the Lord’s coming. I see him thirty years later, a much older man, being turned out of that temple where his family had traded for generations by an angry Jesus, the very same person who as a baby was redeemed by the pigeons purchased from him all those years ago. This seller of pigeons, and all those occupied with the business of the temple, embody the tragedy and sorrow that Simeon foresaw, the failure of God’s people to recognise their Redeemer.
Is there a warning here for us? Are we so caught up in our tasks and roles in keeping the life of the Abbey ticking over that we miss what God is actually doing? As ‘professionally religious’ women we must be alert to the seduction of our role, the performance we put on for others, which can become a substitute for the challenge of constantly opening ourselves to God’s work in us. Each one of us will have to face ageing, diminishment and death but in embracing that, and letting go our identification with what we do, we can be set free as Anna and Simeon were to be truly present to the Lord in his coming to us.
Mother Anne - 1st February 2022