…the gospel tells us that we can only recognize the Messiah in our midst with the eyes of faith and with a soul wrapped in prayer.
All commentaries on this Sunday’s gospel say that Joseph and Mary’s presentation of the child Jesus in the temple is in obedience to the law – first, the purification of Mary after giving birth and second, the consecration and presentation of Jesus as the firstborn son. We see in this ritual being performed by Joseph and Mary the offering of their son – a gift from God back to God. Every child belongs to God.
In different cultures, there are rituals of presenting children to the community or to the society and these are considered milestones in the child’s life. But few would speak about a child being presented and consecrated to God. When the firstborn son of Prince William and Kate was first presented to the public, it made news all over the world, there was even a live telecast. We could only imagine how many photos were taken of this royal family. When we present a young daughter to “society” in a ritual called “debut,” we organize the best party and invite significant people.
Jesus is presented and consecrated in the temple with two young pigeons, the offering of the poor. No cameras, no klieg lights, no events coordinator, no music, no influential people, no applause. It did not make news all over the world, neither in the temple. The story of Christmas is consistent up to this point – a story of humility, fragility and solidarity with humankind.
BUT two persons noticed – two prayerful persons did notice that there in the temple was being offered the future messiah. Of the many people who might be there in the temple that day, Simeon and Anna noticed this obscure, ordinary family doing an ordinary ritual according to the law. It is said that Simeon and Anna never left the temple and prayed day and night. This detail in the gospel tells us that we can only recognize the Messiah in our midst with the eyes of faith and with a soul wrapped in prayer.
The Messiah is presented. In turn, God receives and claims the beloved Son. God, through Simeon and Anna, comes close, making once again the presentation ritual a manifestation and an encounter of the human and the divine. In the liturgical season, Christmas ends today. Yet we know that Christmas – the divine-human encounter — goes on to this day.
Today, let us welcome our Savior, the fragile baby offered in the temple, the light of the world. May we share his light to everyone we meet and may we recognize him in the many ways he comes to us every day.