Presentation of the Lord
First Reading Malachi 3:1–4
Psalm Psalm 24:7–10
Second Reading Hebrews 2:14–18
Gospel Luke 2:22–40
Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.
Reading the Word
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham.
Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
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 turtledoves 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 seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped 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 favor of God was upon him.
Hearing the Word
“Preparing for God’s Mission”
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord celebrates the Presentation of Jesus, but also celebrates other emissaries of God who carried out his salvific work in the world and history. They were chosen and prepared for their missions in a variety of ways, some of which are presented in today’s liturgy.
The prophet Malachi delivered his message in a time of an intense moral and religious crisis in Judah. The Temple in Jerusalem was neglected, religious ceremonies were performed carelessly, indifference to God’s Law and moral laxity set in, undermining the Israelites’ sense of being God’s chosen people. The nation was slowly dissolving.
In this troubled context, Malachi announced God’s intention to send a messenger to the failing nation. This emissary of God would suddenly appear in the declining Temple with a message of the covenant. As a messenger of the covenant he would first restore the faded sense of the Israelites’ distinctiveness as God’s chosen people. During the Sinai Covent God gave these people his Law as a guide and a pattern for life. They must return and hold on to it lest they disappear from history. The messenger would also purify the Levitical priests serving in the Temple. All entering God’s Temple, especially the priests, should have been ritually pure. At the time, priests and the people in general were far from adhering to the strict standards of ritual purity demanded by the Law. God’s messenger was to purify the priests so that Temple services would be performed “in righteousness”, that is in a manner specified in the Law and expected by God. Malachi believed that once the Temple worship was reinstated and pure sacrifices were offered, the country would again enjoy God’s favor and blessing.
In Malachi’s prophecy, God’s messenger had been chosen and sent by God to reform his fallen people and the negligent priests. He has been prepared for this mission because “God delighted in him”. This emissary of the divine would enjoy a special connection to God, a bond that would allow him to work effectively for restoration of the same bond between God and his people.
The reading from Hebrews reveals that Jesus prepared for his mission in the world by becoming truly human; he was not a God merely pretending to be human, but genuinely and truly a human being. There were two reasons for this. First, Jesus came to defeat the devil and the devil’s chief weapon – death. The book of Wisdom affirms that death was ultimately the work of the devil (cf. Wis 2:23-24). In order to defeat death and its master, Jesus took on what death destroys – the human body. He conquered death by dying in this body, and coming back to life in this body, he overcame death’s power. In this manner, Jesus defeated the devil using his own weapon, and conquered death where death had previously reigned.
Second, Jesus’ sharing of the flesh of human weakness made him a merciful and faithful high priest. His sacrifice on the cross became a unique sacrifice of atonement that benefited humanity precisely because it was offered through the sacrifice of the human body and blood. Jesus’ offered himself on the cross because of the compassion and mercy he felt for the people whose humanity, burdened by sin, he shared. In this sacrifice he was faithful, that is, he carried it out to the end, to the point of death, thus securing the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus prepared for his mission as the conqueror of death and the high priest of the new covenant by taking on a human body. Being divine while also human, Jesus overcame the common enemy of both God and humanity, the devil, and the devils’ chief tool, death. By the sacrifice of his human body Jesus also reconciled humanity to God, thus becoming a truly unique high priest of the new covenant.
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple fulfilled the Law of Moses which stipulated that every firstborn, whether an animal or a child, was to be offered to God (Exod 13:2,12). This was an act of “consecration”, or “making holy”. That means setting someone apart for God. Consecration of the firstborn was an acknowledgment that this new life was given by God and rightfully belonged to him. To receive the child back from God, the parents offered a symbolic animal sacrifice in return for the baby. For this reason, this ritual was sometimes called “the redemption of the firstborn”.
The parents of Jesus, faithfully fulfilling all the Jewish laws and customs, brought Jesus to the Temple to perform this ritual. They offered a sacrifice of birds to “redeem Jesus” so that they could take him back home to Nazareth, which they did. But the ceremony took a surprising turn as two prophets interrupted the proceedings.
The first one, Simeon, a was a devout man filled with the Holy Spirit. He had been promised that he would see God’s Messiah before he died. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon arrived in the Temple just in time to encounter Mary, Joseph and the baby. Taking the baby from his parents, Simeon took Jesus in his arms, and delivered his prophecy.
First, Simeon announced that he was now holding God’s promised Messiah, an embodiment of God’s salvation. This Messiah would bring salvation by becoming “a light for revelation to the Gentiles”. Through him the Gentiles would come to know the one true God and be brought to saving faith. This Messiah would also be “glory to the people of Israel”. Unlike the Gentiles, the Israelites had already received the divine revelation, but they were yet to experience the manifestation of God’s glory in the midst of this world. This glory, this presence of God, will now be made manifest in and through Jesus.
Simeon also addressed Mary with further prophetic disclosures about her Son’s messianic mission. His presence would be divisive, with some accepting and some rejecting him. His words would make known the hidden intentions and plans of many, while his work would be a reason for the rise or fall of people, depending on whether they believe in him or disown him. Finally, Simon spoke of a sword piercing Mary’s soul, clearly referring to Jesus’ death which his mother will witness in agony.
The second important witness to this scene was the prophetess Anna. This woman of extraordinary devotion lived continually in God’s presence, serving in the Temple. Seeing the child, and knowing who he was, she began to praise God loudly and, as a true prophet, to proclaim publicly that this child would redeem Jerusalem. The holy city was used here as a symbol for God’s holy, that is chosen, people. In her prophetic vision, Anna saw that redemption of God’s people has begun with Jesus’ arrival.
While his Law-observing parents consecrated Jesus for an exclusive service to God, Simeon and Anna disclosed his mission. This child was born as the Savior and Redeemer of all humanity. Thus, this first major episode of Jesus’ earthly life was a revelation about him, and a preparation for what was to come. With his purpose clarified and declared by his parents and the two prophets, Jesus’ mission in the world has begun.
The Feast of the Presentation affirms that God prepares those who will carry out his will and work in the world. God delighted in the messenger prophesied by Micah. His preparation for the mission of purification of the nation consisted in entering into a close and intimated bond with God. According to Hebrews, Jesus prepared for conquering death and his unique high priesthood by fully assuming human nature. Offering the baby Jesus to God, his parents and subsequently Simeon and Anna confirmed him as God’s Messiah, and thus also set him on a path to become the Saviour and Redeemer for all people. All God’s emissaries are chosen and prepared for facilitating God’s work in the midst of humanity. The Psalmist symbolically described this as a call for the gates to be lifted up, so that “the King of glory may come in”.
Listening to the Word of God
Every good coach of a soccer team has a game plan. He would observe keenly the flow of play on the field and, at the critical moments of the game, introduce one or the other key player. A player sent on to the pitch by a coach knows that responsibility is laid on his shoulders and that he has to play according to plan.
Life is a mission and there is a purpose attached to every human life. At different moments in salvation history, God introduces key players unto the “field” to accomplish a specific task. We are here for a reason. The mission of Jesus was beautifully articulated by both Simeon and Anna when he was presented in the temple. His mission was to save.
As followers of Christ, we share in the mission of Christ in two ways. First of all, in professing faith in Christ, we choose to be saved. By listening to the Word of Christ and putting into practice what we hear, we are delivered from sub-human conditions that inhibit our growth as children of God and set us free from lifestyles that enslave.
Secondly, having been transformed, we are sent on a mission to bring salvation to others. In other words, we are ‘saved to save’. In his message for World Mission Day 2018, Pope Francis wrote, “to be attracted and to be sent are two movements that our hearts, especially when we are young, feel as interior forces of love”.
Addressing thousands of young people at the 8th World Youth Day at Denver, USA, Pope John Paul II said, “do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops. Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern ‘metropolis’. It is you who must ‘go out into the byroads’ and invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people. The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference. It was never meant to be hidden away in private. It has to be put on a stand so that people may see its light and give praise to our heavenly Father”. Our lives are meant to be a blessing unto others in the economy of salvation.
Mission is about giving life. An Proverb of the Akwapim people in Ghana addresses hunters in these words, “O hunter, delight not in the number of animals you shot but in the number of mouths you fed”. This beautifully states that the end result of any mission must be life-giving.
The celebration of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord reminds us that God is interested in whatever happens here on earth. He has not abandoned the earth to rot. He wills to give life to all who are willing to receive it and offers salvation to all who desire it.
“O hunter, delight not in the number of animals you shot but in the number of mouths you fed.”
I prayerfully reflect on the statement of Pope Francis, “I have a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world”, seeking to answer the question, “what is my mission in this world?
Is my presence and interaction with other life giving? In what ways?
Response to God
I spend some time prayerfully thinking about the mission of the Church. I allow my thoughts to flow into prayer especially for those who are sent by the church as missionaries to different parts of the world.
Response to your World
My personal gifts ought to also benefit others, therefore, I will perform some life-giving acts during this week.
As a group we will look for an opportunity to be part of a missionary activity in our parishes. Where there is no such activity, we initiate one with the help of our leaders.
Eternal Father, you are the source of any life-giving mission. We offer ourselves to you this day to be transformed and sent out as light to the world. For the sake of Christ, we pray. Amen
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.