The Feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem is celebrated February 2, the fortieth day after Jesus’ birth. This feast has signaled the end of the Christmas season ever since the 5th century. A report by ancient Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem says that this festival was celebrated with the same joy and fervor as Easter.
In the touching Gospel story for the feast, the extraordinary figures of the elderly Simeon and Anna in the Temple, along with the figures of Mary and Joseph, are icons and windows for us into the Hebrew Scriptures. Simeon and Anna carry inside of themselves the hope of their people. The old man Simeon, holding the baby, and the old woman, Anna, represent each one of us brought face to face with the 'newness' of God. This 'newness' of God is like a baby and we, with our old ways of doing things, our fears, our jealousies, our worries, our struggles for power and prestige, are brought face to face with the 'newness' of God. Simeon took the child Jesus 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.(Luke 2:28-32)
Simeon and Anna in the Temple challenge us to look at the ways that we deal with change and new life in our midst. Will we hold the baby in our arms, welcome him, make room for him in our lives? Will this 'newness' really enter into our lives or will we try to put the old and the new together hoping that the newness of God will cause us minimum disturbance? What new realities do we avoid or rebel against? How are we light and salvation for other people? How do we see God's glory in our life? Do we thirst for justice and peace? What are the new situations and who are the new people who have entered our lives in the last little while?
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), the German Jewish Carmelite Sister who died in the Auschwitz concentration camp, wrote these words about the Presentation or Our Lord in Jerusalem’s Temple:
The Christian mysteries are an indivisible whole. If we become immersed in one, we are led to all the others. Thus the way from Bethlehem leads inevitably to Golgotha, from the crib to the cross. When the blessed virgin brought the child to the temple, Simeon prophesied that her soul would be pierced by a sword, that this child was set for the fall and the resurrection of many, for a sign that would be contradicted. His prophecy announced the passion, the fight between light and darkness that already showed itself before the crib.
To truly celebrate Christmas means that we immerse ourselves in all of the mysteries of Christ. The real work of Christmas begins as we accompany the infant Jesus from Bethlehem to Nazareth to Capernaum and up to Jerusalem. Simeon's prophecy has indeed announced the passion, the fight between light and darkness that begins before the crib in Bethlehem. But as Christians, we have the consolation and the certainty that this "light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it" (John 1:5). Let me leave you with this prayer of the Shaker Community:
When the song of the angels is stilled,when the star in the sky is gone,When the kings are back home,when the shepherds are once more with their flocks,when Simeon and Anna have gone to their Master in peace,Then the work of Christmas begins:To find the lost, to heal the broken,To release the prisoners, to rebuild nations,To bring peace to all people, to make music in the heart.
Let the real work of Christmas begin in our lives and in our world. It is not too late.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation