It’s good that we get to celebrate the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple on a Sunday this year. Normally, whatever day of the week this feast falls on is the day it is celebrated. But the Church allows this feast day of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple to override, if you will, the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
We still celebrate the resurrection of our Lord from the grave, as we do every Sunday, for all Sundays outside of Easter Sunday are celebrations of what happened on Easter Sunday. But today we do so with a view of the events taking place 40 days after the birth of Christ inside the holiest place in all of Israel, the Temple of the Lord.
So, let’s take a walk into the inner sanctuary of the Temple to listen in and witness a few of these movements and spoken words, and allow them to still speak to us on our personal and communal journey of salvation. A journey where one day we also will be presented to our loving and merciful God who we hope, pray, and trust will embrace us for fulfilling and living up to His expectations in our lives.
With today being Super Bowl Sunday, I break this down into four connecting quarters.
First (quarter), Mary and Joseph fulfilling the precepts of the Law and their responsibility as parents by presenting Jesus to the religious tribe of their Jewish faith. The actual presentation begins for Jesus one lifelong action (about 33 years) and commitment to serving his Father in heaven. As we know, Jesus does not stray from his purpose. Rather, he fulfills to the fullest extent the message of repentance and salvation for all.
This beginning process is in fact like the first quarter of our lives. It is the very first religious ceremony in Jesus’ life. This ceremony in the Temple is now mirrored by our own Baptism. Or, as I said a few weeks ago, our Baptism was our first act of true worship. Our Baptism began a lifelong commitment to serving God. Our presentation began a process that culminates in heaven, but involves countless acts of faith during our short time here on earth. The presentation, our presentation, opened wide the door to serving the Lord and doing His will, not ours. “Your will be done, Lord.” Presentation is the first religious act of service.
Which leads to the second part (quarter), which is the image of Simeon embracing the child Jesus. The Gospel says that Simeon took Jesus “into his arms and blessed God” for the gift of this child. This spiritual image of the two becoming one is an image that unites our will to God’s will. We have become one with the Lord after the initial presentation, after our Baptism, inviting us to grow in wisdom, age, and grace, striving to make this a daily act in our lives.
We don’t take Jesus for granted. Nor do we take our presentation, our Baptism, for granted. Every day is a day for re-committing ourselves to the Lord, and doing our best to put forth and live out the great teachings of our faith that Christ the Teacher has taught us. The image of embracing Jesus, of taking him into our arms, is more than just momentary babysitting. It has eternal effects. Our embracing Jesus now, and re-committing ourselves to his service daily, is reversed at the end when the Lord will embrace us and wait on us at the Banquet of Life.
Third (quarter). The embracing of our Lord leads to the next natural step of amazement. “The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him.” They haven’t seen anything yet! From presentation, to embracing, to amazement at the words defining this child’s future. Very simply, when oneness with the Lord is our desire, we do some pretty amazing things. Others may or may not say amazing things about us, and in the end human praise is totally irrelevant, but the amazing results of our Christian discipleship will be recorded by the many pens and pencils in heaven.
For us to be amazing for the Lord through our Baptism and daily commitment to Jesus is to practice the virtues. Most notably the virtues of love, mercy, generosity, and humility. The reason that Simeon and others can say amazing things about this child at 40 days old is because the Spirit has revealed to them that this child is the perfection of all virtues. Once you’ve seen the best example of humanity, when you hold and look perfection in the eyes, we can say like Simeon, “Master, you may let your servant go in peace…for my eyes have seen your salvation.” Just like the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004, that amazing, unexpected feat completed a lifetime for thousands of people.
We have the capacity to do amazing things for the Lord. The Spirit provides what is needed.
And fourth (quarter), this all leads to my favorite person involved in the Presentation of the Lord; Anna the Prophetess. Why? Because she never left the Temple. I hope they had a Ladies Room in the Temple. Anna worshipped day and night for years on end with fasting and prayer. A Saint among saints.
In our Baptism that begins our journey of holding Jesus in our arms so we can go forth and do amazing things, what undergirds our relationship with God is to never leave the Temple. This is a serious problem today where so many have left the Temple. So many good people who mistakenly see the Church as a human institution only, rather than being divinely established and divinely upheld, Spirit-driven and Spirit-maintained.
To do amazing things, we are to be in the Body of Christ. To get away from the Temple, or to leave the Temple for any one of 10,000 reasons, places a heavy foot on the neck of our amazement. In the Temple, we breathe the breath of Life, with all of her human faults, and with all of her Divine perfections.
So, the Presentation of our Lord in a sense is like the Super Bowl of life’s journey. What begins in the Presentation and in Baptism continues forever, thanks be to God who gives us the power and grace to move forward.