THE PRESENTATION OF OUR LORD IN THE TEMPLE
Today we celebrate light. We celebrate Christ who, 13.8 billion years ago, hovered over the darkness and appeared as light – “a light shining in the darkness.” We celebrate Christ, who in more recent times became the human face of God in Jesus and whose birth we celebrate at the darkest time of our calendar year. Today, as we move (here int the northern hemisphere) further out of the darkness of winter, we celebrate Christ, “a light for the revelation to all people.” And we also reflect on the two old people who recognised that light.
Just look at the faces of Anna and Simeon in the portrait below.
They are like ecstatic great-grandparents who have waited a long time for the birth of this little baby. Simeon looks as though he is holding a very precious treasure while Anna, her whole being dancing with joy, can’t wait to get her hands on the baby.
What was it about the lives of these two old people that enabled them to recognise that this wasn’t just any ordinary baby, that he was the One they had waited for, longed for and prayed for, for many years? In that era, very many couples, both rich and poor, must have come to the Temple every year offering their first male child to do for them, “according to the custom of the Law.” Yet as soon as Mary and Joseph arrived with their baby and their simple offering of two turtle doves, both Anna and Simeon recognised that here was the fulfilment of the prophet Malachi who as we hear in today’s first reading: “The Lord whom you seek, and the Angel of the Testament, whom you desire, shall come to the Temple.”
Both Anna and Simeon had spent their long life waiting for this moment. While they waited, they spent their years serving in the Temple, praying and fasting. That service surely involved meeting the many people who visited the Temple, praying with them and for them. Tiring work, yet done with a love and graciousness that was perhaps extended to each as though he or she were the One they awaited. As they suffered and endured the normal diminishment of sight, hearing, mobility and more, their interior life of faith, hope and love became enhanced and enriched so that they themselves became a light for those whom they encountered. And then the moment they held this ‘ordinary’ little baby, they knew in the very depths of their being that here was the light in the darkness, the light to all people, the long awaited One. The following poem by Denise Levertov can be related equally to Anna as to Simeon:
to infant light.
Before the cross, the tomb
And the new life,
of faith he drew on,
towards deep night.
So, tired old Simeon turned, illumined, and entered in peace into deep night or perhaps deep light. While Anna, the Prophetess whose role was to speak the word of God, illumined, began immediately to preach the good news.
Traditionally, today the Church blesses all the candles that will be used during the year. As we light our candle we pray: God of light and love, help us to live the warmth and welcome symbolised in this candle. Fill us with the flame of passion for life that imbued the lives of Anna and Simeon so that we too will be for others a light shining in the darkness.
Marie Redmond OP