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.
O gates, lift high your heads;
reach higher, ancient portals,
that the king of glory may come in! (R./)
Who is this king of glory?
The Lord, powerful and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle. (R./)
Lift up, O gates, your heads;
reach higher, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may come in! (R./)
Who is this king of glory?
The Lord of hosts; he is the king of glory. (R./)
Since all the children share flesh and blood, he 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 worshipped 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.
The description of the Presentation, like the rest of the stories about the infancy of Jesus, was probably shaped by the early liturgy of the Christian movement. Other parts of the gospel are based on more solid information, such as sermons and written traditions gathered by the Gospel writers. There is no trace of this “gathering” process in the infancy narratives, which modern biblical scholarship now treats as edifying stories which Matthew and Luke were inspired to write, to provide a spiritual background for the public ministry of Jesus. These infancy stories were carefully interspersed with citations from the Jewish scriptures and are like mini dramas written for the community and perhaps acted out by children (just as the infancy narratives often are today). They are not to be dismissed as pure fiction, but should be respected for what they are: edifying stories told to enshrine their faith in who and what they knew Jesus to be. The elderly pair in today’s Gospel give voice to the early Christian faith – and our faith too.
Mary and Joseph must have often pondered, as did Simeon and Anna, wondering what destiny lay ahead for their child. Like most parents, they probably had high hopes for him, which are echoed in the words of Anna, while the prophecy of Simeon contains a more ominous tone, about the contradictions that would be raised against Jesus.
Incidentally, the custom of blessing candles today comes from an ancient Roman custom. The special location (“station”) for celebrating today’s feast was a church in the ruins of the Forum called Santa Maria in Foro and, since it was in the dark of wintertime, the people used lighted candles to find their way among the ruins. The devotion to the baby Jesus, as the Light of the World, presents him as one who overcomes the darkness.
Both Simeon and Anna have something to show us about how to receive the Lord. Simeon’s response on meeting the infant Jesus was a hymn of praise to God. His prayer is included in Compline, the church’s official night prayer. Anna’s response was to speak about Jesus to others, especially to those who were waiting for God’s help in time of need. While Simeon worshipped, Anna bore witness, calling others to Jesus.
Today’s feast invites us to welcome the Lord in prayer and in witness. We thank our loving God for the gift of his Son, the light of the world. We share our joy with others because the Lord who entered his temple has entered our lives too. Today we learn from Simeon and Anna how to welcome his gracious coming.
The story of Jesus’ birth is unsettling. According to Luke, Jesus was born in a village where there was no place to receive him. The shepherds had had to look for him through all Bethlehem until they found him in a remote place, resting in a manger. Luke felt it necessary to compose a second story in which the child is rescued from anonymity, to be welcomed publicly. What place is more appropriate than the Temple of Jerusalem so that Jesus would be solemnly welcomed as the Messiah sent by God to God’s people?
But again, Luke’s story ends up unsettling. When the parents come to the Temple with the child, none of the high priests or other religious leaders come out to meet him. In just a few years they will be the ones who will hand him over to be crucified. Jesus doesn’t find a welcome in a dogmatic religion too secure in itself and forgetful of the suffering of the poor.
Nor is he welcomed by the teachers of the Law who preach their traditions in the plazas of that Temple. Years later they will reject Jesus for healing the sick, breaking the law of the Sabbath. Jesus doesn’t find a welcome in doctrines and religious traditions that don’t help us live a more dignified and healthy life.
The ones who welcome Jesus and recognize him as the One Sent by God are two elderly people of simple faith and open heart who have lived their lives awaiting God’s salvation. Their names seem to suggest that they are symbolic characters. The old man is called Simeon («the Lord has listened»), the old woman is called Anna («Gift»). They represent so many people of simple faith who in every village of all times live with their trust placed in God.
These two belong to the more healthy environments of Israel.
They are known as the «Group of Yahweh’s Poor».
They are people who have nothing but their faith in God.
They don’t think about their fate or their welfare.
They only hope from God for the «consolation» that the people need,
the «liberation» that they’ve been looking for throughout the generations,
the “light” that enlightens the shadows in which the people of the earth live.
Now they feel that their hopes are being fulfilled in Jesus.
This simple faith that hopes in God for the definitive salvation is the faith of the majority.
A faith that’s barely formed, that is almost always formulated in awkward and distracted prayers,
that is expressed in barely orthodox formulas,
that is awakened above all in difficult times of hardship.
A faith that God has no problem understanding and welcoming.
(José Antonio Pagola)