Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord forty days after his birth (Luke 2:22-38). This event, celebrated on 2nd February, reminds us that Jesus was born under the Law and his parents observed the Law and fulfilled its ritual requirements. These were twofold: the presenting their first born son to God and welcoming his mother back into the community following the prescribed days of purification. The couple were poor as their thanksgiving offering of two turtledoves indicated.
What traditions do you value?
The presenting of a baby is a wonderful and precious moment. There is uncontained joy and thanksgiving, lots of ponderings and hopes for the future. But for Mary and Joseph, presenting Jesus in a very busy temple became unique as it was marked by the ‘strange’ witness of two elderly people who had spent their lifetimes in the temple. Both Simeon and Anna were watching and waiting for the coming of the promised Messiah. Their waiting-in-hope was faithfully lived out through prayer and service of others within the community of the Temple. They were alive to the unexpectedness of the Messiah and their lives of prayer and service had widened their awareness and perception. Their fidelity and patience were rewarded – they both recognised Him!
Simeon and Anna had learned patience over the years. They came to know that God does not come in extraordinary ways but rather is present with us in the ordinariness of daily life. They must have known disappointment, maybe doubt, but did not lose hope in God’s promise.
What are you yearning for?
In the Eastern Church this day is known as The Feast of the Encounter, the first encounter, or meeting, of the Old Testament represented by Simeon and Anna and the Temple, with the New Testament, represented by Jesus. Simeon, like all of us, wanted to hold this new baby and when he does, a spirit of prophecy came upon him. He recognised that with this child in his arms he was in the presence of God’s salvation, the light for all nations.
The image of ‘Light for all’ led to the feast also becoming known as Candlemas Day on which candles are blessed which will be used during the year.
Where do you see light and hope?
Simeon’s prayer of thanksgiving is prayed each day at evening Compline: ‘Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace….’ All is now complete, the longed-for in the future is now present. We don’t know what happened to Simeon later but maybe his prayer, as well as being a completion of seeing what he had hoped for, was also a prayer of acceptance of the unknown for him in this later stage of his life…
Where do you find peace and acceptance?
Simeon’s encounter with Mary, while being one of great joy, was also a warning to her that her son who was to bring redemption to all without exception, would be a contradiction and that ‘her soul will be pierced with a sword so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’ What an unbearable message to the young couple who might have had different hopes… But that is the point: they lived in hope and trusted that in the living out of this and other prophesies God would be with them….There would be joy, suffering and growth in love and wisdom at the deepest level.
What hope do you see in the suffering around us?
Anna’s encounter with Jesus and his parents led her to praise God and actively speak to those around who looked forward to Jesus’s coming. She had been praying, fasting and waiting many years – she was a woman of great hope and was rewarded with the joy of seeing her Redeemer. In her enthusiasm she introduced the Messiah to all around. There’s no further comment about how people responded to Anna but we know that this is an invitation for us to respond to His coming into the temple our daily lives. This feast invites us, like Mary, to ponder these things in our heart and so in our encounters with others be open to what He is asking of us.
How is your life a witness to God’s coming among us?
‘When they had done everything….they went back to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and was filled with wisdom; as God’s favour was with him.’ (Luke 2: 38-40)