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The Presentation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple
Today is the Presentation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple.  This is always celebrated on the 40th day after Christmas which is today.  Joseph and Mary, being faithful Jews, followed the ritual where within 40 days, every first-born male child had to be given to God for priestly service in the temple.  Then the child would be symbolically redeemed, that is, bought back by the parents by a form of monetary sacrifice or, for the poor, by offering two turtledoves.  It was a ritual that was rich in significance which developed after the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and their 40 years in the desert.  You recall that the Israelites gained their freedom from pharaoh when God struck down the first-born males of the land, except those faithful Jews who followed the purification ritual he gave them.  So the Jewish practice of Presentation recalled God’s redeeming power.  Of course, Jesus did not need to go through the ritual presentation because he already belonged to God and did not need to be bought back from slavery because he was without original sin. As the first-born Son of God and the Redeemer of mankind, he would offer himself as the perfect sacrifice to pay the price for the guilt of the sins of the world. But out of obedience and humility the parents of Jesus followed the ritual and presented their son to God in the temple. 
What follows this act of obedience is the Prophecy of Simeon. Simeon had been waiting his whole life to see the Savior of the world come.  And even as an old man he didn’t give up believing but remained hopeful that he would witness the coming of the Christ.  You can sense the emotion and excitement when Mary and Joseph enter the temple and Simeon sees the baby Jesus and then with great joy takes him into his arms and speaks of how this child will be a light to the Gentile nations and the glory for the people of Israel. How amazing it must have been to witness that event!  But to most all those around, the baby Simeon held was just one of hundreds of babies being presented – Jesus was nobody special.  But since Simeon was inspired by the Holy Spirit he could see with the eyes of faith that God was fulfilling his promise to send his messenger as proclaimed in the first reading by the Prophet Malachi: “And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek, the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.”  So even though Simeon watched hundreds of presentations over the years, he did not lose their significance because he was inspired by the Holy Spirit.  He remained faithful so when suddenly the prophecy came true, he was ready to celebrate it. 
And the lesson for us is that the same Holy Spirit has been give to us to inspire us.  And if we like Simeon, are righteous, and if we remain faithful to our Christian practices and do them with devotion, we, too, will experience the fulfillment of God’s word. Certainly, as Catholics, we also have many rituals that we practice over and over again and it is easy to lose their significance if we take them for granted.  But the Holy Spirit has been given us to keep us alert to God’s presence through these rituals, to help us to see things that others do not, to remain hopeful for the fulfillment of God’s promises. For example, the rites of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Matrimony, these are beautiful rituals, filled with symbolism of God’s action, but they are much more.  They are moments when we are given God’s gift of grace and are strengthen by the power of the Holy Spirit.  If we get used them or lose their significance we’ll not be ready to experience their fullness.
Imagine if Simeon at some point in his life quit following that inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Imagine perhaps at some point in his younger years that going to the temple was no longer important.  Or if after some trial or tragedy he gave up on his faith.  Imagine if he had just grown bored with seeing a thousand presentations that he stopped believing that they had worth.  Had he quit he would have not been there at that moment when God fulfilled his promise.  And we hear about Anna the prophetess:  Imagine if she after becoming a widow would have just let sadness and selfishness rule her life.  What if she as an 84 year old said that it was too much for her to go to the temple to worship anymore? But the Gospel said she was always in the temple and was constantly fasting and praying in hopes for the coming of the Lord. 
Certainly, we get busy in life and have many priorities and we can make many excuses, but if we stop believing in the worth of our religious practices then we stop believing that God will fulfill his promises.  It in these times that we start seeking to have the world fulfill our desires, to give us instant emotional satisfaction.  We first stop being inspired by the Holy Spirit, stop having childlike faith.  We get bored with our Catholic rituals and lose their significance. And eventually we stop practicing them.  But look at Mary and Joseph who were obedient even when they were exempt from the ritual.  And Simeon and Anna were still eagerly awaiting even after a lifetime of disappointment.  You see, God wants to give us much more than emotional fulfillment.  He wants to give us spiritual satisfaction. And that is why we continue to be faithful, to follow the inspiration of the Spirit, even when we don’t feel like going to the church or praying and fasting anymore. We continue to celebrate our rituals with great faith and hopefulness.
And the greatest ritual that we have as Catholics is the Holy Mass. Each Sunday, we come into the church, this temple dedicated to God, not just because of religious duty or for ritual purification, but because we, like Joseph and Mary, are obedient to God and like Simeon and Anna, are inspired by the Holy Spirit!  And every Sunday we get to see the fulfillment of God’s promise, the hope of the coming of the Redeemer, the Christ, in word and sacrament. As Simeon received the Savior of the world and took him into his arms, we also receive the Lord Jesus and hold him close to us in the presence of the Eucharist.  Now, suddenly, our religious practices are something much more than rituals.  They are miracles that bring us to encounter the living God in the person of Jesus Christ.  They don’t just give us good feelings, they redeem us, they pay for our sins and fill our souls with saving grace. At each Mass we don’t just remember the excitement that Joseph and Mary had upon entering the temple, or the inspiration of the prophets Simeon and Anna, but we get to experience it and relive it!
And something even greater occurs than at the Presentation of the Lord in the temple of Jerusalem.  When we come to church and receive Holy Communion, we are actually united to Jesus, to his Body and Blood, which makes us pure and holy, like little newborn babies.  And then Jesus makes a presentation of us in the heavenly temple.  He gives us over to His Heavenly Father. So aren’t you glad you came to Mass today?  Aren’t you glad that you followed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?  In the Mass we become the ones being presented to God.  And so I invite all who receive Holy Communion today to make this your meditation when you return to your seat - that you are being presented to God the Father who takes you into his arms and embraces you with all his love.  And then you can also share the inspired words of Simeon: 
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”

 

 

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