Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
February 2, 2020
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
According today’s Gospel text,
in accordance with the Old Testament law given by God to Moses,
the presentation of Jesus is the Temple
occurred exactly 40 days after the birth of Jesus,
so 40 days after Christmas, or today, February 2.
So it is said that this feast is the last feast of Christmas.
Of course, the Christmas season ended 3 weeks ago,
but today we sort of look back at the days following Christmas
and remember this unique event in the life of the Holy Family,
including the remarkable prophesy of Simeon,
and the praise and witness of the prophetess Anna.
And so when this special feast of February 2 falls a Sunday,
it outranks the regular or ordinary time Sunday Mass,
and we celebrate it instead.
And we have these very special opening prayers to the Mass,
with carrying and the blessing of candles,
reminding us of Christmas in a unique way:
we remember how on Christmas
the angel of light appeared to the shepherds, as St. Luke tells us:
“The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them”
And we remember how a light in the sky, a star, led the magi to Jesus.
And so on this feast Simeon tells us, that
Jesus Himself is the “light for revelation to the Gentiles.”
And so, today we look back and experience a little bit of the joy of Christmas.
But today’s feast is more than that.
It not only points back to Christmas,
it also points forward to the even greater feast of Easter.
In fact, it forms sort of a midway point,
or a bridge between Christmas and Easter:
three weeks ago was the last day of the Season of Christmas
and just over three weeks from now is the first day of Lent
—the great season of preparing for Easter.
And so, in that context, looking in today’s gospel, we see some remarkable things.
First consider, that it says,
“When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem.”
According to law of Moses a new mother had to wait 40 days after childbirth,
a period of ritual purification, before she could take her child to the temple.
So, 40 days of purification.
Now, of course Mary had no need of spiritual purification,
but she was obedient to the law, and so she kept the 40 days.
Of course these 40 days of purification after Christmas
remind us of the 40 days of purification from sin in Lent before Easter.
And where do Mary and Joseph go to offer the sacrifice?
It says: they “took Jesus up to Jerusalem.”
And not just to Jerusalem, but clearly to the Temple in Jerusalem.
And on Palm Sunday, as we begin Holy Week,
where do we remember Jesus going: to Jerusalem and to the Temple.
Then, today’s gospel tells us Mary and Joseph came to the temple
to consecrate Jesus to His Father, and
“to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.”
What’s going on here is that essentially,
Jews were required to go to the Temple, God’s home,
and literally give their son to God.
But remember, in ancient pagan religions giving your son to your god
meant you had to had to sacrifice your son to your god—kill him.
Remember when Abraham was about to do this with Isaac, his only son
—he took him up Mount Horeb to sacrifice him,
but God, the true God, the all loving and all merciful,
spared Isaac and had Abraham sacrifice a Ram in his place.
So, the Law of Moses established this as the rule for all Jews:
you gave your son to God, but instead of sacrificing him
you sacrificed a year-old lamb,
or if you were poor 2 turtledoves or pigeons,
which represented your son.
So, by sacrificing your lamb or pigeons you were sacrificing, giving,
your son completely to God.
This is what the Presentation was about.
Well, what happens at the end of the 40 days of Lent?
We celebrate not only Easter, but as part the Pascal Mystery,
we celebrate Good Friday, the sacrifice of Jesus, the lamb of God,
on the Cross
—where Jesus actually offers Himself as a sacrifice for us.
So the sacrifice of the Presentation points toward of the sacrifice of the Cross
And then there is this beautiful prayer and prophecy of Simeon
But in there he has this line that seems completely out of place, as it tells us he,
“said to Mary his mother,
‘Behold, this child is destined… to be a sign of contradiction
–and you yourself a sword will pierce…’”
It seems out of place, except in the context of the Cross,
where contrary (or in contradiction) to appearances
Jesus was not defeated on the Cross,
but gained victory over sin and death.
And at that same cross, is Mary, standing with her son,
offering her son to the father,
just as she once offered her baby boy in the temple.
But this time, there was no lamb, there were no turtledoves.
This time her son was is the sacrifice, not redeeming Himself, but redeeming us.
And so, she again obediently accepted God’s will,
offering herself up with her son in spiritual sacrifice.
So as the soldiers drove a sword into Jesus heart,
that same sword spiritually pierced her heart as well.
All as Simeon foretold—at the Presentation.
And then as I mentioned before,
when Simeon calls Jesus “a light for revelation to the Gentiles,”
we remember the angelic lights of Christmas.
But we also remember that the light of the resurrection of Jesus
dispelling the darkness of death of Good Friday.
So that as the Church opens the celebration of Easter Sunday,
the Easter Vigil Mass begins with a ceremony
much like we just celebrated
—the only other Mass that begins
with the congregation holding candles symbolizing the light of Christ.
Again, the Presentation is a bridge between the light of Christmas
and the light of Easter.
As we celebrate the last feast of Christmas,
we remember that Christmas was only the beginning of our salvation.
Today we look back at the birth of Jesus,
but also forward to his death and resurrection.
And as we come to this sacred temple,
let us be like Simeon and Anna, giving praise and glory to our Lord,
and like Mary and Joseph present their son to the Father,
And as we enter into the mystery of this holy Mass,
the mystery of the Cross of Christ made present to us,
as Jesus offers Himself to His father for our redemption,
let us join Mary in offering ourselves in union with His Sacrifice,
giving ourselves completely to the Father, through Jesus.
And as we leave here today, may Jesus, who comes to us in Holy Communion
remain with us throughout the week,
and reveal Himself though our lives,
as a light to all those who seek Him.