The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
Eight days have passed since that very special moment when the world stood still and Our Savior was born. We see Joseph and Mary bringing the Infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, in keeping with the Mosaic laws. They were following the tradition of their people, in obedience to the tenets of their Faith: "Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord." (Luke 2:23-24) They knew this Child was the Son of God and above the ordinances that man must follow; but never, for one moment, did they think this precluded them from obeying the law of their ancestors. Therefore, they made the journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. They weren't prepared for what was to happen to them there.
We don't know if Joseph or Mary ever considered how the world would learn about Jesus. They knew what the Angel had revealed to each of them, as well as to Zechariah and Elizabeth. But this was all within the confines of their family. They believed in the specialness of their Son, Who had been conceived by the the Holy Spirit; but they didn't know how the Father would manifest His Son's presence and mission to the rest of the world. Well, they were about to find out, pretty quickly.
Mary and Joseph did everything that was required under the law of Moses. On this day of Circumcision, it was customary to bring a spotless lamb and a turtledove for sacrifice. But as they were too poor, Joseph could only bring a pair of turtledoves. Didn't he realize that he had brought the Spotless Lamb, the Son Whom God had entrusted to him. Joseph and Mary's hearts beat excitedly, as they climbed to the entrance of the Temple.
There was a lot of activity going on, people going in and out of the Temple. To their amazement, it seemed as if someone was frantically calling out to them. They whirled around to see where it was coming from. There was no one there, except for an old man sitting on the steps, his head bowed low. It couldn't have been him, they thought. He raised his head and stared at them. They entered the Temple; the old man followed them. He was still making sounds, but now they were more like moans of joy mixed with pain. His eyes were riveted on the Baby. Mary laid Jesus on the table, in preparation for His Circumcision. The old man seemed harmless enough to Joseph and Mary, but she became startled when he took the Baby in his arms.
The old man raised his head towards Heaven, and praised the Lord.
"Now, Master, You can dismiss Your servant in peace;
You have fulfilled your word.
For my eyes have witnessed your saving deed displayed for all the peoples to see:
A revealing light to the Gentiles,
the glory of Your people Israel." (Luke 2:29-32)
Scripture tells us "The Child's father and mother were marveling at what was being said about Him." (Luke 2:33-34) At first blush, we have to wonder why Joseph and Mary were marveling. Had not the Angel told them that Mary would give birth to the Son of God? Was it that they did not expect it to be revealed so soon? Simeon recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the moment he saw Him. He prophesied Jesus' mission, immediately. How did he know this? Luke tells us the Holy Spirit entered into the old man. (Luke 2:25-27)
Now, stand beside Mary as she looks at Simeon. He turns from the Baby to her, and prophesies:
"This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed - and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword - so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare." (Luke 2:34-35)
Did she watch his eyes as he spoke? With his first words, her heart had leapt with joy. The Angel Gabriel's words to her were confirmed! My God, what was he saying, now? She understood "the rise of many", but what did he mean: "the downfall of many in Israel"? How could this be? Her Son was to be the Savior of Israel. He was to free His People from slavery. How could Simeon have given her a gift that lifted her spirit to the heights of joy only to wound her with words that had to plunge her into the deepest sorrow? What was this man saying? What did this prophecy mean to her Son? Those whose downfall he would bring about, would they hurt Him? Did you suddenly feel a pain in your heart, Mary? Did a sword pierce your heart?
Mary was a young girl. She wasn't supposed to be able to understand what Simeon was saying. He was speaking words far beyond her age, words of wisdom from a sage, a prophet. How was she supposed to understand what they meant? Yet, she clung to them. She listened intently, not necessarily understanding completely what was being said, but knowing and accepting that her road would be a hard one. Mary said yes one more time!
No sooner had Simeon finished than another old person, this time a woman, entered the room. It was Anna, the prophetess. A widow for many years, she spent just about all her time in the Temple. As soon as Anna saw the Baby, she knew she was in the presence of the Almighty. She began to praise God, and tell anyone who would listen that this Child would be responsible for the deliverance of Jerusalem. Did Mary think: That's more like it!?
Mary listened intently to the words of the woman. Mary liked Anna. It was obvious, Anna was taken with the Baby Jesus. Her eyes shone with love, as she knelt before Him. It had to be the Holy Spirit who had revealed all that had been said by the two prophets; they had not had a chance to speak and arrange their words ahead of time. There was no logical explanation why these two, a prophet and a prophetess, would know so much about her Baby.
All the things that had happened to Mary in the past year came back to her. The words of the Angel Gabriel, when he appeared to her in Nazareth, were all coming to pass. It seemed so long ago, that time in Nazareth, and yet it was only nine months ago. So much had happened in her life since then. She had been a child then, a special child, but a child, nonetheless. Now she was a mother, a protective mother, a concerned mother, a strong mother if need be, but unquestionably a mother.
These people were talking about her Child! True, He was the Son of God, but He was also her Child. He was Flesh of her flesh; her blood flowed through Him. She had known Him in a way that no one had or would ever know Him. He had grown inside her. She heard His first Heart Beat. She felt the first time He kicked his tiny Foot within her womb. She knew Him from the moment He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Now, she would accept the responsibility, she had been entrusted with; to care for Him, to guard Him from all danger, to nourish Him not only with physical food but spiritual food of Holy Scripture. She had listened carefully for anything that might be threatening to her Baby. She would not forget any of their words.
What these two people did was affirm her mission. The three wise men, kings themselves, had bowed to her Son respecting Him as a King above all other kings. Now, the reality of what they had said and done was coming to Mother Mary. Her role as Mother of the Messiah was being proclaimed in the Temple! For the first time since her Baby was born, she had to take her place as Queen Mother. All well and good; but for now, she would be His protectress. Mary the Mother snugly wrapped her Baby in cloth; she lifted Him from the table; and holding Him close, she signaled Joseph it was time to leave.
This is not the place where Luke tells us Mary stored all these things in her heart. But we have to believe it was one of those times, and an important one at that. Her future role in history became well-defined at this time. She became like a tigress where her Child was concerned, caring for Him, and shielding Him until that day she no longer could.
In the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, there is a statue of Our Lady of Paris, holding the Infant Jesus. She is very regal, truly a Queen. She actually welcomes you to the Cathedral. But, she guards her Child, her elbow thrust out, protecting Him; there is a look on her face that warns you not to take a chance on attempting to harm Him in any way, or you will have to deal with her. During the French Revolution, the Cathedral was abused terribly. At one point, it was used as a barn and storage area. Lewd dances were performed around the main altar by nude women. We have to believe that Our Lady of Paris was not happy with the treatment her Son was receiving at that time. There was probably even a tear or two which trickled down the cheek of that statue. She had to stand by and see Him hurt, one more time.
But a few years ago, the 200th anniversary of the Revolution was held in France. All the people who desecrated Mary and her Son Jesus are gone, to worship for time in memoriam the false god they chose on earth. These authors of violence and merciless carnage became victims of the Reign of Terror they created. But Mary is still there in that Cathedral. So is Jesus. And while we get really upset at the atrocities committed against Our Lord Jesus and His Mother Mary, and rightfully so, keep in mind that Jesus and Mother Mary are still here, and will continue to be here. God is in charge; God is always in charge. Don't cry for Them; cry for ourselves and our children.
This is a joyful mystery, true, but it's a joyful mystery mixed with sadness. In light of the prophecy of Simeon to Mary, she had to know that she would realize the joy of being present when Israel would be freed from the bonds of tyranny; but the shadow, cast on this ray of sunshine, was the gnawing inside her of what the cost might possibly be. [There is a tradition in our Church that the little Boy Jesus had a nightmare in which He saw an Angel carrying a Cross and another Angel holding nails (the means that would be used to nail our precious Lord to the Cross). He ran to His Mother. In the painting of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, we see Jesus, the little Person clinging to His Mother, one of His shoes having fallen off, in His haste to the safety of His Mother's arms.]
We believe, the gift Mary was given at this time, in addition to affirmation of her role, and her Son's role in the world, was determination, the decision to do whatever it takes. Through Simeon, the Lord allowed her to see a very small part of what she would have to say Yes to, what she would have to endure. Perhaps it began here, with the prophecy. Was this the first sword to pierce her heart? Did Simeon prophesy only seven swords, or did we just count up the most piercing thrusts which ripped into her heart?
We have walked with Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem, as in obedience to the Law, they presented Jesus to the Lord. "Consecrate to Me every first-born that opens the womb among the Israelites....It belongs to Me. (Ex 3:2) When Mary said Yes to this consecration of her Son to God the Father, she began her walk to the Cross. We will share the many times that Mary is given the message that her Son will suffer. As she gives every Yes, our Lord walks one step closer to His Passion and death on the Cross, and she with Him. The prophet Simeon told Mary that the Messiah, the Anointed One, would be the "consolation of Israel". Who will be your consolation, Mother Mary as you stand beneath the Cross?
Her great Fiat, her Yes to the Angel Gabriel was just the beginning, the first in a lifetime of Yeses, most of which would have been enough for any mother to scream from the pit of her stomach, "Stop! Enough! I can't do it!" But Mary kept going, determined to do whatever it took to fulfill the Lord's Will. We do not know, if at the very beginning, she had been given a look at all she would be called to suffer, she would have been able to handle it. But the Lord never gives us more than we can carry. One day at a time, that's all He asks for, only today. Yesterday is gone; there is nothing we can do about it. Tomorrow has troubles of its own. Live for today. Say Yes today, and watch how it washes clean yesterday, and changes tomorrow into a beautiful today. Do as Mary did. Give Our Lord Jesus your ongoing Yes. Start today, now!
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