THE PRESENTATION OF JESUS

At first this celebration may seem rather strange and out of sequence. Indeed, two Sundays of Ordinary Time have passed during which the adult Jesus has been baptized, begun his public ministry and called his first disciples. This is where knowledge of Jewish custom and history helps us understand this momentary shiB out of Ordinary Time and back to a feast.
The Gospels says, When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” (Luke 2: 22-23) Mosaic Law set this time of purification as 40 days after birth of a male child – and today is 40 days inclusive, after Christmas.

In the thinking of the time, a mother needed to be purified after the birth (hence the older name of Purification of Our Lady for this feast). Even though this clearly did not apply to Mary, she complied with the legal requirement especially as the ritual also included the offering or presentation of the first-born son to the Lord. As part of the ritual, they were expected to offer sacrifice. In their case their offering could consist of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. These were the offerings of the poor. The rich could offer a sheep or even a whole ox.

The symbolism of this ought not be lost on us. In bringing Jesus to the Temple, his parents are giving back the very gift that God has given them. This gesture of whole-hearted thanksgiving to God, therefore, becomes the pa)ern of salvation and the way of all Christian living. This newborn child, the Father’s gift to creation, will in turn offer his whole life back to God in another act of sacrificial self-giving at Calvary.

The whole of the mystery of Christ is contained in this feast. And it is so well summarized in the Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. For the Son of God has shared in the same blood and flesh as all humanity. “He pitched his tent among us” and was “a human person like us in all things but sin”. By his life, suffering and death “he could take away all the power of the devil, who had power over death, and set free all those who had been held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death”. Sin and death go together. Sin unrepented leads inevitably to the worst death of all – freely chosen separation from the Source of Life and Goodness.

But this is not just any divine revelation, for Jesus shares with us our human condition, with all its trials and temptations, making him a true light and hope of all humanity. While Christians are no longer dedicated according to the Law of Moses, we are presented at Baptism by name, and, though the grace of that sacrament, conformed to the very identity and sacrifice of Christ. Today’s feast is about light and joy. But it is also about the price that has been paid and that may have also to be paid by us so that joy and happiness may be experienced not only by us but by as many others as possible.