Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Scott Borden, OHC
Feast of the Presentation – Thursday, February 2, 2012
Today we celebrate the Presentation of Christ in the Temple – but we could celebrate the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary – or feast of The Meeting of Christ with Simeon. Not enough choice?
Candlemas is another name for today's feast’s – it includes the Purification and Presentation and thanksgiving for relief from a plague. Today is a day of options...
The story of the Presentation in Luke occupies an interesting place - it is the end of the beginning if you will - the last thing Luke tells us of the infancy of Jesus. After this morning’s passage Luke tells us that Jesus grew up and became strong, filled with wisdom... and 12 years go by before we get further details...
For me this feast is the climax of Luke’s birth narrative – and it may be the most stunning moment in scripture. So what leads us to this moment? This is the point in a television drama where the announcer says: “Previously in the Gospel according to Luke...”
Elizabeth, the Mother of John the Baptist becomes pregnant. It is a miraculous pregnancy – unexpected and most deeply longed for. Then Mary becomes pregnant. It is also a miraculous pregnancy – unexpected, but not exactly longed for. Mary is assured by an Angel that it is God’s will that she become pregnant and her reaction to the news, expressed to Elizabeth, is so profoundly beautiful and powerful that we recite it daily – the Song of Mary. “My soul glorifies the lord and my spirit rejoices!”
Then Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem where Jesus is born in a stable with a chorus of shepherds (as opposed to a chorus of “the right sort of people”) in attendance. Luke is underscoring the point that the margins of society are closer to God's heart.
Then, according to Luke, after 8 days Jesus is circumcised – in accordance with the law. 33 days later Mary has completed her time of Purification – in accordance with the law. And Jesus is ready for Presentation – in accordance with the law. That string of out-of-the-ordinary events brings us to today's various feasts.
There is one more moment where something out of the ordinary happens: Old Simeon, a very holy man, arrives at the temple guided by the Spirit. He takes Jesus in his arms and delivers his famous song - “Lord, you are dismissing your servant in peace and according to your word.” Once again it is a text of such beauty and power that it is a daily fixture in our worship.
Simeon knows that he will not die before the law of God is fulfilled. When Simeon says that he may now depart in peace (and just to be clear, that is his “departure” from this life), it is because Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. This moment is not just the end of the story of the birth of Jesus, it is the end of a much bigger story.
"Simeon's Moment" - Ron DiCianni - 1978
Lets put our feet in the sandals of the holy family. They are devout and faithful Jews. Their entire lives are bound not just to serving the law, but to loving the law. The Psalms tell us that the just meditate on God’s law day and night. That is what Mary and Joseph have been doing presumably for all their lives. They have followed civil law and God’s law to the letter. They are devoted to the law and the law is their life. And here is Simeon telling them that their child completes the law. Simeon may depart in peace, but what about those who are left behind? What about Mary and Joseph? What about us?
That is why this is one of the most stunning moments in scripture. It is turning point, a crisis, the moment when everything changes. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph were amazed. Indeed. The world, as Mary and Joseph and all faithful children of Israel know it, is gone forever. “All generations will call me blessed.” Maybe yes... maybe no...
Simeon could probably have stopped with his song – Mary was no doubt adequately traumatized. But no, he tells her that her son will be at the center of great upheaval and that a sword will pierce her soul. Thank you Simeon! We get the picture. Or do we?
We look at the details of Luke from our vantage point and see a story of a remarkable “forced entry” into the world. Mary, a virgin, conceives. That’s revolutionary to us because we know everything there is to know about conception and birth. Our headline reads: “Virgin conceives.” But that might not have been the headline 2000 years ago. After all, Mary’s pregnancy didn’t break any scientific laws at that time.
Luke’s story of the birth of Christ reaches its climax today. Faithful devotion to the law has led Mary and Joseph to this time of Presentation. And here they learn that they are going to have to find a new way to know and love God; a way without the law. The implications of God’s incarnation start to become apparent. Their headline reads: “Unchanging God changes.” Now that’s news!
Jesus, from this moment on, is revolution. Jesus is not a revolutionary... Jesus is the revolution! To follow Jesus is to be in revolution. Being a Christian, being part of the body of Christ, is being in revolution. It is an ongoing revolution – a revolution of love: Love of God, love of self, and love of neighbor.
Mary and Joseph have to learn a new way to know and love God, a way that does not involve perfecting their understanding of God’s law. We, too, need to learn to know and love God in ways that are not legal. Jesus did not replace the old law with a new one – though many fundamentalists (including our own “internal fundamentalists”) might wish it so.
Our revolutionary path is a path of insecurity – a path of faith, not of law... A path that calls us to be entirely present in this moment because we can not love in any other moment.
Love of God, love of self, and love of neighbor... Neighbor is very broadly defined. Simeon speaks of a light to be a revelation to all the world. That is how broad the definition of neighbor is. In this revolution of love we move from “I, me, and mine” to “ours and us” - not just us Christians, not just us Americans, not even just us human beings or just us carbon-based life forms... Its us – all the works of God’s hand – animal, vegetable, mineral... ALL the earth, including the earth. All us and no them...
This revolution – Simeon’s revelation – is still most desperately needed, here, now, this moment. The revolution of Jesus is entirely current. Human greed, power, and ambition are as powerful and destructive in our world as ever. The wall between us and them is built higher and defended more agressively. Self-interest, even “enlightened” self-interest is not compatible with the revolution of Jesus. Only the interest of love, and the justice born of love, is compatible with this revolution.
The implications are enormous – touching every aspects of how we live our lives – politics, justice, economy, ecology, education, and on and on. Mary and Joseph probably thought they were going to a routine Presentation... We could easily spend the rest of our lives contemplating its enormity.
But we might better look to the Songs of Mary and of Simeon. These are songs of rapture and of liberation. They say “yes Lord, here I am, your willing servant, in you I place my faith. Lead me. Free me.” These songs show us how to let go, to trust, to feel joy at the presence of God’s love in our lives and in our hearts.
The task is not monumentally daunting, though as Simeon warns Mary, it is not pain free. It is a path that is joy-filled. It is the leaving of “self” behind.
So let us respond to God's incarnation with rapturous, willing, and open joy as Mary did. To worship and serve without fear, like Zechariah. Let us celebrate that our eyes, as Simeon’s, have seen salvation and that we are set free. Let the light of the Gospel and the love of God shine in and through us so that we can carry that light to all the world. In Jesus' name we pray.