Luke’s infancy narrative (the first two chapters of his Gospel) finds us in the Temple on three occasions. First, Zechariah hears of the coming birth of his son from the lips of the angel Gabriel. The narrative ends with Jesus sitting among the elders of Jerusalem as he answers and asks questions, impressing all with his knowledge. Sandwiched in between these two “book ends,” we find Mary and Joseph bringing the child to the Temple to fulfill the dictates of the Law regarding a first-born son.
Each of the incidents that take place in the Temple reveals a part of God’s plan for our salvation. The presentation of Jesus, forty days after his birth, gives us the clearest glimpse of what is to come as the cross of Jesus overshadows the participants – Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna. That shadow falls darkest on Jesus and his mother as Simeon tells his parents that Jesus will be the fall and rise of many and that Mary will also be a victim.
Traditionally, this feast closed the Christmas Season. In just a few short weeks, we will find ourselves in the midst of Lent preparing for the great Solemnity of the Resurrection of the Lord and our celebration of the Passion and Death of Jesus. The liturgical year moves so quickly at this time of year that we barely have time to take in the wonder of God in the flesh before we are confronted with the fact that the primary reason for the Incarnation is expressed in Jesus’ surrender to the mortality of that flesh.
Perhaps the best way to celebrate this Feast is to glance backwards and resolve to move forward. Our backward glance reminds us that God loves us so much that Jesus became one of us. Our resolution to move forward is motivated by our desire to embrace the cross just as Jesus and Mary did as they come to the Temple. Indeed, the shadow of the cross, a shadow which some would try to avoid at all costs, is the path that each of us must walk if we are to follow Jesus. CUSA reminds us that our individual crosses, the illnesses and disabilities with which we live daily, are our doorway to heaven. We can and must embrace these crosses if we desire to be one with God forever. Avoidance and denial will only lead to our destruction.
Simeon and Anna both remind us of this fact. The Gospel tells us that they have both “suffered,” perhaps not a physical suffering, but they have suffered nonetheless. Simeon has been waiting for the restoration of Israel, to see the day when his people will return to the glory of the covenant relationship. Anna, on the other hand, has suffered because of the limitations of the Sinai covenant which have created a situation in which she finds herself desperately alone. Yet, despite their sufferings, they are both able to raise their voices in praise of God who has kept the Promise made so many years before. We join with them in that song of praise as we cling to the Promise that has been made to us who unite ourselves with our Crucified Savior.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator