Readings: Mal 3:1-4; Ps 24:7,8.9,10; Heb 2:14-18; Lk 2:22-40
Observing prescriptions, presentation, sign of contradiction and a sword of sorrow, are the phrases that help to focus on the central message of this Sunday. Forty days after the Nativity of the Lord on February 2, the Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, previously known as the purification of Mary. This feast is therefore only celebrated on Sunday, if it falls on Sunday. The celebration started first in Rome and in France in the sixth century with solemn blessings and processions of candles, popularly known as "Candlemas." The first reading gives an important insight to understand the mystery of the Lord’s Presentation in the Temple by Mary and Joseph, in accordance with the Mosaic Law. The text, taken from the Prophet Malachi says, ‘I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; and suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek’ (Mal 3:1). That messenger comes to purify the hearts of the people in readiness for the Lord.
The Gospel passage is the fulfilment of the prophesy in the account of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. This was a celebration of piety: the piety of Mary and Joseph, of Simeon and of Anna. This ritual points to the fact that Jesus is raised in a religious devout family. Five times Luke says that the parents of Jesus observed the ritual prescriptions of the Law. Here they comply with the religious requirements of purification and a second ritual for redeeming the first male child. The first ritual purification sprung from the belief that the life-power within blood was sacred and belonged to God. Because of the mysterious power of blood, all objects and people coming into contact with human blood had to be ritually purified. Thus birth and death too were surrounded by ritual purification. The second ritual was a kind of buying back from God every first-born male child. At the end of the Gospel Simeon prophecies Mary’s sufferings which point to the passion of the Lord. Simeon also announces that Christ will be ‘a sign of contradiction.’ St. Cyril of Alexandria explains this phrase by saying that “those who loose appear foolish, while in those who recognize the power of the cross reveal salvation and life” (cf. Cyril of Alexandria, PG 77, 1044-1049). So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The readings inspire us to get to know the precepts of the Church and so observe them; 2) The readings also underline the need for purification in preparation for the Lord’s coming. It is like washing my car to get downtown! Do I wash my car only every 3 years? My soul is more precious than my car. 3) Just as Simeon prophesies that Jesus would be a sign of contradiction, you and I will appear weak and foolish before the world, but in the eyes of faith equipped with the saving power of Christ.
©2020 John S. Mbinda