Today marks the Feast of the Presentation, otherwise celebrated as Candlemas. While it denotes the end of the Christmas season, it is also a new beginning. Since the fourth century, Christians all over the globe bring their candles to their local churches to have them blessed, and these everyday objects serve as powerful reminders of Christ as the Light of the World – in the highs, the lows, and everything in between.
A child’s presentation in the Temple joyfully consecrated them to the Lord, following Mosaic Law as written in Exodus 13:2, “any male child who opens the womb must be consecrated to the Lord.” The child’s mother was also purified and allowed to return to sacred spaces. After her Son’s birth, Mary would have been considered “unclean” for 40 days under the same Law (Lev. 12:2-4). To restore a mother’s ritual purity, she must come to the Temple and offer a young lamb and a pigeon – or, in a lamb’s place, two young turtledoves. After relocating for Caesar Augustus’ census and a long journey back to their home, the presentation of the Child Jesus would have been a welcome excitement and relief.
The prophets of the Temple recognized that this family was unique. Simeon, who had been promised by the Spirit that he would not see death until he saw the Messiah, heightened the extraordinary joy of this special presentation. He proclaimed over the Child Jesus: “Now, Master, may you let your servant go in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation…” (Lk. 2:29-30). This profound response to this little Child, prayed and sung now as the Canticle of Simeon, amazed His parents!
Yet almost as quickly, Simeon adds a prophetic shadow of sorrow: “this child will be destined for the fall and rise of many, and to be a sign that will be contradicted…and you yourself a sword shall pierce, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk. 2:34-35). Not only did he prophesy the future pain of Jesus but of His Mother. It is hard to believe that this would be an easy point to move past, and as parents, siblings, and mentors, we can imagine it must have been hard to process. Likewise, the prophetess Anna’s song of praise to God for His Son immediately after was likely a bittersweet addition to the day.
Mary, the exceptional human chosen by God for her Son, did not dwell in the sadness. She also did not ignore Simeon’s prophecy to focus solely on the joy. Luke writes twice that she allowed both to dwell in her heart (Lk. 2:19 and 2:51). She pondered her Son’s foretold future while embracing His present with her, how the young Messiah was destined to change everything. The Child Who held her hand while He learned to walk was the Light of the World, He Who would illuminate the world’s return to God.
It should be our hope, today and every day, to embrace this dynamic of life with such faith and grace as Mary did.
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