This is a feast that supersedes even a Sunday. So most only experience it every so often. Jesus presented in the Temple.
A little background on what’s going on in today’s gospel. According to the law, every first born male, human or animal, belonged to God. For a male animal, it was sacrificed. For a human, an offering was made in its place, and in the Holy Family’s case, two young pigeons. Mary is also here to be purified. According to the law, a woman was not to participate in Temple worship for forty days after giving birth. After forty days she had to go through a purification ritual to be allowed to participate again. And it just happens to be the case the February 2nd, this feast day, is 40th day since Christmas.
The irony is that Jesus doesn’t need to be purified, and Mary, though temporarily barred from Temple worship, could worship God more closely than anyone. In fact, it will be Jesus himself who will preform the great purifying for the world, being a light to the nations and offering himself as a sacrifice, so that we may be purified, made clean, and exulted.
Jesus Christ comes to purify the world. Purification can be intense. Purification brings out the best in us, allows us to reach our full potential. But it can be a painful process. Think of objects that have rust, dirt, grime, things that build up and obscure their appearance. If left untouched for sometime, it requires much more effort to clean. But if given time and effort, all those things can be removed, and they’ll shine like new. Jesus has come to make all things new, to purify us. Our first reading describes this as a purifying fire, which can be intense, but does it job well. When we are purified, we are able to better recognize God and follow his directives.
We see this with Simeon and Anna in today’s gospel. How did Simeon know that this was the child he was waiting for? He recognized him because of his holiness and closeness to God. What I mean is, because of his dedication to serving God, knowing him, following his commands, he is attune to that which comes from God. As such, the Holy Spirit was with him. He is not tainted with things that would obscure or mar his relationship with God.
And thus is was the Spirit that told him to enter the temple that day and be ready to see the Christ. So when he sees the child Jesus with Mary and Joseph, he knows who he’s looking at. It’s the same thing with Anna, the prophetess. She’s devoted to God, she knows what to look for and how to listen. Therefore, she too is able to recognize Christ.
Interesting to note; Simeon tells Mary that a sword will pierce her heart. She who is incredible united to God and with her Son, will also suffer on account of Jesus’ own suffering. When we unite ourselves with Christ, we indeed unite ourselves with his life and resurrection, but before that, his passion and death. That is the cross, which can be painful and difficult. Through the cross we are purified and made clean, made new in the life of God, and are raised up and glorified.
Let us present ourselves before God in prayer, worship, thanksgiving, with contrite hearts, and openness to let his grace do its job.