Malachi 3:1-4 ><)))*> Hebrews 2:14-18 ><)))*> Luke 2:22-40
We take a break from our Ordinary Sunday to celebrate today the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord at the temple, 40 days after Christmas. It is a prolongation of the celebration of the Lord’s Nativity with a paschal undertone recognizing Christ as Light who had come to us to lead us back to the Father through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
This feast used to be known in the East as the Ypapante or the Encounter of Jesus by the two elderly people at the temple, Simeon and Anna. When it reached Europe, it came to be known as the “Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary” based on St. Luke’s description, evolving into Candlemass or Candelaria when Pope Sergius I in Rome adopted in the eighth century the French tradition of procession of lighted candles at dawn before the Mass to signify Jesus as the light of the world who had come to bring us back to the Father expressed by Simeon in his canticle.
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”Luke 2:29-32
Despite its evolution through the ages with its many names and practices, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a good reminder to us in recognizing, meeting, and sharing Jesus Christ to everyone as the light of the world.
Being devout leads us to recognize and meet Jesus
Only St. Luke reports the story of the Presentation of Jesus at the temple because he wanted to show his audience who were Gentiles or pagan converts that Jesus came not only for the Jews but for everyone.
This remains true to us especially in these modern times when people live in artificial lights and “Klieg lights” that put us on the centerstage only to leave us later groping in the dark, even blinded to false hopes of virtual realities.
St. Luke invites us today to emulate both Simeon and Anna in recognizing and meeting Jesus, the only Light of the world who dispels darkness within and around us.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he head seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the cild Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God.Luke 2:25-28
Recall how during our Simbang Gabi that for the Jews, a “righteous” person is someone who is holy because he faithfully keeps the Laws of God like St. Joseph, the husband of Mary.
But more than being holy and just, St. Luke also described to us Simeon – as well as Anna implicitly – as “devout” Jews. It is a word rarely used in the Bible. In fact, St. Luke used it only four times: once here in this scene and thrice in the Acts of the Apostles.
In Acts 2:5, St. Luke called the Jews who came to Jerusalem for Pentecost as “devout” ones; then in 8:2, he said “devout men buried” the first martyr of the Church, St. Stephen; and finally in 22:12, he gave the distinction to Ananias as “a devout observer of the law” who came upon instructions from God to pray over and heal Saul who was blinded by Christ’s light on the way to Damascus.
In all four instances, St. Luke described people as “devout” including Simeon and Anna as those of “good heart, ready to believe, and then to act openly and with courage” (Timothy Clayton, Exploring Advent with Luke; page 125). Devout people or devoted persons are a notch higher than just being faithful because they do not merely wait but look forward to the fulfillment of what they believe.
Devoted people make things happen; they do not wait for things to unfold. And that is why they are always at the right place in the right time. Like Simeon and Anna, they give themselves to God wholly to stay attuned with the Holy Spirit and be ready to follow its promptings and leads.
See the common trait of both Simeon and Anna as devout people — the presence of the Holy Spirit in them that amid the crowd in the temple on that day, they were able to spot the Child and Savior Jesus Christ being presented by his parents Mary and Joseph!
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.Luke 2:36-38
Jesus comes to us everyday in various ways, in many occasions. He is always passing by, calling us. We have to be on guard in these moments so that we do not miss him. Like reporters following the news, we have to be focused or “tutok” and immersed or “babad” so that nothing or no one escapes us.
Three ways of being devout like Simeon and Anna
It is imperative that we have to be devout first with God so that we recognize and meet his Son Jesus Christ coming to us so we may eventually share him to enlighten everyone. Simeon and Anna show us three important things to keep for us to be devoted to God to encounter Jesus Christ.
First, we have to be faithful in our prayer life. There is no other way in meeting Christ except in having a life of prayer which is a discipline. It is something we do as a habit, every day, every night. Not just once a year like those going to Quiapo every January 9 or completing any novena and then the whole year does nothing.
Devotion is more than collecting images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the saints, joining processions during fiesta or Holy Week, then nothing. Devotion is life, not a show.
Like Simeon and Anna, we have to grow intimately with the Lord by cultivating personal prayers and joining communal activities like the Sunday Mass so that we may know personally and vibrantly God who always leads us to various directions and mission. God is never static but dynamic, unlike us people who keep on insisting on some of our traditions and ways no longer applicable.
Notice how in the first reading the Prophet Malachi said the Lord will suddenly come in the temple, calling on people to always await him (Mal.3:1).
Second, we can only recognize, meet and share Jesus Christ as Light when we care, love, and respect others. See how Simeon spoke to Mary about his coming mission and its harsh realities. He recognized not only Jesus but also Mary and Joseph. Simeon’s speaking to Mary and Joseph means he recognized the important roles of the parents in being instrumental that he met the Lord.
Any devotion to God and his saints and the blessed Mother Mary without any concern for the people especially the poor and the needy is merely a show and a pageantry of clerical and liturgical excesses. It is triumphalism in its purest sense and hypocrisy at its worst.
We meet Jesus among other people not only within us. This is the gist of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews today when he claimed how Jesus suffered and endured sufferings and death to help those facing trials and tests in life.
Third, we can only recognize, meet, and share Jesus Christ as Light when there is joy in our hearts. And not just being joyful but overflowing with joy like Simeon and Anna that upon encountering the Child Jesus, the more they felt eager to share the good news with others. In fact, they were overjoyed that they even felt so ready to die.
Fruit of devotion is finally embracing Jesus Christ
Every night before we priests and religious pray Simeon’s Canticle in our Compline (Night prayer), we recite a responsory that says, “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit”. And after that, the antiphon: “Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.”
It is only then that we recite or chant Simeon’s Canticle or Nunc Dimittis. It is then followed by the final prayer closed with a blessing that says, “May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and peaceful death. Amen.”
Without sounding morbid or anything, it is my most favorite prayer of all our prayers because it is filled with joy, filled with Jesus, filled with Light. At the end of the day, what a consolation to be filled with joy of Christ that you have had a glimpse of him that you rest in peace hoping to meet him again as well as share him with others too.
I think it is only when we are overflowing with joy that we realize its fullness is found only in Christ, whether in this life or in eternal life. Amen.
Blessed Sunday to you!