Homily preached by Abbot Cuthbert Madden on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, 2nd February 2014.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, we have just listened to St Luke’s account of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem. The presentation of Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Jewish Law which are recorded for us in the books of Exodus and Leviticus (Exodus 13.2; 13.11b; Leviticus 5.7, 12.8). So we can say from this data that Mary and Joseph were faithful and observant Jews – an interesting historical fact, I suppose; but not one that really builds up my faith or, perhaps, yours. When I listen to the Word of God I am listening attentively, I hope, to try and hear something which will build up my faith and help me to be a better follower of Christ Jesus, the Light of the Word – and I daresay that you are much the same. So what is there in today’s Gospel which might be helpful to us?
Let me point you to Simeon and Anna. Simeon is described as “an upright and devout man” (Luke 2.25) and Anna is described as “a prophetess” (Luke 2.36) which means that she was a woman dedicated to God and a qualified interpreter of His intentions. So here is one of the comparatively few moments in the New Testament when we have a man and a woman held up together as examples to us of Godly living. So what do they do? How do they live?
When Luke describes Simeon as “upright” he is telling us that Simeon lives in a right relationship with God: he is an observer of the Jewish Law. When he calls him “devout” he is pointing to his prayerfulness. Anna has been a married woman and now, as a widow, she spends her days in prayer and fasting – so she, too, is a follower of the Law. Simeon and Anna provide examples of life we can follow. Does this mean that we all need to become Jews and live the Jewish way of life? Simeon answers that question for us: “my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2.30-32). Salvation is described for us not as an abstract something that we earn by our own efforts, not as something obtained by following a set of rules, but rather as a relationship with a person. We are restored to the right relationship with God, for that is what salvation is, not by following the Torah, but rather by opening ourselves to the example given to us by Christ the Lord. We are called to allow the light shed by this person to enter into our lives and change us. We are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus; and the key elements of Christ’s life are recorded for us by Luke and the other evangelists in the books that we call the Gospels. In short, we become Godly people like Simeon and Anna by entering into a relationship with Christ, by recognising Him as our Lord, and allowing our lives to be shaped by this relationship.
The Author of the letter to the Hebrews makes the same point. He emphasises that Jesus shared the same blood and flesh as we share. He tells us that the life and death of Jesus took away the power of the evil one which is reflected in our fear of death; and he encourages us to believe that we are now set free to live lives of grace in which we can triumph over temptation and become images of the one who is “completely like his brothers [and sisters]” (cf Hebrews 2.17). As we reflect on this call which each one of us has received we understand, surely, that we are called to become lights for the world, reflecting the light of Jesus who is the Light of the World. For this reason it matters when we choose to commit sin: not only do we damage or injure ourselves, but we also make it more difficult for others to see the light of Christ: our sinfulness holds others back from salvation.
The same message can be drawn from the first reading. We believe that Jesus was sent as the messenger of God the Father summoning a people to himself. Now we, too, are sent as messengers, preparing the way for the Second Coming of Christ when He will restore the whole of creation to his Father (cf Malachi 3.1). Our lives, therefore, have a clear purpose. To appreciate our purpose requires each one of us here to grow in self knowledge. We need to accept and understand the particular gifts that God has given us. Week by week, as we pray with the Gospel, we will grow in understanding of how these gifts are to be used in the days ahead. Sunday by Sunday, at Mass, we should renew our dedication to God’s service so that when our own last moments approach we can close our eyes echoing the words of Simeon, “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace, just as you have promised; because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2.29-32).