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The Presentation of the Lord
February 2, 2020

 

    The feast we celebrate today has had enough different names over the centuries to qualify it for something of an identity crisis!  Years ago it was known on Church calendars as the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, although people commonly called it Candlemas Day. In more recent years, the Church officially named it the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. And so it is. But after a little research, I discovered yet one more name for this feast, a name that goes all the way back to sixth-century Constantinople where this feast was known as “The Encounter.”

     The Encounter. I like that. Encounter is a word capable of embracing all the different facets of this feast, all the layers of the lovely story that Luke, alone among the four Evangelists, gives to us in his gospel - today’s gospel. 

     The Encounter.  The meeting.  In this case, a meeting with the holy, a meeting with the All Holy God.  Today’s first reading from the Prophet Malachi set the tone. Malachi’s prophecy comes from a time in Jewish history when the worship of God in the temple at Jerusalem had grown cold – the victim of sterile ritualism and lukewarm faith. In the midst of that dismal religious landscape God raised up the prophet Malachi who stirred people’s consciences and got them to look toward a time when the light of God’s glory would blaze forth in the temple “like a refiner’s fire.” People with half-hearted faith would come alive and encounter the living God.

     The Encounter.  Luke’s gospel tells how Mary and Joseph, full of gratitude and eager to fulfill the demands of the Law, brought their newborn child to the temple to present him to the Lord. Imagine what a happy moment this must have been for Mary and Joseph - not unlike the moment when proud parents bring their baby to the church for baptism. This wasn’t Mary and Joseph’s first visit to the temple, of course – it wasn’t the first time they had encountered God in that holy place which, more than any other, made the Divine Presence very real for the Jewish people. But this time was different. When Mary and Joseph carried their little child into the temple a remarkable thing occurred: a holy place – a very holy place - became infinitely holier: the holy temple made by human hands welcomed the one who was the living temple of God, this little child, the Christ, the Light. It was the ultimate Encounter.

      Soon, out of the shadows, making their way toward the Light, came two people, Simeon and Anna, full of years and full of hope. They had waited so long for this moment and their waiting was not just their own – their waiting was the waiting of generations of people down through long ages, a waiting that had begun back in the Garden of Eden when all had seemed lost; a waiting that had gained intensity when Abraham and Sarah answered God’s call and left their homeland for a new land; a waiting that gained even greater intensity when Moses heard God’s voice speaking to him from the burning bush, calling him to lead his people from slavery to freedom.

     All that waiting, that interminable waiting, until this moment when the old man Simeon came on the scene, took the Child in his arms, and saw in him the salvation that God had promised so long ago. The waiting was over at last. It came to an end in this tiny child in whom Simeon saw the fulfillment of God’s Promise, the realization of the people’s hopes: “The light of revelation to the gentiles,” as Simeon called him, “the glory of God’s people, Israel.”  And Anna, the old woman, her long wait was over, too. In her encounter with the little Child, she must have felt young again!

     The Encounter.  This lovely feast is our encounter, too, my friends, our encounter with the Child, the Christ.  We met him forty days ago on Christmas, of course, when we marveled that God could be so very small, so humble, so poor, and could love us so much. And today we meet him as the Light – not just the light of our lives but the light for all peoples. That’s why we began this celebration by spreading the light through the Cathedral and singing of Christ who is our light.

     And now, in just a few minutes we will do what we do at every Mass: take bread and break it, bless wine and drink it in memory of Jesus, and in doing so, we will encounter once again the profound mystery of his love. And then we will go forth from this place of encounter, go forth to do what Jesus did: to encounter and bring blessing to a pretty self-absorbed and broken world: compassion to the poor, encouragement to the downhearted, freedom to those held bound, hope to the hurting.  There is so much need out there, isn’t there!  And there are so many who need to encounter the Christ as Simeon and Anna did, and to be forever changed by him as they were.

     The Encounter.  My friends, this feast is The Encounter and this is the place of encounter – not the only one but a privileged one. May our communion with Christ and with one another in this Eucharist fill us with love and send us forth, eager to light the world with fire and to warm it with love. Our fire, our love!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
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