What the Presentation Teaches About Poverty, Chastity and Obedience
“When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord ... in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.”
Our Christmas decorations are still up – at least most of them – because for us, the Christmas season extends until February 2. That’s the day the Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.
Keeping the Christmas decorations up until then is an old Catholic custom and many families still do it today. Most notably, according to the tradition, the crèche is kept up until the Presentation even if everything else has been taken down.
I love the symbolism of keeping the main decorations up because it reminds me that there’s still another “step” in the Nativity story. According to Jewish custom, every firstborn son was to be sacrifice, or consecrated, to God in the Temple and forty days after the birth. Also, according to Jewish custom, the mother must go through a purification process and then present herself in the Temple.
“When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, ’Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,’ and to offer the sacrifice of ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,’ in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.” (Lk 2:22-24)
In this narrative, Jesus is yet an infant and Mary is still a new mother. They aren’t far away, chronologically speaking, from the Holy Night in which Mary gave birth to her Child in the cave at Bethlehem. At least for me, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord feels like part of the Christmas story.
One aspect of the Christmas story’s “magic” is the revelation the God humbled himself to become a human being. Of all the ways he could have chosen to redeem us, he chose to send his Son in the form of a tiny, helpless infant who would grow up to teach, bless, and to suffer and die for us. By looking into the face of that beautiful little Child, we also see the face of God. That’s almost too incredible to perceive, and yet with God all things are possible.
When I meditate on the Scripture passages about the Presentation, I’m especially attracted to the prophetess, Anna.
“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 worshiped 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.” (Lk 2:36-38)
Anna saw God’s face in the face of Mary’s Baby and in that moment, her life was fulfilled. After eighty-four years of waiting for the Savior, the latter many of which she’d spent in prayer and worship in the Temple. Her life changes upon seeing the Redeemer. Once quiet and introspected, she suddenly gives thanks to God and speaks to everyone she can about the Child.
God gave Anna a gift by allowing her to see his face and to know the Chosen One had come. Anna’s gift in return was to share the gift she’d been given.
This makes me wonder about what gift I’ve from God that I could and should share with others. How has God revealed himself to me over the past year? In what, in who, have I seen the Child’s face and how did that move my heart? Most importantly, how can and should I share that gift with others?