The Presentation of the Lord

POST BY PGallagher

As disciples of Christ we have an agenda. There are some important things we must do. There is a ‘bucket-list’ quality about these goals: we should do them before we die.

The details of this agenda are summed up in our ambition to receive Jesus into our life and to share him with others.  He, as a little child, entered the temple in Jerusalem very discretely.  Yet this was God taking possession of his house. O gates, lift up your heads, grow higher ancient doors.  Let him enter the king of glory [1].  Our personal, modest hopes for spiritual progress and service are woven into the great project of salvation achieved by God’s becoming incarnate in the world.  Since all the children share the same blood and flesh, Jesus too shared equally in it [2]. The infant who was carried into the temple when the day came for them to be purified [3] now, as our redeemer, carries all the rest of us into the divine presence.  It was essential that he should in this way become completely like his brothers [4].

The nunc dimittis prayer of holy Simeon is a devout expression of satisfaction at the completion of a significant to-do list. Simeon has done what he had to do. The old man took Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel’ [5]. Simeon has seen the Lord. Now that the saviour has come for all peoples, the good old man is content.  For us, it is too soon to expect quite so intense a satisfaction.  No one would say of us, as they said of Anna that she never left the temple [6].  We have been less wholly committed.  Nevertheless the grace of God draws us to the temple and prompts to share in the world beyond it what we receive there.  Slender as our achievement up until now may have been, there is a flicker of the contentment of Simeon and Anna in our pause at the end of the day.  We have not yet done everything that the [7] Lord requires of us but we have, with his help, begun.

The nunc dimittis is part of night prayer.  Each evening we can express the conviction that God dismisses us in peace.  Enough has been done.  While holy Simeon is ready for death, we are mostly ready simply for enough rest to be able to resume our activities after a night’s sleep.  Nevertheless we are like the sage in the temple in that there is in our prayer a handing over of our life to the One who made it.  Every night, young or old, healthy or sick, we Christians say adieu with a certain trust that whether our lives are long or short they will be what God wants to make of them.  What are your night prayers like? Thanksgiving for the day just past?  Repentance for sins?  Special prayers for particular intentions and persons?  Something about the day ahead?  May we be refreshed by sleep enough to endure what is to come tomorrow.  The spirit of nunc dimittis doesn’t seen inimical to asking for repose.  Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace [8]. Peace accompanies all the other graces we seek. It seems incongruous to insist too forcefully on peace.  Amid the frenzies of life, however, we long for peace and it can elude us very painfully.  We earnestly desire peace for everyone. The sufferings of our brothers and sister in war-zones move us very much.

We long for peace, yet too great a stillness intimidates us.  We shrink from emptiness in our spiritual life, yet are nervous of too thorough a peace.    God persistently invites our trust. We are most perturbed by the very matters which we find it difficult to believe that God could handle for us.  Because he himself has been through temptation, he is able to help others who are tempted [9]. To be left with God alone worries us. We acknowledge his greatness and yet we find him insufficient to satisfy us.   Simeon and Anna understood the greatness and were content with it.  We feel we have more to do.  Indeed God may well not be finished with us yet.  The nunc dimittis has an end-of-life flavour as well as of the end of the day.  God may well have more work for us to do before we can have that peace.  The agenda of things to do before we go for judgment is as yet incomplete.  Simeon understood his own list of things to do had been completed when he held Jesus in his arms. It may be that we have not yet properly received Christ.   There may also be something incomplete about our handing him on to all those others to whom it is our task to transmit him.

Jesus was presented in the temple.  The receiving and the handing over of Christ are the essential tasks.  Like Mary and Joseph we do so with wonder and joy. And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them [10].

Each day is consecrated to this work.  We are to welcome the Lord once more and to share him in a world which has great need of him.  We flinch before the challenges of accepting and giving.  We are not completely prepared personally and the world can seem to be looking in another direction. Simeon said to his mother Mary, This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too [11].  Our Lady long ago accepted this prophecy about her own experience and she watches over us as we cope with the falling and rising of many and with the sword which pierces the soul.  She  is close to us as we pray for and think of others.  Our prayers are sometimes far from peaceful.  The world is war-torn. The day is too tumultuous. The soul has been scalded and needs soothing.  Dismiss your servant in peace, we ask.

Each day has enough trouble of its own [12].  We gather our resources for what comes next.  Jesus gives himself to us to be that strength.  We trust in God.  We do so with the wonder of Mary and Joseph and with the faithful devotion of Simeon and Anna.  Our prayers do not flinch from the truth.  The peace of Christ accommodates much trouble, much upheaval in the soul and much piercing of the heart.  If God hears us and dismisses us, he sends us away not in rejection but with a mission.  There is more to do. The One who was once presented in the temple is now handed over to us all the time to attend with us to everything that has to be done.

Homily by Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]   Psalm (24) 23.9

[2]   Hebrews 2.14

[3]   Luke 2.22

[4]   Hebrews 2.17

[5]   Luke 2.29-32

[6]   Luke 2.37

[7]   Luke 2.39

[8]   Luke 2.29

[9]     Hebrews 2.18

[10]    Luke 2.33

[11]    Luke 2.34-35

[12]    Matthew 6.34