Christ, the Light to Enlighten the Gentiles

James Tissot—The Presentation of Jesus in the temple

Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. As this forms the reflection for one of the Joyful mysteries of the Holy Rosary, it is an event which I find I reflect on regularly.

With the arrival of this feast, we find the glorious season of Christmas draws to its close: we think of Jesus the Light of the World, the one who illuminates the darkness of men's hearts. We sum up all the rejoicing and wonder of this season of perfect joy: the mysterious expectancy of Advent, the actual coming of the LORD in His Nativity, the revelation of His saving mission to all the peoples of the world in the Epiphany, and the healing work of His public ministry begun at His Baptism. Always, we must herald His coming into the world, into our hearts, as the expectant pledge of His final coming in glory: we do this today in our procession of candles, as we become light-bearers for the Light of the World, who is Light from Light. We remember Advent and the role of John the Baptist, the culmination of all the prophets, and the most dynamic herald of Jesus' birth and public appearance. In ancient times the Prophet Malachi spoke of God's plan: "Look, I am going to send my messenger to prepare a way before me." But this messenger was not the light, only a witness to it: "And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple."

Jesus is the Word made flesh, not an intermediate being, but God Himself going out in love and power to create and save the world. His presence alone is a refining, purifying force, His words both challenge and manifest an agency of healing; His death and Resurrection the most perfect offering that has ever been, or could ever be to the Father. He is the "angel of the covenant"; the consummation of God's self-offering in love through the ancient promises.

In the beautiful scene from Jesus' childhood, we see Mary and Joseph fulfilling the requirements of the Law, the high point of the Old Covenant, by bringing Jesus to the Temple so that the appropriate sacrifices could be made. The figures of Simeon and Anna, like that of John the Baptist, sum up the ancient prophetic tradition and all the hopes and aspirations of the People of Israel for the coming of God's anointed saving one. Simeon "looks forward to the comforting of Israel," and Anna to "the  deliverance of Jerusalem." We are told the Holy Spirit rested on Simeon, and prompted him to come to the Temple. There both he and Anna speak as prophets hailing God's arrival in His Temple, and the fulfilment of all His promises. Jesus' coming brings peace and reassurance, and both know that in this child God's saving power is manifest: "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."

Mary's role in the Incarnation, namely that of bearing the holy child, of witnessing and suffering, is also clearly understood by these wonderful seers. This man-child, in His human descent from Abraham, is the new covenant enfleshed. Indeed, the mystery of the Incarnation is described in wonderful poetic expression in the letter to the Hebrews: it was essential that He should in this way "become completely like His brothers so that He could be a compassionate and trustworthy high priest of God's religion, able to atone for human sins." As one experienced in human suffering Jesus is able to show sympathy and mercy to His brothers undergoing their own trials (4:15); as one victorious over temptations, He can give His brothers the grace and help needed to triumph as He did (4:16). Jesus is truly our light and our salvation, our very help in all our wretched sinfulness, and our hope of deliverance and future glory. So open your hearts. "Let Him enter, the king of glory!"

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