A meditation, based on Luke 2.22-40, in anticipation of the Feast of the Presentation, February 2, 2020
Mary and Joseph, to fulfill “the law of the Lord,” bring their newborn son to Jerusalem, presenting him at the temple. For them, a reminder of Israel’s history, harkening back to the generations-old story of the exodus of their forebears from captivity in Egypt; during which, in thanksgiving for God’s deliverance, firstborn sons were sanctified, set apart for divine service.
Mary and Joseph, in their obedience, offered no mere passive attention to the law, but rather active affection for their tradition; in their day and time, contemporizing, giving fresh meaning to ancient practice.
As I survey today’s, my very western, very American culture, I behold increasing, accelerating individualization and secularization. This latter, in religious terms, manifested, in part, in a waning societal dedication to inherited sacred practices. Fast-growing are the numbers of folk who identify as “spiritual, but not religious” or “nones;” both positive self-descriptions (along with “freethinkers,” “spiritually independent,” and the more prosaic “unchurched”) of those who reject conventional organized religion as a primary path of personal growth.
All this despite an indisputable dimension of humanity: We, conceived, and then born, entering time and space, are innately intergenerational.
There always is much behind us called “the past.” This, in the presentation story, for me, is symbolized by the aged Simeon and Anna who, seeing in the baby Jesus the fulfillment of historic hope and present destiny, sing God’s praise.
And in our aging, we, in and of whatever era, as Simeon and Anna, look with longing eyes to the future of what the next generation might do with our legacy; what we have done and what we have left undone.
This intergenerationality of past, present, and future (this last, which no one, at life’s end, will know, can know) makes us inherently ritualistic creatures. We, recognizing movements and moments of transition, chiefly birth and death, memorialize our passages with acts of commemoration and celebration.
Commemoration and celebration were at the heart of Mary’s and Joseph’s presentation of Jesus in the temple. With faithful conviction and intention, then action, they offered his life in commitment to an ancient vow and without knowing the outcome. Though, given Simeon’s oracle, “this child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel,” and, speaking to Mary, “a sword will pierce your soul,” they had to be painfully aware, if not knowing how, that sorrow would come.
I wonder about Mary and Joseph…
If they had known that they were presenting their child who, in his maturity, would follow a path that would lead to his murder, would they have made the presentation? Yet the impossibility of knowing the future consequence of present action, even with the wisdom derived from contemplation of the past, too, is an inescapable element of our intergenerationality.
I wonder about me…
Conceived, born, and raised in a very western, very American culture, I am as individual – and, my vocation as an ordained minister notwithstanding, also as secular – as the next person. When and where and how do I seek to fulfill “the law of the Lord” (who, for me, is the God, as revealed in Jesus, of unconditional love and justice for all people)? When and where and how do I, with conviction, intention, and action, make my presentation, thereby, contemporizing, making fresh, daily meaning of ancient practice?
How about you?
Endnote: For the Law of Dedication (of firstborn sons), see the Book of Exodus 13.13b-15.
Illustration: The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669)