My Presentation

A biblically-based personal reflection on the Feast of the Presentation, February 2.

The time came for their purification according to the law of Moses. (Mary and Joseph) brought (Jesus) to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord…In Jerusalem, Simeon, righteous and devout, looked forward to the consolation of Israel…It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah…Simeon entered the temple and 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”…Then Simeon said to 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” (Luke 2.22, 25a, 26, 27b, 28-30, 34-35; my adaptation)

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Mary and Joseph fulfilled “the law of the Lord”, bringing 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 and the 40-year journey to a new land, during which, in thanksgiving for God’s deliverance, firstborn sons were sanctified, set apart for divine service.

They offered no mere passive attention, but rather active affection for their tradition. Thus, in their day and time, they engaged in an act of contemporization; giving fresh meaning to ancient practice.

Looking at this age, especially that of American culture, I behold an increasing and accelerating individualization and secularization, and, particularly since the end of the modern era, the disestablishment of institutions. Overall dedication to inherited, especially sacred practices is waning.

All this despite an undeniable dimension of our humanity. We, conceived, and then born, entered time and space. Therefore, we are innately intergenerational. We have much that is behind us. In the presentation story, the aged Simeon symbolizes the past. And as we age, we become as Simeon, looking with longing eyes to the next generation to enhance our legacies.

This intergenerationality of past, our present, and the future – which we, at our life’s end, will not (cannot) know – makes us inherently ritualistic creatures. We recognize movements and moments of transition; chiefly birth and death. And we memorialize our passages with acts of commemoration and celebration.

Reflecting on the presentation story, I wonder about myself. I, conceived, born, and raised in American culture, am as individual and, my ministerial vocation notwithstanding, 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 revealed in Jesus, who, for me, is the incarnation, the living embodiment of unconditional love and justice, boundless benevolence and fairness toward all?

In my daily striving, I can be sure of my faithfulness, though never sure of my fruitfulness. And this realization, I believe, was at the heart of Mary and Joseph’s presentation of Jesus in the temple. They offered life – his life, their lives – in commitment to an ancient vow without knowing the outcome. Though, with 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, of the coming of sorrow.

Sometimes I wonder. 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 that comes through contemplation of the past, too, is an inescapable element of our intergenerationality.

So, I continue to wonder: When and where and how do I, with conviction, intention, and action, make my presentation, thereby, contemporizing, making fresh, daily meaning of ancient practice?

© 2022 PRA

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