FEBRUARY 2, 2002, PRESENTATION OF OUR LORD- HOMILY: LUKE 2: 22-40
A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES AND THE GLORY OF YOUR PEOPLE, ISRAEL. These words of the holy aged Simeon were spoken in the Holy Spirit. St. Luke tells us that it was by an inspiration of the Spirit that he came into the temple at just the right time and encountered the one for whose coming he had been praying and waiting in confident hope. We would like to have more details that inform us by what indications he was able to recognize in this infant the one sent by God to redeem his people. But the evangelist passes over such descriptions in order to focus our attention on the content of Simeons prophecy. There are two parts to his message, one has to do with light, the other with shadow. In todays liturgy the Church rightly places the light in the foreground so that our attention is centered on Jesus as the light of the world. In this infant Simeon is able to recognize the one who is to reveal the truth about God and the way to attain to him. He is himself not only the one who reveals but also a central figure of the revelation. He not only shows us the way to God and something of his nature, but is himself the glory of his people.
We are not told exactly what this means, however, in terms of our experience. How do we come to see the light that is Jesus, the Word of God made man to serve as a revelation and to become our glory?. The Presentation of our Lord confronts each of us with the same question it has posed to those who encountered the preaching of the Gospel and who were moved by the grace of the Spirit to respond to the .Lords invitation. Simeon had responded, as St. Luke is concerned to inform us, by devoting his efforts to prayer made in faith that God is faithful to his promises. He cultivated prayer, frequented the temple, practiced vigils and meditated the words of Scripture. Further, he had identified with his people and made the concern of his heart their welfare. He grew in trust, having assured confidence that God would not allow him to die before he saw with his own eyes "the consolation of Israel", as Luke puts it.
Though the Gospel we have just heard does not include the lines devoted to Anna, and her words are not preserved for us, yet she too practiced the same regime and is also described as being a prophet, that is inspired by the Spirit. She led a life of chastity, fasting, self-denial and constant prayer and so was prepared when the Lord visited his people and able to recognize him and the time of his coming when it arrived. Thus it is evident that both of these prophetic figures had labored to sharpen their interior lives and lived by the word of God. Evidently they were privileged by their condition as having retired from worldly duties and concerns, and had made the best use of their opportunities to center their attention on God. As a result they had become responsive to his presence, and were sensitive to his guidance. It was not mere chance that led them to the temple and the meeting with the Lord at precisely the hour of his coming before God in the holy place. In thus serving God, making him the motive of their lives and the center of their concern, they became representatives of all the just of the chosen people, the true Israel. What St. Luke intends to convey here is that it is such as these who prove to be the most worthy and noble of the people. In the end, their hidden lives of retirement are more useful for the welfare of the nation than that of the leaders of society and the Church officials. Obviously not all of us are called to the same life style as these two but we are all invited to cultivate the same attentiveness to God and concern for his interests and his people.
Our Lord himself modeled the larger part of his life after their pattern. The locality of his hidden life was not the temple but the simple dwelling in the small town of Nazareth. Like Simeon and Anna he too recognized his hour when it came and called to bear witness to Gods fidelity to his people. His mission was to verify the second part of Simeons prophecy to the effect that he would be the cause of the rise and fall of many and a source of deep sorrow to his mother because of what he suffered.
The feast of The Encounter, as today's feast is called in the East, that celebrates the Lords coming into the world as its light and its promise of glory is not without its shadows. Simeon and Anna had to deny themselves much at the price of personal suffering to prepare themselves for their moment of witness. Mary ever after she presented her son in the temple was to be aware that one day his hour of suffering would come upon him. And yet, the light of God shone in their souls in the sure hope that in the end, after the cross the power of God would prove victorious and that all who put their faith in his promises and walk in his light will in the end behold his glory.