Homily for Feb. 2, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
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“Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to the temple to present Him to the Lord.” This is one of those moments in the life of Christ that are particularly dense with symbolism and connections to the history of Israel and to the mission of Christ.
The reason for bringing Jesus to “present Him to the Lord” goes back to Exodus. The people of Israel were held as slaves in Egypt, and to force the Pharaoh to let them go, God struck the Egyptians with seven punishments or plagues, one after the other. The one that tipped the scales was when all of the first-born male offspring of man and beast were struck dead. The Israelites, in order to be spared, had to kill and eat a lamb and mark their outer doorframe with the lamb’s blood. Once they settled in the Promised Land, God commanded them to commemorate this event perpetually. Every year at Passover, they had to kill a lamb and eat it with the Passover meal, and whenever a woman bore her first son, he had to be offered to the Lord. The family had to sacrifice a lamb in his place to redeem him – or two turtledoves if they were too poor to afford a lamb.
Jesus Christ is Mary’s first-born, and the only true Son of God. He is also the Lamb of God who is prefigured by the Paschal Lamb, and who was sacrificed on the Cross – during the feast of the Passover – to redeem us from the slavery of sin. Perhaps this is why God willed that Mary and Joseph not be able to afford a lamb, and offer two doves instead; maybe He thought it redundant or out-of-place to sacrifice a lamb (small “l”) to redeem the Lamb (capital “L”).
So when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to consecrate Him to God and offer a sacrifice, they began to fulfill what the first Passover lamb and death of the first-born of Egypt had symbolized, and that which the Jewish rites of Passover and offering and dedication of the first-born had foreshadowed throughout the centuries. The Presentation of the Lord was a preparation for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. And it is precisely at this intersection of past, present and future that Simeon and Anna see Jesus and recognize Him as the Messiah, with all the joy, suffering and turmoil which will occur, and the redemption which He will bring.
Thus, we are reminded again of the depth of God’s love. For centuries He prepared the people of Israel through events, prophecies, laws, rites, and symbols, to be the nation through whom the Savior would come. He became a man among them and subjected Himself to the all those same laws and rites in order to fulfill the symbols and prophecies through the events of His life, death, and resurrection. He sacrificed Himself to redeem us. The way we react to this supreme self-giving – by striving to imitate it, or rejecting it – reveals the true tenor of our hearts. May God grant us always to welcome this King of Glory into our hearts.