Homily for Feb. 2, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which we celebrate today, marks a significant moment in the life of the Lord, and as a consequence, has also been connected with a variety of forms of popular piety. It is often a date chosen for important events in the Church, such as priestly ordinations. What makes the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple so significant is that it is marks the continuity of the Old Testament and the New, at the same time as it shows the transition between the two.
The rite of presentation of first-born males in the Temple goes back to Exodus. God struck dead the first-born of the Egyptians as the last great plague that would convince the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free. In order for the first-born Israelites to be saved, each family had to sacrifice a lamb. God decreed that, in honor of this event, all first-born male children from then on belonged to the Lord, and had to be redeemed by a sacrifice.
In the case of Mary and Joseph consecrating the baby Jesus to the Lord and redeeming Him by a sacrifice, it is something of a paradox. Jesus was God the Son, and it was He who came to redeem us. As St. John the Baptist says, Jesus was also the Lamb of God who would be sacrificed for our salvation. So, Jesus did not need to be “redeemed”, but He underwent this ritual for at least two reasons, which emerge from the first and second readings. On one hand, He had to become “like His brothers and sisters in every way” for our salvation. On the other, this ritual presentation was a sign of His complete consecration to the Father and to His plan of salvation. That is why it is common for priests to be ordained and members of religious orders to take their vows on this solemn feast; they too are consecrating their lives to the salvation of humanity.
There’s much more to say about these readings, but I’d just like to leave you with a simple message. Simeon and Anna had only a glimpse of Jesus and how He fulfilled the promises of God, and they rejoiced, even to the point where Simeon felt ready to die in peace right there and then. We have received much more fully the benefits of the redeeming work of the Savior, and we receive Jesus Himself in the Eucharist here at Mass. Let us join our praise and thanksgiving to that of these holy people, truly appreciating all that Jesus and His parents went through to bring us peace and salvation.