Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which recalls the first time the Messiah entered the Temple. In Luke 2:22-40, we hear of the Holy Family traveling to Jerusalem for Mary’s purification (see Leviticus 12:2-8). Even though Mary, free from sin, did not require purification, she submitted to the Law, just as the Son of God did (see Lk 2:21 or Mt 17:24–27).
The feast is also called Candlemas, because on this day in parishes throughout the world, candles are blessed to recall the entry of the Light of the World into the Temple. In some parts of the Christian world, this also marks the end of Christmas celebrations and as we begin to prepare for Lent.
The story of Simeon, recalled every night during the praying of Compline, or Night Prayer, when we pray his Canticle, emphasizes the importance of keeping watch and being prepared. While these themes seem to be the message of Advent, the Feast of the Presentation reminds us that they are not simply the lesson of a liturgical season, but a way of life.
Simeon, the Scripture tells us, had been waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” Luke tells us, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord.” As a righteous Jewish man, this is perhaps the greatest gift he could have been given. His people had been waiting in expectation for thousands of years, and now he is told he will see salvation’s coming.
When the Holy Family entered the Temple, Simeon recognized that his gift had arrived. He took Jesus in his arms and “blessed God, saying: ‘Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.’”
How did Simeon know it was Him? Because he was prepared. He was watching, day after day, wondering when the gift would be given to him. He must have been prepared each day, never knowing the day or the hour that the Lord would come to him. On one hand, we might be tempted say, “well, he got advance warning!” The Spirit told him he would see the Messiah before he died, so he was given a head’s up to keep watch.
The liturgy of this feast reminds us, however, that it was not anticipated that the Messiah’s arrival would be a baby coming to the Temple with parents who couldn’t even afford a lamb for sacrifice. The prophet Malachi in the first reading announces, “And the Lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple; The messenger of the covenant whom you desire—see, he is coming! says the LORD of hosts” (Mal 3:1). Jewish scholars and rabbis would have meditated on this prophecy, never dreaming that its fulfillment would be quite so… unremarkable.
The Old Testament is beautifully fulfilled in the New, as Jesus does come suddenly into the Temple that day. But He does not come as He will come in His second coming, in glory, with earthquakes and trumpet blasts. He comes to Simeon as a baby.
How did Simeon know it was Him? The fact that he was prepared doesn’t mean he had a clean tunic on and his hair was combed. It doesn’t mean he was sitting in the courtyard with his eyes wide open. It means he was a man of prayer, close to the Lord. He was able to recognize the Lord because he had a relationship with Him.
Simeon was a man of prayer, a man of patience, a man of faithfulness. This is how he recognized the Messiah in his presence. God’s presence in our lives is often not glamorous and glorious, but small and hidden. His work is not dramatic and triumphant, but simple and even, at times, masked in suffering. The Blessed Mother would certain find that out, as Simeon prophesized that day: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted. And you yourself a sword will pierce, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:34-35).
Do we have the faith of Simeon, who recognized the Light of the World in the simplest form imaginable: the baby of a poor, simple family from Nazareth? Are we keeping watch with our lives, so that we will not miss the presence of the Lord when he comes to us?
As Father Francis Fernandez reminds us, “For the Christian who remains awake, the last day will not come like a thief in the night, there will be no panic or confusion, because each day will have been an encounter with God in the simple and every day business of living.” (In Conversation with God)
If we are daily living and nurturing a relationship with God, we will recognize the Lord when he comes—at the end of our lives, but also each day. Do we have the faith of Simeon, who recognized the Messiah even in the unexpectedness?
The Lord comes to us every day. He desires to enter the temple of our bodies every day, under the appearance of bread and wine. He comes to our altars and He waits in our tabernacles. Do we make an effort to stop into our parish church and pray before the Blessed Sacrament, to go to daily Mass, and to seek out Christ as he waits for us in the Eucharist?
He comes to us in neighbors who need us and our vocations that stretch us. He comes in ways that change our plans, and He comes in ways that we wouldn’t choose for ourselves. Do we strive to live lives of self-gift and service?
Are we prepared so that we can perceive His presence, as Simeon did?