This previous weekend presented a Sunday celebration in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and throughout the Church that is rare indeed: The Presentation of the Lord. This feast day is honored on the fortieth day after Christmas annually, but it is only celebrated on Sunday about every seven years (or so, the last time was actually 2003). Yet, the scripture and the sheer meaning of the day is one of the most important in Jesus’ early days.
Forty days ago the Church witnessed again the miracle birth of the Lord, and on January 12 he was met as an adult leading us to baptism. Suddenly, he is but a child again, in this fleeting moment that is the prelude to his adult ministry, and it is the prophecy of what was to come.
Presentation in the Temple is a tradition taken from Mosaic Law. It isn’t about Jesus or any other Jewish baby, but about the mother. It is a ritual cleansing following the blood and afterbirth of the woman. This particular time, it wasn’t as much about the purification ritual as it was the words of aged prophets who dwelt in the temple and the promise of hope that seeing Jesus brought to them.
There is really nothing certain known about Simeon and Anna, the elderly people who met the Holy Family at the temple. Simeon was said to be a devout and righteous man who was told by God that he would not die before seeing the prophecy of old fulfilled. When he took Jesus into his hands, he said something to the effect that he could go in peace because his eyes had beheld the promise of the God of Israel. He went on to tell Mary that in Jesus many would rise and fall, and in him, people would be divided, all would reveal their true hearts, good or bad. Simeon expressed the vision of seeing Mary’s heart stricken by the Lord’s suffering because of this promise. It is assumed that the old sage died soon after, but even that isn’t certain. His canticle has been a significant part of Church liturgy since the 4th century.
As with Simeon, little is known of Anna that is not told in Luke’s Gospel. She is believed to be an aged widow without children who had taken up residence in the temple. That was not an uncommon thing then, nor was it in the later Church. There have been people who usually turn out to be saints who attach themselves in a sort of lean-to or cell to the walls of a church or temple. Julian of Norwich is a classic example, and her visions and revelations are unparalleled. Anna’s exact words are not recorded in the New Testament, but it is understood that she prophesied Jesus as the Redeemer of Israel and all people, and she offered prayers and blessings for the child.
In our modern days, we still hear voices that guide…certainly not all coming from the temple, and they call into question what we are really listening to. Is anyone really dying to know what the Kardashians are doing today? The voices we let into our head are not really about the antics of Silly Myrus or Justin Delinquent, but sometimes we seem incapable of shutting them off. The voices that do the most damage are the ones that show a complete disregard for the teachings of the Savior: someone was overheard after receiving the news of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death this weekend, saying “So what? He was just another dope addict.” No, friends; he was another one of us.
Perhaps social media has encouraged everyone to have a voice since they can hide their true identity. Everybody has an opinion, and you know what they say about everybody having one. Some can be heard and others cannot. There is a scruffy old man on Duck Dynasty who apparently is not allowed to voice his opinion based on his religious beliefs, but those who call for his tar’n’featherin’ can speak freely. It isn’t a matter of whose right, but who has a right. None of these are words of hope and encouragement.
Like Simeon and Anna and everyone before and after them, we have choices to make, and one of those is whose influences we listen to. So the question is “Who will be the next voice you hear?” the one who spoke to the temple dwellers of faith, hope, and love or the one that blares hyperbole to a spending, frenzying, frantic consumer world?