The Presentation of the Lord
2014 Year A
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,” and to offer the sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Mary did not just have to fulfil that dictate of the Lord as did every other mother of a new-born son in Israel; she was not even merely called to make most special thanksgiving for such a miraculous Gift as her virgin-born Son; she was, in fact, being called upon to thank God in the name of the whole human race for sending His very own Son as one of us: come to free us from the original sin of Adam and Eve with its ensuing bondage to Satan -- that is, from sin and death -- and to open up heaven’s portals once again for us with the prospect of eternal beatitude as sons in the Son called to the marriage feast of the Lamb in the Kingdom of the Father.
However, such a bare statement of the immense responsibility resting upon the young virgin from Nazareth is not adequate for you to understand sufficiently the supernatural significance and spiritual beauty of what was taking place.
The Lord of all creation -- the magnitude of which, being revealed to us daily ever more and more by the Hubble Space Telescope and Voyager Spacecraft, defies our comprehension -- the All-Mighty One, and God of Israel’s ancient fathers, the All-Holy One enthroned in the highest heavens and worshipped by all the angelic hosts … He Himself had risen in divine majesty, wisdom and love, to help and to save mankind, because He had originally made and formed it in His very own image and likeness. He had come to rescue it from the degradation, stain and stink of sin, from the hubris of Lucifer’s personal pride mirrored in the Eve’s deliberate choice of the delightful and seductive fruit, and Adam’s pathetic compliance with his wife to the forgetfulness of His God.
If God had come with pomp and power to destroy Satan and his hoards, that would at least have manifested to angels and to men something of His incomparable glory, and the irresistible power of His holiness. But He did not do that. He took our plight and the hubris of Satan so seriously that, in order to totally condemn Lucifer and most lovingly reclaim what was His alone, He divested Himself of all that divine glory, power, and majesty so coveted by Lucifer: He came in humility (no pride!), in weakness (no power!), and dependency (no authority!).
How Lucifer despised such dispositions and whole-heartedly loathed the One thus coming against him -- as David had done with his sling and stone against Goliath – wearing such contemptible apparel; He was coming uniquely as Father, Sublime and Supreme, in the Person of His beloved and only-begotten Son, to lift up those called to become His true, adopted, children:
I bent down to them and fed them, for I am God the Holy One in your midst, I will not come in wrath. (Hosea 4:9)
There is a famous sermon by Saint Bernard celebrating Our Lady’s ‘Fiat’ in response to the angel Gabriel’s message at the Annunciation, in which he pictures angels and mankind imploring the Virgin to say but that one word and thereby save so many from such great distress; he has individuals coming one after another to the forefront with ever more urgent words of heart-felt concern for those who she alone is in a position to help… say, pronounce, whisper, declare just that one word, o holy maiden, please, let it but come from your lips and God will be glorified and mankind saved.
Mary’s ‘fiat’ at the Annunciation was, indeed, of ‘stellar’ significance and importance, but Mary’s situation today, presenting her Son to God in the Temple at Jerusalem is of like consequence; for who can thank God for His great goodness to us other than Mary, the Immaculate Virgin and Mother of God’s true Son? She was only young, very young we would think, and what she knew rationally we cannot know; but -- of God’s great goodness -- she was totally pure and humble before the Lord, incomparable in her faith and responsiveness to God’s leading, while her human heart was aflame with love for the Child God had given her, and her mind and sensitivity totally attuned to His every need and intention.
Jesus’ ultimate death on the Cross on Calvary was the total commitment of His humanity to paying the price for our redemption and to giving human glory to His beloved Father; and Mother Church has, since then, searched endlessly to understand, appreciate, and praise Him for the sufferings He thus endured to win us salvation. She has searched and will continue, unrelentingly, to search yet deeper, that she might ever more appropriately proclaim and respond to His love stretched out on the Cross for our sake.
But the Divine Condescension involved in the Incarnation, whereby, wherein, God, in Jesus, was humbled, humbled Himself, to a humanly inconceivable degree, to a sacrifice of self, so to speak, both awesome and alarming in its totality … who could praise God for that? Only Mary’s sinless humility, only her boundless gratitude to God, only her completely unreserved awareness and confession of her own nothingness and indebtedness, only her boundless love for and commitment to Jesus, her Son and God’s Son, could give appropriate – that is, no mere human could possibly give more -- thanks for that divine self-emptying decided and entered upon in order to triumph over angelic and human pride and win love through incomparable love!!
Sing praise to the LORD, you faithful; give thanks to God’s holy name.
With my whole being I sing endless praise to you. O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks. (Psalm 30:5,13)
So, in our celebration of this feast of the Presentation of the Lord, let us with Mary look much deeper than the charm (surely irresistible!!) of this Baby, let us look and, perhaps, tremble with awesome awareness and deepest gratitude before our God of such unimaginable goodness and love. Let us also be aware that Jesus’ living-out of His divine Sonship in human flesh will, inevitably, lead Him, for love of His Father and for us, to His embracing the crucifixion of His human flesh on Calvary; but ultimately and most gloriously it will lead Him to the, so to speak, combined and complete self-emptying, when, Risen and in glorified, heavenly Flesh, He ultimately and most sublimely gives Himself with His Most Holy Spirit to us and for us under the appearances of simple bread and ordinary wine. Oh, the Goodness of God!!!