Feb. 2 2020 – Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feast of the Presentation
Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4; Psalm 24, Response: Who is the king of glory? It is the Lord!; Hebrews 2:14-18; Gospel – Luke 2:22-40
Today we celebrate one of the last events in the life of the Infant Jesus that is associated with Christmas, the Feast of the Presentation. The narrative incorporates Jewish practices, such as the redemption of the firstborn male and the purification of the mother of a newborn, into this story.
This reminds us of how Jesus becomes God-with-us within the context of his faith tradition. At the same time, the story must also be seen within the context of the time of Jesus’ birth.
Remember that one major element of this context was the very deep longing for the coming of the messiah. This was exacerbated by the fact that for around 500 years the prophetic voice, which reminded the community of their relationship with God, was silent. The last prophet before the appearance of John the Baptist was Malachi, from whom we get today’s first reading.
Such an absence gave rise to many expectations and false notions of a messiah. We are familiar with the concepts of the messiah as a powerful earthly king; a revolutionary who conjures ideas of a violent upheaval; or a king with supernatural powers who reigns supreme. There were quite a number of notions of the messiah establishing a kingdom, in contemporary terms, of world domination.
In the midst of these more “mainstream” notions then of a messiah, there was a small group of people called the Quiet of the Land. It was to such a group that Simeon and Anna of today’s Gospel belonged. Simeon and Anna’s expectation of the messiah was very much shaped by waiting, prayer and discernment as a fruit of prayerful waiting.In their story, we see that the moment of recognition was very much spirit-led, not just in the right place, but at the right moment, when the Infant Jesus enters the temple.
Go in peace
Simeon’s canticle, the “Nunc Dimittis”—literally, “Now you dismiss”—powerfully and eloquently proclaims this moment: “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 the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2: 29-32)
In short, “mission accomplished!” This acclamation or prayer sums up the deep insights of living our life in mission.First is the clarity and single-mindedness of mission. Both Simeon and Anna dedicated their life to this singular goal, which happens in a single brief moment—“My eyes have seen your salvation” for Simeon, and for Anna, “Coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Day and night they both waited and prayed for the coming of the messiah. This predisposed them to the working of God’s Spirit that led them to the right place at the right moment. This is the fruit of waiting, prayer and discernment.
These are the two other qualities of mission: the waiting, praying and discernment on the one hand, and the precise and decisive move at the right moment on the other. These two are so intimately linked, like two peas in a pod, yet they are distinct moments in one flow of the movements of the Spirit.
Today’s narrative of the feast reminds us of one distinct element of our relationship with Jesus: that it is always intimately woven into our life mission. There is no authentic relationship with Jesus that does not result in this life.
It is a mission of clarity and single-mindedness. There may be those whose zealousness appear to be in overdrive, while others can be calm and composed and solid as a rock, going “placidly amidst the noise and haste.”
What lends authenticity and depth to living one’s mission is the waiting, prayer and discernment that underpins all the action, be it frenetic or serene. It is such an underpinning of grace that allows us to achieve the mission with precision and decisiveness.
This moment of “mission accomplished,” the nunc dimittis is attained in one stroke, yes, but behind this moment is a journey of many steps, many triumphs and failures, many moments of joy and pain.
Some take a lifetime of serenely and patiently doing things, characterized by waiting, prayer and discernment. Still others spend a lifetime of activity in active pursuit of the mission guided by waiting, prayer and discernment.
It all leads to the nunc dimittis encounter with God.
For Jesus, almost 33 years after, he prays his “Nunc Dimittis” on the Cross, but also within one grace-filled movement of the Spirit from his Last Supper and Agony in the Garden to the Passion and Cross culminating in the Resurrection.
To Jesus—for us—it was the prayer in the Garden, “Father, not my will but your will be done.” From this moment on, leave the rest to God. Mission accomplished. —CONTRIBUTED