Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
The Feast of the Presentation, forty days after Christmas, has been the traditional close of the Christmas season. In today’s second reading, we hear that Jesus “became like his brothers and sisters in every way.” The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews is speaking of the Incarnation, meaning literally to be “born in flesh”. And because Jesus “became like his brothers and sisters in every way”, He was born into a particular cultural, political, and economic situation. In recent years, as I have listened to the stories of Jesus’ birth and infancy during the Christmas season, I have been struck by the vulnerability of the Holy Family’s situation.
Mary had experienced labor and delivery in a stable, far from home. Jesus’ first visitors were also of low social status: the shepherds who came in from the fields. Jesus enjoyed a loving family and community, but His circumstances outside his home were precarious. He lived in territory occupied and oppressed by the Romans. In Matthew’s Gospel, we heard of Jesus’ escape from the murderous King Herod, by the Holy Family’s flight southward into Egypt. Today, thousands of Palestinian families are taking the same route to avoid violence and death.
And in today’s Gospel reading, we find Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem practicing the ancient customs of their culture: Mary’s purification after childbirth, and Jesus’ presentation: the offering of the first-born son. Since they could not afford a sheep, Mary and Joseph gave the offering of the poor: two turtledoves and two young pigeons.
In his 2016 Christmas message, Pope Francis tells us the power and meaning of Jesus’ Incarnation:
The power of this Child, Son of God, and Son of Mary, is not the power of this world, based on might and wealth; it is the power of love. It is the power that created the heavens and the earth, and gives life to all creation: to minerals, plants, and animals. It is the force that attracts man and woman, and makes them one flesh, one single existence. It is the power that gives new birth, forgives sin, reconciles enemies, and transforms evil into good. It is the power of God.
This power of love led Jesus Christ to strip himself of his glory and become man; it led him to give his life on the cross and to rise from the dead. It is the power of service, which inaugurates in our world the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace.
Patty Gillis is a retired Pastoral Minister. She served on the Board of Directors at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit. She is currently a member of the Laudato Si Vision Fulfillment Team and the Passionist Solidarity Network.