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PRESENTATION PREFIGURES THE CROSS

Presentation in the temple links birth and death of Christ

"A light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Lk 2:32)

The Gospel verse we have just heard, taken from St. Luke's account, recalls the event that took place in Jerusalem on the 40th day after the birth of Jesus: his presentation in the temple. This is one of the occasions when the liturgical season reflects historical time: today, in fact, 40 days have passed since 25 December, the Solemnity of the Lord's Birth.

This fact is not without significance. It means that the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple creates a sort of "hinge" which separates and joins the initial phase of his life on earth, his birth, and its fulfillment, which is his death and resurrection. Today we leave the Christmas season behind and move towards the season of Lent.

The prophetic words spoken by the aged Simeon shed light on the mission of the Child brought to the temple by his parents: "Behold this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against ... that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed." (Lk 2:34-35) To Mary Simeon said: "And a sword will pierce through your own soul also." (Lk 2:35) The hymns of Bethlehem have now faded and the cross of Golgotha can already be glimpsed: this happens in the temple, the place where sacrifices are offered. The event we are commemorating today is thus a bridge as it were, linking the two most important seasons of the Church's year.

Meeting of Simeon and Mary is first prediction of the Cross
The second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, offers an interesting commentary on this event. The author makes an observation which leads us to reflect: commenting on Christ's priesthood, he points out how the Son of God "is concerned ... with the descendants of Abraham." (2:16) Abraham is the father of believers, so all believers are in someway included in this phrase "descendants of Abraham" of whom the Child, in Mary's arms, is presented in the temple. The event that occurs before the eyes of those few privileged witnesses is an early prediction of the sacrifice of the Cross.

The biblical text states that the Son of God, in solidarity with mankind, shares their condition of weakness and frailty to the end, that is, until his death, in order to bring about a radical liberation of humanity by once and for all defeating the adversary, the devil, whose power over human beings and every creature lies in death itself. (cf Heb 2:14-15)

With this wonderful synthesis, the inspired author expresses the whole truth about the world's redemption. He highlights the importance of the priestly sacrifice of Christ, who "had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people." (Heb 2:17)

Precisely because it shows that profound link uniting the mystery of the Incarnation with that of the Redemption, the Letter to the Hebrews is an appropriate commentary on the liturgical event we are celebrating today. It highlights Christ's redemptive mission, in which the whole People of the New Covenant take part.

Light of Christ shines in the heart of human life
The Church lives on event and mystery. Today she draws life from the event of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, seeking to understand the mystery it holds. In a way, though, the Church draws each day from this event in Christ's life, meditating on its spiritual, meaning. In fact, every evening the elderly Simeon's words which have just been proclaimed echo in churches and monasteries, chapels and homes throughout the world:
"Lord now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel." (Lk 2:29-32)

So prayed Simeon, who in his old age had been granted to see the promises of the Old Covenant fulfilled. So prays the Church, which, sparing no effort, does all she can to bring the gift of the New Covenant to all peoples.

In the mysterious encounter between Simeon and Mary, the Old and New Testaments are joined. Together the aging prophet and the young mother give thanks for this Light which has kept the darkness from prevailing. It is the Light which shines in the heart of human life: Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the world, "a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of his people Israel." Amen!

Pope John Paul II

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