When I think of The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord, I can’t help recalling the offertories I have witnessed in Haiti. In one rural church, Legliz Epiphinie, the presentation of the gifts includes the elements of bread and wine, along with eggs, chickens, goats, sugar cane, plantains, and other items for the good of the community. Adults and children alike carry the items forward in a dance that is full of joy. Music is playing. People are clapping. The offertory is a holy event. The poorest of the poor have gifts to present to God and the community. However, with the joy of giving comes a sense of lament. Individuals are giving of what they have to the community at a cost to themselves.
Sitting in the sanctuary and seeing this display of generosity moves me to tears. I am witnessing God’s salvation firsthand through the joyful presentation of these gifts, along with the bread and wine which soon become consecrated. Consequently, it urges me to make a difference in the world by building God’s kingdom here on earth. Perhaps, I could testify to God’s salvation just as my Haitian neighbors. This reality brings joy but not without a soul piercing sorrow. I know I must give even if it causes pain.
Today as we celebrate The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord, I can imagine Simeon speaking his famous words, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.” The witness of Simeon reveals to us that the Christ child, 40 days after his birth, was not presented to simply fulfill the purification code of the Law, but to fulfill the promise made to humankind by preparing “a light of revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of [God’s] people Israel.” Yes, a savior has been born – a savior who abides in us and provides a light for the entire world, a light of God’s saving grace.
Mary and Joseph present Jesus to Simeon and then to Anna. As a parent, I would be perplexed with the words of Simeon, “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of man will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.” What do we make of this revelation? How do we reconcile the joyful birth with the sorrowful mystery that Simeon reveals? How does Mary feel? Does she feel regret? Sorrow? Bewilderment? Our Haitian neighbors who give to the church the only chicken they own know the sorrow that accompanies great joy of presentation.
Perhaps, the Feast of the Presentation requires us to discern the best gifts we can provide our children. In our culture, we immediately think of education, athletic camps, and SAT prep courses. We focus on this so that our children may navigate the secular world and become successful. However, as Christians, we know Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.” We know “the favor of God was upon him.” We know that Jesus healed the sick, forgave sinners, and overcame death. We know Jesus held fast to the righteousness of God. We also know through scripture that Jesus focused on the process of righteousness, which is an ongoing action of being among us as one who serves God. Jesus never focused on a final product. We often hear him saying my hour has not yet come. Jesus focused on the here and now. He performed miracles. He preached that the kingdom of heaven is a here and now reality as much as it is a future existence. We can assume Mary and Joseph provided Jesus this sacred foundation.
Today as parents, we hold the greatest hope for our children, but we may feel the future looks bleak, uncertain, and unpromising. Nevertheless, we provide our children with the wisdom of our Christian tradition, the courage to be countercultural, and the faith to hold onto the power of God’s love.
In the end, when we present gifts as part of our Christian practice, do we present them as gifts from the heart like our Haitian neighbors do – with singing and dancing? Do we present our children as gifts to God? Do we raise our children in the faith and teach them so they too may grow strong and full of wisdom? How do we present our children to God? Like our Haitian neighbors, Mary and Joseph knew the gift they presented in the Temple. They knew the gift they carried in their arms belonged to God and to the world. They knew the cost of giving such a gift. Ultimately, are we willing to give the gift that cost us the most?
[Image Credit: Latimore, Kelly. La presentación de Cristo en el templo, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.]