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The Presentation is the Perfect Reflection for Advent

The Presentation is the Perfect Reflection for Advent

Giovanni Bellini, “The Presentation of Jesus Christ in the Temple,” c. 1469

How do we know if we are truly “ready for Christmas?”

A question we always find ourselves asking this time of year is “Are you ready for Christmas?”

For some the question teases the need to string lights, buy enough eggnog from the grocer, and to be sure the post office is open, supplies are in hand, and shipping is postmarked by an early enough date. There are also those who immediately think of their spiritual readiness for Christmas. After all, Advent is a season for preparation, expectation and hope. What is the right way to judge if we are “ready for Christmas?”

Every year my heart grows stronger with the true meaning of “preparation for Christmas” with contemplation on the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.

The beginning of Luke’s Gospel is centered the same topics as the Joyful Mysteries. The Annunciation, in which Mary is startled a bit by the news of her heavenly visitor. The Visitation, in which Mary becomes an evangelist and caregiver for months to the aged and also miraculously impregnated Elizabeth. After the monumental events of the Nativity, it may seem as though this mystery, the Presentation, is a little challenging for inspiration. But as with the Nativity, there is almost too much spiritual and practical wisdom to choose from, especially for Advent, even though the liturgical feast is more than a month after Christmas day.

This feast and mystery, which is more traditionally known as the Purification, marks the completion of the events of the events of Mary’s pregnancy and the Incarnation insofar as the Law of Moses is concerned: in order for a priest to atone for birth and make the woman clean, she must fulfill the Law with an act of presentation and sacrifice in the Temple. And this is what takes place in Luke 2:22-24.

What is not present in the text of Luke’s Gospel are the specifics found in Leviticus. The laws of purification — obligations which even the Holy Family are subject to — require the purchase and sacrifice of a Lamb. The poor man’s alternative is the sacrifice of two doves or two pigeons. I imagine, being of excellent conscience, that Mary and Joseph wanted to give according to the height of the Law, but they were unable. Luke makes sure we discover this subtle act of humility.

The second part of the Presentation is also a monumental occasion for our thoughts during Advent. Simeon was promised that he would not die before seeing the Messiah for himself. He knew it was coming, even if it sort of snuck up on him. We, too, know the liturgical season for the coming of the Messiah has snuck up on us. The school year begins, sometimes an election seasons nags the calendar, Halloween and All Saints Day, Thanksgiving plans are being made, and boom! Advent is here. And just when we settle into Advent, it will be over and our Lord is with us.

Simeon’s reaction should be our adopted response: great joy of expectation and unreluctant acceptance of the contradiction of the Gospel. Many readers are quick to focus on the beautiful Nunc Dimittis of the Canticle of Simeon, and rightfully so. “As you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29). What supreme joy it is to look upon our Lord at Christmastime, especially the Real Presence of the Holy Eucharist. And it is in that presence where Simeon raises a gentle word of prophetic warning to Mary: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel … and a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (34-35).

Are we as accepting as Simeon for the joy and the torment that comes to those who believe in and follow Jesus? Or do we only intend to call Jesus our Lord in times of happiness and cheer? Much of our contemplation of our personal readiness should include reflection on this response.

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