Hebrews 7:7-17; Luke 2:22-40
Today we celebrate a great feast of the Church that speaks directly to the spiritual challenges that we all face on a daily basis. For today we celebrate the Presentation of Christ, forty days after His birth, in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Theotokos and St. Joseph bring the young Savior there in compliance with the Old Testament law, making the offering of a poor family, a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the old man St. Simeon proclaims that this Child is the salvation “of all peoples, a light to enlighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.” The aged prophetess St. Anna also recognizes Him as the fulfillment of God’s promises.
Our epistle reading from Hebrews reminds us that the One brought into the Temple this day is the Great High Priest Who offers Himself on the Cross and destroys the power of sin and death through His glorious resurrection. Christ does so in order that we may enter into the Heavenly Temple and participate by grace in the eternal communion of the Holy Trinity. The priesthood and sacrifices of the Old Testament foreshadowed Christ’s fulfillment of them. The Savior’s offering and priesthood are eternal, for He intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father.
Every day of our lives, in all that we think, say, and do, we have the opportunity to join ourselves more fully to Christ as the Great High Priest. He will bless and heal every dimension of who we are in this world as we offer ourselves to Him in holiness. He offered Himself fully, without reservation of any kind, and the only limits to His restoration of our souls are those that we stubbornly insist upon maintaining. Christ calls us to present ourselves to Him fully, without reservation of any kind, as we enter into the Heavenly Temple through communion with Him. All that we must leave behind is what cannot be blessed for our salvation, what cannot be united to the Savior in holiness. In other words, we must leave behind our sins.
We have surely all accepted lies of one kind or another about who we really are. It is so easy to define ourselves by our disordered desires, by sins we fall into time and time again, or by worldly categories that have far more to do with earthly kingdoms than with the heavenly reign. It is so tempting to think that whatever wins the praise of others, serves our self-centeredness, or does not challenge us deeply must somehow be right. Instead of trying to make a false god in our own image, Christ calls us to embrace the hard truth that we will become more truly ourselves by becoming more like Him. He offered up Himself to the point of death on the Cross in order to conquer the power of death, the wages of sin. The more we offer ourselves to Him by dying to the power of sin in our lives through repentance, the more we will become our true selves in His image and likeness.
We must not limit our celebration of Christ’s Presentation in the Temple merely to remembrance of an event long ago, for we commemorate the feasts of the Church by entering into the eternal truths we celebrate in them. We cannot truly celebrate this feast without uniting ourselves more fully to the Lamb of God Who is also our Great High Priest. Our celebration must extend beyond this service to how we live each day, especially in offering ourselves fully to Him for greater participation even now in the life of the Kingdom of heaven. As with just about anything else, doing so is a process, a journey of reorienting our lives to God that does not find completion in an instant.
The Theotokos prepared to become the Living Temple of the Lord in a unique way by literally growing up in the Temple in Jerusalem. By devoting herself to prayer and purity for years, she gained the spiritual clarity to say “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” in response to the shocking message of the Archangel Gabriel that she was to become the Virgin Mother of the Savior. Saint Joseph initially did not want to accept the inconvenient calling to become the guardian of the teenage Mary, but his many decades of faithfulness gave him the strength to accept this unusual vocation in old age, and even to risk his life in leading the family to Egypt in order to escape the murderous plot of Herod.
When the Theotokos and Saint Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the temple forty days after His birth, Saint Simeon recognized Christ and proclaimed “Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Thy people Israel.” Simeon was an old and righteous man, and the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. He certainly had not acquired the spiritual strength to do so by accident, but through a long life of faith and faithfulness. The same is true of the elderly prophetess Anna, a widow in her eighties who “did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.”
Those who brought the young Savior to the Temple in obedience to the Old Testament law and those who recognized Him there were all people who had offered their lives to God. They were of different sexes, ages, and backgrounds, which shows that it is not the outward circumstances of our lives that determines where we stand before the Lord. All may enter into the Heavenly Temple through Our Great High Priest, for in Him such differences become spiritually unimportant. What is crucial is that we open ourselves to become more fully who we are in Him as those who bear the divine image and likeness.
The struggle to do so is never ending. Surely, the journeys of the Theotokos and Saints Joseph, Simeon, and Anna did not go as any of them had expected. They all faced challenges and sorrows. As Simeon said to the Theotokos, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also,” for she would see her Son rejected and crucified. Of course, the particulars of our challenges are different from those of these great saints, but we must use them in the same way. Namely, we must embrace them as opportunities to offer even the weakest and most painful dimensions of our lives to Christ for healing and transformation. That does not mean that all our problems will go away, but that we may use them as opportunities to enter more fully into the Heavenly Temple through our Great High Priest.
When we unite ourselves to Him as best we can as we struggle against temptation, we will come to know both our own weakness and His gracious strength more fully. By doing so, we will gain the spiritual clarity to reject superficial distortions of Christianity focused on emotion or worldly success of any kind. Our Savior has triumphed through His Cross and empty tomb. By offering ourselves to Him in obedience, we open ourselves to sharing personally in His great victory over sin and death. Let us celebrate His presentation today by uniting ourselves to our Great High Priest in holiness and using all our struggles for our salvation.