Presentation of the Lord
February 2, 2020
Welcome pilgrims to Jerusalem, and to the Jewish Temple.
I know Simeon and Anna well. The three of us spend our days—and nights—in the Temple. We are old, so we pray a lot. But we also chit chat, and, I’ll admit, gossip a bit about all those who come and go in the Temple. It’s a very busy place. It’s the world-wide hub of all Jewish religious activity. A lot of very important Jewish leaders can be seen here, along with ordinary peasants, seeking to please God with a simple offering or sacrifice.
As I said, Anna, Simeon, and I are old. And we have no family ties. And so we claim the entire nation of Israel as our family, and we just remain here at the Temple. Regular Temple goers know us and give us food now and again, and somehow, we get by.
One thing is sure: we hold strong to God’s promises. And God has promised us a savior who will change the world, rescue those who suffer, comfort those who are weary, console those who grieve, and be a light to the nations that brings justice to all.
Nearly every day, we see very young families arrive at the Temple. They come from all around to fulfill two important religious obligations. The first is called Presentation – presenting and dedicating a firstborn son to God, as found in the book of Exodus (13:1-2). The second is called Purification – the ritual of purifying a new mother forty days after childbirth, as found in the Book of Leviticus (12:1-8). These rituals, commanded by Moses, require at trip to the Temple, here in Jerusalem.
Over the years, Simeon, Anna, and I have seen hundreds, thousands of babies and mothers come through the Temple. And each child, each mother, and each family is special in the eyes of God, and in our eyes. We always get close to the babies, and we often hear mothers and fathers whispering their hopes and dreams for their babies, to carry on the legacy of their family, and the family of Israel, as they grow into adulthood. And, truth be told, we too whisper our hopes and dreams for them, especially Simeon.
And yesterday, ah well, yesterday was truly special. A husband and wife came into the Temple with their newborn son. They were clearly road weary and dusted. And they seemed dazed and intimidated by all hustle and bustle of the big city and the Temple. But with turtle doves in hand, they were prepared for the rituals.
As Simeon, Anna, and I moved in close to them, I heard a gasp from Simeon, and I saw Anna’s eyes go wide open in surprise and awe. Both of them knew, in that moment, that their waiting was over. They knew that this child was the one, promised by God, to change the world. And with tears in their eyes, they said to the child’s parents:
Your child will bring glory to all people.
Your child will be a light to the nations.
Your child will bring true and lasting peace.
Your child will make justice and mercy possible for those in need.
Your child will make all the difference for ages to come.
The child’s parents were dazed, and they didn’t know what to make of all this. But when the rituals were concluded, they returned home, and did what parents do with the things about their children that they don’t understand; they tucked it all away in their hearts as treasure, and raised up their child to be strong and wise; and the favor of God rested upon him.
What does this mean for us? Well, Christmas is long over, but today we are reminded that the Christ child has a major mission in front of him, and his parents, family, and community are each called to help form him to be ready to embrace that mission when the time comes.
And the same is true for our babies and children and youth. We need to whisper in their ears:
You can bring glory to those around you.
You can be a light to the world.
You can bring peace and justice and mercy.
You can make a difference.
Since our sons were grade school age, we Kehrwalds have held an annual family retreat day, usually sometime around the first of the year. It’s the brainchild of their mom, Rene. Each year, we gather for a day to talk about the year that has passed and the year to come. Over the years, each one of us has experienced profound insights into our lives that lead to major decisions and changes. Our discussions are honest, forthright, and not always easy. But always, always shrouded in love.
Today is the annual Kehrwald family retreat day, and it will be the first one with our nine-month old granddaughter, Aleda. Well, actually, that’s not quite true because Aleda was a central focus of our retreat day last year. While still in her momma’s belly, but just two weeks before she was born, we took it upon ourselves to each write a message to Aleda. We shared them with each other, and while doing so each of us fell in love with this child who was not yet born. Here are a few quotes.
Aleda, the future of our world is pretty gnarly. You’re gonna need a lot of strength and perseverance.
Aleda, you are about to enter a world that needs you. Your family is creative, curious, adventurous, generous, kind. With this family as your home and your foundation, you’ll be able to grow into exactly the person the universe needs right now.
Aleda, may you feel a part of everyone and everything, open to life, open to delight, and may you grow into your own person, a child of God – and may you always feel at home at Grandma’s house.
Aleda, you don’t know it yet, but you are perhaps the most fortunate girl on earth to get the parents you got. Their capacity to love you knows no bounds. Make the most of it, and learn to love as they do.
Aleda, your mom and I love each other very much, and we already love you so much! You are about to do a BIG thing, and I know you are strong and you can do it well. And out here, the world is bigger than you can ever imagine, but know this, we will always, always love you.
Aleda, I can’t wait to meet you, Baby Girl. I wonder what I will learn from you. It’s a beautiful world out here. I can’t imagine how much more amazing it will be with you in it.
I don’t know much about the Jewish ritual of Presentation, but as shown to us in today’s Gospel story, it is clearly brilliant, and something to be emulated. Is there a baby, a child, a young person in your life to whom you can whisper BIG ideas, dreams, hopes that will empower her or him discover God’s ideas for her or him?
Oh, and one more.
Aleda, when the day comes that you are sad or confused, this old man, your Papa, can hold you, listen to you, console you, and bring a smile back your face.