When folks stood around asking the mute Zechariah what he wanted his son to be named, he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. [Luke 1:63]
So the shepherds went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had ben told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed. [Luke 2:16-18]
All spoke well of [Jesus] and were amazed at the gracious words that came out of his mouth. [Luke 4:22]
He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water and they obey him?” [Luke 8:25]
And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent. [Luke 20:26]
While in their joy they were disbelieving and still amazed, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” [Luke 24:41]
All of these are places throughout the Gospel According to Luke where the theme of amazement breaks into the narration. So when he tells us that Mary and Joseph were amazed hearing Simeon’s song, testifying that this baby of theirs would be a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Israel, he is letting us see that this Spirit-driven life of Jesus continually astonishes, amazes, perplexes believers and unbelievers alike.
Before we go any further, perhaps it might be good to take note of the fact that you may be wondering what on earth are we doing back in the story of Jesus’ birth. Just three weeks ago he was grown and we had him baptized. Last week he was calling disciples. February 2 is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple. Because it falls on a Sunday this year, it overrides what would be the normal celebration. It is on February 2 because, according to Luke’s gospel, the presentation of the infant Jesus took place 40 days after he was born, according to the Law of Moses. Later ages, seeking to make celebrations conform to that time-line, came up with this feast, among others, that seek to do that. Actually, this is not just a little digression. It is important to the theme of the Presentation itself. What the Church has often sought to do is to retrace the steps of Jesus’ life somehow figuring that careful remembrance and celebration of these stupendous events will make us more holy, more devout. And possibly that is exactly right. One may be appropriately amazed at the simple power of recollection and reflection to change our minds and our behavior.
But there is another dimension of such a feast as this, and that is to understand that the Presentation, for example, is not just something that happened in Jesus’ life but is constantly a possibility in our own lives. Like Mary and Joseph we have the choice, the possibility, of presenting something or somebody, some truth, some demonstration of a key part of ourselves. Occasionally such a presentation happens because, as in the case of the parents of Jesus, some law requires it. That does not mean it is useless or worthless. But sometimes what we present are ideas, attitudes, notions, that bubble up out of our depths.
The question is not whether we are involved in a presentation, but whom or what are we presenting. Look carefully at the story of the Presentation of Jesus. Mary and Joseph knew they had a firstborn son, and they knew the requirement to present him as holy to the Lord. They knew to observe the prescriptions of the Torah, and thus brought the offering of the poor: a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. But they were totally unprepared for the encounter with Simeon, the priest. When he blesses the child and then utters the first Nunc Dimittis ever, Mary and Joseph are shocked to hear what it was that they had presented! Did it make sense? Was it apparent? Nothing is said about what they talked about on the way home, if anything. Nothing is recorded about what they did differently in raising Jesus because of Simeon’s sermon and song. The story is that they were totally amazed at what—or whom—they had presented without knowing it.
You are presenting something or somebody every day, though you may not know it. You are presenting truth or falsehood, honesty or lies, humor or sadness, consideration or arrogance, understanding or impatience all the time. Don’t think that my point here is a rather narrow moralistic one that can be reduced to some neat notion such as, “Be on your best behavior for you never know who is watching!” True though that may be, let’s get real. In fact, let’s be real. And by being real, we might as well start with what is most apparently real about you and me, and that is the fact that we are bodies. You and I are bodies. And it is exactly at this point that the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple teaches us something. For many years, indeed centuries, this day was known as the Purification of St. Mary the Virgin, because “their purification,” as St. Luke puts it, boiled down to the idea that Mary, like all women who had gone through pregnancy and childbirth, had to be “purified” before they could get back to normal. Behind that notion lies a deep suspicion that having sex and the resulting babies is something that stains the human being, especially females. I doubt there is anyone here today that would find that idea anything other than repugnant. Indeed there is nothing about the human body, and nothing about human reproduction, and nothing about the fluids of a human being to be ashamed of. So we might be a bit amazed, surprised at the ambivalence people once had of blood or semen, but we might properly be more amazed still at the idea that the Presentation gently calls us to, namely that we both first encounter the Christ in our bodies and then present him in and with our bodies.
How is this possible? We encounter Christ through our ears in hearing the Word in all kinds of ways. We encounter Christ through what we see in nature, in our fellow human beings, in what we do. We encounter Christ when we hold holy Bread in our hands and sip sacred Wine with our tongues. We encounter Christ when we touch another creature, or feel another’s body touching ours. We encounter the suffering of Christ when we ache with pain or know our hearts to be broken. We encounter the healing of Christ when we experience the peace that follows turbulence when our bodies recover from disease or mend from brokenness. And we present Christ with our bodies when we speak a word of comfort or pardon or healing or release in his Name. We present Christ when our tongues sing his praises and tell of his greatness and declare his wonders. We present Christ in our faces when we smile at someone in welcome. We present Christ when we laugh out of joy and when we cry in compassion. In short, there is no way to encounter Christ in this life without some material connection to receive him, and no way to present Christ in this life without a body to make him known and bear him witness.
I will go further. There is no place in your body where God is not, and no place to which you can go that you can escape the God who is everywhere. There is no part of your life where you cannot find God, no crevice in your experience where you can successfully hide from God, and no heartbeat in your chest that does not vibrate with the energy of God. Christ is presented—present—to you in every stitch of your life, and you can present Christ with every breath you take. Nothing is off limits. Nothing is profane; all is sacred. Nothing and no part of you is so soiled it cannot be washed clean nor so cheap that it cannot be redeemed, nor so wasted that it cannot be offered to God and used by God.
Amazed? Surprised? Maybe so. The Good News is much better than we could ever have imagined and certainly superior to anything we could make up. One of the most poignant features of the story of the Presentation is that this elderly pair of people, aged Simeon and sturdy old Anna, have been waiting all their lives for what Mary and Joseph one day came into the Temple to present. The Eastern Church calls this feast the Meeting of Christ and Simeon, and it is clear that the symbolic nature of the meeting is the arrival of the New Dispensation to complete the Old. And let me tell you something. Somebody somewhere is waiting right now, and has perhaps been waiting a whole lifetime, for the very presentation that you can make. They await your word, your touch, your song, your spirit, your story. You’ll quite likely never know exactly who it is until you have told your tale or sung or your song or lit their path with your light. And even then you may not know. And neither one of you may ever give it a label such as “the Presentation of Christ in the Office or the warehouse or the chat room.” But there it is: the temple gate is wide open in your soul, waiting for you to walk through with the Truth you can carry as proudly as a new parent carries a firstborn. Go ahead and present him! Present him. Present your Truth. Present him by presenting yourself. And hear the amazing strains coming from somewhere across time: “For my eyes have seen thy salvation, a light to the nations, and the glory of thy people Israel.”
© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2014