Lord, now let your servant go in peace: your word has been fulfilled.
These words that we pray every night in the Liturgy of the Hours come to us from the story of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. As we read in Luke’s Gospel, an aged man named Simeon had received a revelation that he would not die before the coming of Israel’s Messiah. He was praying in the Temple of Jerusalem when, forty days after Jesus’ Nativity, Mary and Joseph brought their child to the Temple and offered the sacrifices prescribed for the birth of a first-born son. Perhaps this seemingly helpless infant wasn’t the conquering hero that Simeon had imagined, but somehow Simeon knew that at last his own eyes had seen the salvation God had promised to His People. That’s why we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation each year on February 2, forty days after December 25.
The “word” Simeon saw fulfilled, however, was not just God’s special promise to him personally. That would make Jesus’s Presentation a heart-warming story, but not necessarily a monumental moment in the history of salvation. Instead, Christians have long celebrated this feast with special dignity because it represents Jesus’s fulfillment of the entire Old Testament. King David once declared that he would “build a house” for his Lord by enthroning the Ark of the Covenant (which contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments) in a splendid temple. God commended David’s piety, but revealed that his “son” would be the one to build the house. David’s son King Solomon indeed constructed and dedicated the great Temple of Jerusalem, but soon the Israelites dishonored their covenant with God, and a Babylonian army destroyed the Temple. When Ezra and Nehemiah built the Second Temple after the Babylonian Exile, the Ark was gone, leaving their Temple critically unfinished.
In the Presentation, Joseph of Nazareth finally completes the work that his ancestors David and Solomon began. He brings Jesus, the Word made flesh, and Mary, the Ark who bore Him, into the Temple prepared for them. This feast shows us in gesture what Jesus tells us in words when He says that He came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them. Today the same enduring Word through Whom God spoke the Universe into being comes to dwell in an earthly temple. By the power of the Holy Spirit, may that very same Word dwell in our hearts.
Br. Philip Neri Gerlomes, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE