Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – Luke 2:22-40

 Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – Luke 2:22-40

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. In the past, it was also known as the Purification of Our Lady. It was further referred to as Candlemas Day because Simeon saw in Jesus a great Light. According to Leviticus 12, after a woman gives birth to a son, she is impure for forty days. At the end of that period, she is to bring an offering to the temple, which the priest offers as a sacrifice, effecting her purification.

However, in the book of Exodus we also find another instruction relating to consecration of the first offspring. It is written that every first-born child which “opens the womb”, whether human or animal, must be offered to God because it belongs to God, Exodus (13:2-15). In Exodus, this verse is set in the context of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Children born into slavery belonged to the slave master; in consecrating them to God, the Israelites affirmed their new identity as God’s people.

The law also applied for first born animals. However, if the first-born male donkey was critical to a family’s livelihood it could be bought back from God by offering a lamb in its place. This is called redeeming the first-born animal.  So too, the first-born male child could be bought back from the Lord by paying five silver shekels to the temple, Numbers (3:46-51); Leviticus (27:6).  

Today as we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family and there are lessons to be leant from the Holy Family and also from Anna and Simeon.

We know that Jesus was God in human flesh. Mary was a specially chosen woman to be the mother of Jesus Christ, out of the many women in the whole of Israel and, indeed, of the world. Joseph was a “just” or “righteous” man, Matthew (1:19). The holy family did not need to submit to this law and yet, they humbly submitted themselves to all the Jewish customs and traditions of their day like any other ordinary people. Today the law, especially religious laws are often seen as something that needs to be resisted. Yet laws are never given to enslave us but to protect us from evil.

By bringing turtle doves, instead of a lamb, for sacrificial offering the holy family also identified themselves with the poor, with whom Jesus Himself most closely identified. The Holy family teaches us the joy of living simply so that others might simply live. While we may be blessed with much can we make a choice as a family to identify the needs of the poor and reach out?

By presenting Jesus in the Temple, they willingly accepted that Jesus was born in the context of the covenant established between God and the people of Israel. They knew that they had got a child who, in a very special way, did not belong to them but to God and His people. We too must learn to accept that every child is given to us by God to be brought up to keep the faith. While we may be instrumental in the birth of the child and in raising them up it is foolish to think that these are OUR children.

Simeon “took him in his arms”. In the original biblical language this expression described what the priests of the Old Law did as they accepted the gifts offered by the faithful for use in the temple sacrifices. Then it was Anna’s turn. She praised God and spoke about the role the child would play in the redemption of us all. Simeon and Anna, because they were people of intense and ongoing prayer, always found themselves in the right place at the right time. Like them, each one of us, is called to cooperate in the divine plan of salvation.  

Finally, Simeon didn’t seem to tire of his prayer life. Sometimes we feel in prayer as if we’ve said it all to God – our problems, sins, failings seem the same today as last year. We may feel God is tired of it all, tired of us. But Simeon didn’t tire of praising and thanking. Maybe that’s part of the prayer of old age and perhaps there are times when that is all God wants of us. A lot of prayer is letting the past go, whether it is only yesterday, a generation ago or almost a lifetime ago. Like Simeon we praise God’s glory, like Anna we just look at Jesus and praise God. Maybe we can do that in prayer today, no matter what our age.

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