The Encounter


    Gospel according to Luke (2:22-32)

    WHEN the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

    Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, waiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the customs of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
    What would you feel when you meet God? Excitement? Bliss? Panic? Fear? Shame? A string of questions may echo in your mind: “How will I recognize God? What will I say? Will God be delighted with my presence, or disappointed at or enraged by my sins?”
    Philosophers of religion would describe such a meeting as mysterium tremenduum et fascinans; it would be a strange and puzzling experience, drawing us toward itself but also pushing us away. In simpler terms, it would be a fascinating and terrifying encounter at the same time.

    Today we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord, also known as the Purification of Mary. In Eastern Churches this is known as “The Meeting.” Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary fulfill the Law of Moses by bringing their firstborn Son to the Temple of Jerusalem as an act of consecration to the Lord (cf. Ex 13:2), the source of all life and giver of all gifts. Mary also undergoes ritual purification. The Jews believe that, because of the bleeding, a mother is ritually unclean after giving birth (Lv 12:2, 6). At the time of the purification, the mother offers a year-old lamb or a pair of pigeons or turtledoves.

    But “The Meeting” is not merely a family get-together and satisfaction of a religious duty on the part of Mary and Joseph. For the righteous, devout, and Spirit-filled Simeon who recites ahis Nunc dimittis and the prophetess Anna who gives testimony to those around, there is more to what meets the eye. In “The Meeting,” youth and old age meet, promise and fulfillment kiss, the Old and New Testaments merge. The new Temple of God enters, hallows, and purifies the ancient temple (First Reading). Consequently, divine light, glory, and salvation shine forth from Israel to all peoples (Responsorial Psalm).

    Christian faith is a real, concrete, and personal encounter with God, a God who, in Jesus, became like us in every way except sin (Second Reading). God is always first; he seeks us and makes his way to find us. He lavishes us with manifold ways and means to meet him—in nature, in Scriptures, in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, in our conscience, in all the events of our daily lives, and in all people of goodwill. Perhaps it is not really asking how, when, and where we can find God; rather, it is how we allow ourselves to be found and to be transformed by him.

    The constant challenge is not to fear or fret over the encounter with God. It is to look forward to it actively and patiently, with a sense of wonder and gratitude for his everyday miracles. When the decisive moment comes, as many spiritual writers say, fear, shame, and insecurity vanish. At that time, we will marvel at the truth that God simply is a bundle of joy, peace, and light. — Fr. Angelo Paolo O. Asprer, SSP