Thursday, 2 February 2017

Presentation of the Lord -- 2 February

Readings: Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

In celebrating the birth of the Word as a man, we are celebrating a new kind of knowledge, a new light, a new understanding of human life, that has come into the world with him. He is God's eternal wisdom. But this is not just an intellectual change, a new piece of information: it is a new praxis, a new possibility for living, for this new light is a new life and a new love.

In some ways it is an old commandment, the wisdom he brings, the original commandment, since the law given through Moses is already a revelation of this same wisdom. But in other ways this is a new commandment, because of Christ's birth, since now the true light is already shining.

It is not just that God gives us a new and more attractive example of good living. It is not just that God gives us a more compelling motive for good living. God has done a new deed, acted in a new way, and thereby given Himself to the world as never before, establishing in a moment of the world's history a new beginning and a new destination for humanity.

The presentation of Jesus in the Temple shows very clearly how this change comes about. Everything is done in accordance with the law of the Lord - this is stressed, more than once. But everything is done also by the prompting of the Spirit who rests on Simeon, reveals new things to Simeon, and prompts him to come to the Temple to meet God's new act, the salvation that will enlighten the pagans, and the glory of Israel - a glory long promised to Israel but whose realisation is in a way nobody could ever have anticipated.

So the Spirit manages the change from the old to the new, working in these good people, Elizabeth, Joseph, Anna, Simeon, and, above all, Mary. So the new commandment - that we can only be sure of understanding things truly if we love our brother - is planted in a soil well prepared by fidelity to the original commandment.

The Word made flesh is, as Thomas Aquinas puts it, 'the word that breathes love'. It is not just that love is the meaning of this word. Love is the power and the life of this word. Love is the reality of this word. He is a word that is only understood and only received where there is love, where people are living the same kind of life as Christ lived.

This new light, the Word of life, the Word breathing love, is destined to encounter opposition, difficulty, and rejection. All who follow him must be ready for a struggle. But where they have received him, and given the Word a home, they can walk without fear of stumbling. These are people who have come to know Christ and so live as he did. They live in the light. Their lives are established on the Word of life. They love their brothers and sisters. These are the people we call 'saints' and it is in them that we see perfectly clearly that knowing God and loving humanity are one and the same reality.

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