On this day in 1922, Ulysses by James Joyce was first published in book form. A court case in the United States on obscenity charges ended in the book’s acquittal, on the grounds that the judge couldn’t force himself to read the whole thing.
Today in both east and west we celebrate the Presentation (or Meeting) of the (or Our) Lord, also known as the Presentation of Jesus, and the Purification of Mary. This commemorates Mary and Joseph taking the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth (do the math), in accordance with the Law of Moses*, for the purification of Mary and the dedication of her firstborn son to the Lord. We are told that Joseph presented two doves, not a lamb, marking the Holy Family as poor. The feast is also known as Candlemas, for a centuries-old tradition of blessing candles on this day. Parents should be advised that candles may be hazardous to 40-day-old infants due to dripping wax.
This was an everybirth thing for Jewish families, and may have gone unremarked, were it not for two people the Holy Family met there, namely Simeon and Anna. They have their own feast days, but I’m going to tell their stories today, to make for an unfragmented account of the Presentation. According to Luke’s gospel (2:22-40), Simeon had been promised by God that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah. Knowing a Messiah when he saw one, he took baby Jesus in his arms and recited the Nunc Dimittis, an ancient hymn that might almost have been written for him, saying as it does, “Lord, let me go now. I’ve seen your salvation with my own eyes.” He also prophesied pain for the Theotokos (that is, the Virgin Mary) and turmoil in general, but let’s keep moving.
Tradition fills in some of the details for us on the mysterious Simeon, which is the sort of thing Tradition does so well, don’t you think? He is said to be one of the 70 scholars who translated the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that was the de-facto Bible of the Jewish diaspora at the time of Christ, begun at least 100 and maybe 200 years earlier in Alexandria. (“Septuagint” being Greek for “Seventy gents.”) Simeon translated the passage from Isaiah that says, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” “Oops,” he said, “virgins conceiving? I’ll just take my knife and scrape that out and replace it with ‘young woman.’” But as he raised the knife, an angel appeared and said, “Do not kill the boy!” Wait. Sorry. That was Abraham. The angel said, “Leave it in. It’s a prophecy. And I’ll tell you what, God will keep you alive until you see the Messiah, who will be born of a virgin.” Simeon rejoiced, although as the years stretched into decades into perhaps centuries we hope he didn’t grumble too much. His request, “Let me go already,” may indicate he was getting a little world-weary when the time finally came. At any rate, as the Holy Family entered the Temple, the angel returned to Simeon and said, “Get down there; he’s here.” After puzzling out the pronouns, Simeon lit out for the Temple as fast as his ancient legs could carry him, arriving in time to finally see the Anointed One.
We have no such wonderful backstory about Anna the Prophetess, who had haunted the environs of the Temple for many long years. She is unspecifiedly old, or 84, or had been widowed for 84 years, or some combination of the above. (You know how those scholars are.) She happened up as Simeon was speaking, and told everybody gathered about the coming redemption of Israel. After the sacrifice and the speeches, Luke says Joseph and Mary went home to Nazareth, and settled into a perfectly normal routine — or as normal as your routine can be, when your kid is the Son of God.
February 2 (Wikipedia)
Ulysses (novel) (Wikipedia)
The Holy Bible. A good online Bible resource can be found at: Bible Gateway
The Prologue of Ohrid (book on paper)
Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Wikipedia)
Anna (Bible) (Wikipedia)
Simeon (Gospel of Luke) (Wikipedia)
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.
*Leviticus 12, Exodus 13:12ff, et al.