Voices from the edge

A reflection on the feast of the presentation of the child Jesus in the temple to Anna and Simeon, who were on the edge of society, as were Mary and Joseph.

Voices from the edge Archdiocese of Wellington A popular tee-shirt slogan of a few years ago read, ‘If you’re not on the edge you’re taking up too much space’.

I think the two couples, Anna and Simeon and Mary and Joseph, from yesterday’s gospel could have worn such tee-shirts fittingly. The feast of the Presentation (2 Feb) is a feast on the edge liturgically, about edge people in an edge place.

The edge of Christmas and Lent

As the Opening Prayer reminded us it’s now 40 days since Christmas.

Although the Christmas season finished officially with the Epiphany, there are several Christmas themes in the gospel passage. We heard about the child Jesus, about light shining in the darkness and about glory.

We’re now on the edge of Lent. The first reading from Malachi has harsh words about the need for purification. The second reading from the letter to the Hebrews reminds us about the sacrifice on the cross.

Clearly purification and Jesus’ death are Lenten themes. So yesterday’s feast situated us on the edge liturgically. With hints of Christmas and Lent in the readings we find ourselves on the edge of both.

Edge people

The people in the gospel are edge people. Anna and Simeon don’t belong to the official temple personnel. They don’t have positions of power or privilege, yet they are the ones who recognise the divinity shining through the Christ child.

From their positions on the edge they see what the powerful don’t or won’t see. The holiness and fidelity of their lives allows them to glimpse the divine in the tiny baby Simeon holds.

These two elderly people praise God and prophesy from the edge. They challenge us to recognise glimpses of the divine in our ordinary lives and to praise God for it.

As well as Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph are edge people. They can bring only the offering of the poor, of those on the edge.

Luke paints a picture of a family steeped in the rituals of their religious tradition, Judaism. He tells us several times that by going to the temple Mary and Joseph are following the prescriptions of the Law.

Jesus, then, grows up in a faithful family. But they are a family on the edge. From the edge they challenge us to be faithful to what we believe, to show up for the important feasts and requirements of Catholicism and to steep our families in our traditions.

Edge place

The gospel scene takes place on the edge, that is, in an outer court of the temple. Women were not allowed into the inner court and Luke tells us that Simeon actually speaks to Mary.

Simeon acknowledges the baby as the glory of Israel and a light for the gentiles. He reminds Mary that the road ahead is not going to be easy.

The prophet Anna, the elderly widow, prays and fasts continually. She speaks about the child to whoever will listen. Unfortunately Luke doesn’t tell us what she says. But in the lives of these two people on the edge, Simeon and Anna, we are given wonderful models of holiness, prayer, fidelity and patient waiting in hope.

Their lives challenge us to see the presence of Christ in the most vulnerable, to have open minds and hearts ready for the unexpected revelation of God.

Where do we find edge people today? Where are the Malachis, prophets prepared to speak out and call us all to account? Where are the Annas and Simeons, models of holiness and fidelity, prophets able to recognise the presence of Christ in the poor and vulnerable?

Today we leave the edge and go straight up the mountain to hear Matthew’s Jesus preach the Beatitudes.