The media has done a good job in reminding us that today, February 2nd is a rather special day. Special in the sense that it is Ground Hog Day and everybody is wondering whether or not the ground hog in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania will see his shadow determining whether or not we will have six more weeks of winter. Nobody really believes the ground hog can predict the future (except possibly in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania) but it is fun to speculate as to what will happen in the next six weeks with regard to winter. Not that it affects us that much here in beautiful, sunny Naples.
February 2nd is also the day on which the Church celebrates the Presentation of the Lord. The Presentation was the ceremony in which the infant Jesus was brought to the Temple and Mary was purified after childbirth.
The prophet Malachi tells us that the Lord will send a messenger. He will send someone who will be a purifier, someone to help prepare the people for entrance into the temple of the Lord.
Luke provides us the scene at the temple where Mary and Joseph bring their first-born son to be offered to the Lord. Simeon recognizes the child as this purifier, as the one sent to be a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel.
It is in the Letter to the Hebrews, however, that we come to understand how Jesus is that purifier. Though God could have saved us any number of ways, he chose to send his only Son to become one of us.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews states that surely Jesus did not help angels but rather the descendants of Abraham. It is because Jesus was sent to help us that he became one of us. Hebrews says that in order to be a merciful and faithful high priest before God, Jesus had to become like his brothers in every way. Why? Why was it that the creator of the universe had to become one of us in order to fulfill the prophecy of Malachi and the other prophets? Why could not God have simply chosen some other way?
The mystery of this choice will certainly never be completely understood, but we read in the Letter to the Hebrews that because Jesus himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested, and are we not tested every day?
This is an astonishing sign of the love of God for his people. Unlike the gods and deities of other faiths, where no doubt people are sincerely seeking God, it is in the Christian faith, and only the Christian faith, where we can say that God knows, truly knows, what it means to suffer. When we struggle with self-doubt and the pain of loss and anxiety for the future and the suffering of love in its many forms, we can turn to God who knows exactly what that means.
God is presented as a broken king, a suffering servant, a dead man on a cross who came to lay his life down for you and for me. The man on the cross is God, and God knows our suffering and yearns to comfort us as our Mother Mary no doubt comforted the infant Jesus that day. When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus that day, they participated in God’s Plan to give meaning to our suffering and so to provide a light to the nations, a new hope for the world.