Presentation of the Lord

Stories from Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:1: "Would you hold my baby for me, please?"

Years ago a young man was riding a bus from Chicago to Miami. He had a stop-over in Atlanta. While he was sitting at the lunch counter, a woman came out of the ladies' restroom carrying a tiny baby. She walked up to this man and asked, "Would you hold my baby for me? I left my purse in the restroom." He did. But as the woman neared the front door of the bus station, she darted out into the crowded street and was immediately lost in the crowd. This guy couldn't believe his eyes. He rushed to the door to call the woman, but couldn't see her anywhere. Now what should he do? Put the baby down and run? When calmness finally settled in, he went to the Traveler's Aid booth and together with the local police, they soon found the real mother. You see, the woman who'd left him holding the baby wasn't the baby's real mother. She'd taken the child. Maybe it was to satisfy some motherly urge to hold a child or something else. No one really knows. But we do know that this man breathed a sigh of relief when the real mother was found. After all, what was he going to do with a baby? In a way, each of us, is in the same sort of situation as this young man. Every Christmas God Himself walks up to us and asks, "Would you hold My Baby for Me, please?" and then thrusts the Christ Child into our arms. And we're left with the question, "What are we going to do with this Baby?" But an even deeper question is just, "Who is this Baby?" If we look at Scripture, we find all kinds of titles and names for this Baby we hold in our arms: Emmanuel, "God-with-us;" Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Christ the King, Jesus. In today’s Gospel describing the presentation ceremony, Simeon asks Mary the question: "Can I hold your Baby for a few minutes, please?" (King Duncan). 

 2:  The sword piercing Mary’s heart:

There is a beautiful Holman Hunt picture in the Guggenheim Museum in New York City called "The Shadow of Death." It is the only known work of classical art that shows Jesus laboring as an adult in the carpenter's shop. Joseph is absent so we presume he has died. In this painting, a day of work has ended, and Jesus has just risen from his bench and stretches in relaxation. The shadow of his body and upraised arms falls on a rack of tools on the wall, and we see prefigured the "very dying form of one who suffered there for me."  But the most interesting thing about the painting is that in the background we see Mary kneeling before an open chest in which we see the gifts of the three wise men "the gold, frankincense and myrrh."  No doubt as the years went by, Mary watched her son grow to manhood. Now in Joseph's absence, Jesus was supporting the family as a carpenter. Mary might have wondered if God had mocked her with a cruel joke that her Son was the One who would redeem his people. So again and again she would go to the chest and gently touch the gifts, as if to convince herself that the promises were real. This might have been the only concrete contact she had with the golden hopes of thirty years ago. And on this day, as she caresses the golden crown and the casket of frankincense and the vase of myrrh, suddenly she sees on the back wall the shadow of the cross. From that day forth the shadow is ever before her. (Rev. Eric Ritz).  That was the sword that would pierce Mary's soul. Simeon knew what lay ahead. 

 3: “A new refrigerator with a 10 year warranty.” 

An elderly woman in frail health was speaking with her doctor and expressing her hope that she would have the strength to live just a few more months so that she could celebrate the birth of her first grandchild. Sure enough, the day came and the woman was present and well enough to hold the little child in her arms. When the woman went back to her doctor, he suggested that it would be important to set a new goal so that she had something to look forward to, something to “keep her going”. “Well”, the woman pondered, “my son did just buy me a new refrigerator with a 10 year warranty.” Today in Luke’s Gospel we are introduced to a couple of characters who have been waiting for a long time for a promise to be fulfilled. When they see the Child, Anna and Simeon announce to everyone they see that He is the fulfillment of God’s promise to humanity.

5. Matthew 5:1-12 - "The True Nature of Happiness"
Some years ago the Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer published an article entitled: "How Do You Measure Up As A Man? The article stated that some extensive research had been conducted on the 20th century standards for measuring a man. The criteria were quite interesting and I thought that I might list them for the men here this morning just to see how they measure up.
1. His ability to make and conserve money (That lets me out already).
2. The cost, style and age of his car.
3. (This is my favourite) How much hair he has.
4. His strength and size.
5. The job he holds and how successful he is at it.
6. What sports he likes.
7. How many clubs he belongs to.
8. His aggressiveness and reliability.

Jesus Christ also once set down eight principles for the measure of a person. His standards stand in stark contrast to the aforementioned. There would appear to be a wide gulf between the popular image of the successful person and what God sees as the successful person.
Here's what happened: Jesus had just started his ministry and was gaining in popularity. Large crowds were gathering. He had just picked out his disciples. And in the quiet of the rolling grassy hills of northern Israel by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus delivered a sermon to a multitude. Acres and acres of human faces. The crowd represented a cross section of humanity...
"Mushers" and people who travel by dog sled over snowy, frozen terrain. "Mushers" have a saying: "If you're not the lead dog, the scenery never changes."
That "Mushers" saying has become a centerpiece doctrine of the leadership literature that has been inundating the corporate and church worlds of the last thirty years. If you are not the "top dog," in other words, no matter how far you travel your journey is just going to be a "tale of tails."  
Striving to be "top dog" is the goal we are encouraged to achieve from our earliest childhood to our graduate school education. No one wants to be the "under dog" or the "low dog." Being "on top" means getting the best grades in school, in order to get the best opportunities, the best treatment, the best salary, the bst office, the best seats in the house, the best table, the best of everything everywhere you go. Who could possibly not see the advantages that come with being at the "top" and not the "bottom" of the heap? 
In 1897 vision scientist and psychologist George M. Stratton (1865-1957) created a pair of glasses that turned the world upside down. Actually, he turned the world right-side-up because our eyes project an image to our brains that is naturally upside down. Our brains take an image and invert it - giving us our "right side up" perception of the world. Stratton strapped on his goggles and proceeded to blunder into things for several days. In this new, now "upside-down" world, his brain was seeing liquids "poured up," he saw himself walking on ceilings. Everything he viewed was completely inverted.
But only for a few days. Our eyes are our cameras, but the pictures we take with our eyes are developed by our brains. After a few days Stratton recorded that his most powerful visual organ, his brain, had figured out that something was amiss. After a few days his brain re-inverted the images it was receiving, and the world no longer looked upside down to the scientist. His brain completely flipped the images and presented him with a right-side up world once again. The process took about three days...
1.     Having Lost All, All Is Found
"Having reached the end of the Beatitudes, we naturally ask if there is any place on this earth for the community which they describe. Clearly, there is one place, and only one, and that is where the Poorest, Meekest, and most sorely Tried of all men is to be found - on the cross at Golgotha. The community which is the subject of the Beatitudes is the community of the crucified. With Him it has lost all, and with him it has found all."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
2.     Balance: The Law of Love
Plato once imagined the spiritual journey as a chariot moving through the wilderness of life, with the soul as the charioteer trying to rein in two powerful horses: the horse of anger or passion, and the horse of reason or order. Plato understood that both passion and reason can be life-giving, but only when they are held in dynamic tension, only when each power neutralizes the potential destruction of the other. This morning Jesus tells us that we must balance the passion of anger with the discipline and reason of love. And he tells us that the law of love can best be fulfilled, not through rules, but through relationships.

Susan R. Andrews, The Offense Of Grace, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
3.     The Key to the Beatitudes 

The idea of being poor in spirit is the key to all that is to follow in the Beatitudes. I like the note in the Life Application Bible:

"You cannot mourn without appreciating how insufficient you are to handle life in your own strength.
You cannot be meek unless you know you have needed gentleness yourself.
You cannot hunger and thirst for righteousness if you proudly think of yourself as already righteous.
You cannot be merciful without recognizing your own need for mercy.
You cannot be pure in heart if your heart is full of pride.
You cannot be a peacemaker if you believe that you are always right.
You cannot identify with Christ in the face of negative reactions from others without dying to yourself and renouncing your own rights."
All of these beatitudes are rooted in humility, being poor in spirit.
Owen Stepp, Unlikely Blessings
4.     God Shows Through

One Sunday as they drove home from church, a little girl turned to her mother and said, "Mommy, there's something about the preacher's message this morning that I don't understand." The mother said, "Oh? What is it?" The little girl replied, "Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. He said God is so big that He could hold the whole world in His hand. Is that true?" The mother replied, "Yes, that's true, honey." "But Mommy, he also said that God comes to live inside of us when we believe in Jesus as our Savior. Is that true, too?" Again, the mother assured the little girl that what the pastor had said was true. With a puzzled look on her face the little girl then asked, "If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn't He show through?"

That is what the beatitudes are about - God showing through.
Jerry Shirley, When God Shows Through 


5.     God Means Everything

"Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
William Barclay says this verse means, "Blessed is the man who has realized his own utter helplessness, and who has put his whole trust in God. If a man has realized his own utter helplessness, and has put his whole trust in God, there will enter into his life two things....
He will become completely detached from things, for he will know that things have not got it in them to bring happiness or security; and he will become completely attached to God, for he will know that God alone can bring him help, and hope, and strength.
The man who is poor in spirit is the man who has realized that things mean nothing, and that God means everything."
Mickey Anders, The Beatitudes Are Not Platitudes!

6.     "Best All Around"
I remember in high school having the "Who's Who" for my grade, and one of the categories was "Best All Around." To be considered for this category, the student needed to have a multitude and a wide variety of attributes...and be good at them. Characteristics like being smart, friendly, well-dressed, pretty/handsome, good at sports, and perhaps being musically gifted or artistic are important to have if you want to qualify for the category.
Similarly, if you could make the Beatitudes as a sort of checklist for Christians, they could see the areas they need to improve in. Perhaps if they could check all of the Beatitudes off the list, they might qualify as a sort of "Best All Around" Christian, a great inspiration and role model.
Jim Forest, The Ladder of the Beatitudes
7.     Better than Average 
A while back, I read that 85% of all drivers in America consider themselves "above-average" drivers. Of course, this cannot be true: By definition, I believe only 49% of drivers are above average. However, the survey gives us an insight into human nature: People generally view themselves as better than others. And if they are better than others, then they are doing a good enough job.
This transfers over into religion far more than we are aware, and it becomes apparent in how these Beatitudes are taught. Often one will hear, "The message of the Beatitudes is that, if I do these things well enough, then I will be happy. If I am good enough at these things, then I will be blessed." It's a human standard of measure: "If I am better at this than average, then I'm in good shape." But does this work for sainthood?
Tim Pauls, What It Takes to Be a Saint
8.     You Can't Make It "By The Book"

A small parable: Once upon a time, there was a company who had two junior executives. One did everything by the book, was diligent and trustworthy, always made sure he was covered and, since he always went by the book, rarely made mistakes. The other also was a hard and diligent worker, but he often tested the rules, sometimes received some criticism, and sometimes made mistakes. One day an opening came up for a senior executive position, and the owner of the company promoted the one who made mistakes over the other. Of course Mr. "By the Book" was enraged and asked his boss why - after all, he had a better record, didn't he? He NEVER made mistakes. He ALWAYS followed the book. To which his boss replied, "Yes, but what will you do someday when something comes up that isn't covered by the book. You know the rules, but he knows what we are doing here, and why we are here. He UNDERSTANDS the company. And that's why he was promoted over you."

How do we obtain God's blessing? Well, the answer, of course, is that it's not something we obtain - it's not for sale. It's something he has already freely given to you, but which you can only recognize when you accept it as a gift, and live in it.
Gary Roth, All of God's Blessings
9.     Healthy Are the Poor in Spirit 

Some years ago a panel of doctors was appointed by the Federal government to meet together and draw up eight laws of public health that could be printed in pamphlet Form and distributed to the public. After twelve days off exhaustive meetings, the doctors were unable to come to a consensus. It seems that their areas of concern were so diverse: one was a cancer specialist, one a cardiologist, one a psychiatrist, and they all approached the problem from their own discipline. The chest expert was concerned about coal dust from the mines and lint from textile mills, while the psychiatrist was concerned about the effects off urban stress. Finally, Dr. Harold Sladen offered Hospital in Detroit came up with an appropriate idea. He said: Let's just republish the eight beatitudes of Jesus and simply replace the word "Blessed" with the words "healthy."
10.  Blessed Are the Cheese Makers 

Here is the infamous bit from Monty Pythons "Life of Brian." All great humor must have one essential element: Truth. This bit certainly has that. Jesus' words when misunderstood has led to some pretty fantastic conclusions. And so, this is dedicated to all those knuckle headed interpretations throughout the years. There are two main characters in the bit who are called Trouble and Bignose. They are at the back of the crowd when Jesus is giving the Sermon On The Mount:
Trouble: Well go and talk to him somewhere else... I can't hear a bloody thing.
Bignose: Don't you swear at my wife.
Trouble: I was only asking her to shut up so I could hear what he was saying, Bignose.
Bignose wife: Don't you call my husband Bignose.
Trouble: Well he has got a big nose.
Jew: Could you be quite, please. What was that?
Trouble: I don't know... I was too busy talking to Bignose.
Man: I think it was 'Blessed are the cheese-makers'...