On the Feast of the Presentation, we are met with a great mystery: the harmony of destiny and freedom. Jesus is the Lord of history, yet He is helplessly brought to the Temple as if one of the slaves of sin needing redemption. Isn't Jesus the very Word of the Father? Why is He subjected to the words of the Law? Isn't this the epitome of mindless ritualism? Hasn't the Father simply nodded? To understand something of this paradox, we need to see beginnings and middles in terms of endings, or rather, in terms of the intention that dreams up the whole narrative arc of beginning, middle, and end. That creative intention is called form, and only with the mystery of form in mind can a start be made in understanding how destiny and freedom harmonize in history.
To contemplate deeply the riches of a great book or poem, or a masterful movie, or a painting or ballet or symphony of genius, we have to wait until we can come back to the work after already having read it once, seen it once, heard it once.
When venturing into a masterwork, there is a welter of detail and information, a vanishing architecture of precisely drawn contours, that we simply cannot survey. So much of the fullness just washes over us, as we begin the process of patiently, painstakingly letting the main narrative line, the melody as it were, illuminate facets here and there along the way. This receptivity is both passive and active (think Simeon and Anna): we have to strain our ears; we have to struggle to let what's there come at us. It's exhausting and disorienting to enter into a work of genius. That's why pop culture sells, and high culture doesn't.
Having made our first acquaintance with the work as a whole, we will have seen something of the FORM of the work. And it's the form that determines the content.
What does this have to do with the Presentation?
Let's turn explicitly to the theologian I've been drawing on: Hans Urs von Balthasar. In his A Theology of History, Balthasar notes that in His life on earth, Jesus experiences time simply as the medium through which He constantly receives the will of His Father (by the action of the Spirit and by the situations the Father sets up). But time has a crossbar: the horizontal and massive current of history itself. Jesus encounters His Father's will there too. Indeed, historicity provides the form for (existential) temporality.
"Knowing the Law and the Prophets, the Son knows that they bear testimony to Him (John 5:39)... In them, He encounters the Word of God already in the world, which has already taken human form before His Incarnation [in events and in human words]. ...the Old Testament is not past for Him. ...It contains a definite pattern, as it were, for His earthly life, which lays down certain points from which He cannot depart, and in relation to which He is not 'free' to choose one way or the other. What are involved are not so much certain hard-and-fast particulars (such as those to which the evangelists refer rather by way of examples, so as to point to a broader and more complex pattern) as certain spiritual situations. It is these which create a unified course in His life; the whole of His life is to be the totality of the fulfillment of the whole Law and all the Prophets. Every step He takes is a step from promise to fulfillment. He is not only the New Covenant realized; He has to realize it step by step. On the one hand, it will almost be as though His whole existence were the filling in of a figure already drawn in dotted lines, as though the Son made man received the Law and the Prophets like a man being given his own biography to read as he sets out in life. On the other hand, He is not limited in His freedom, nor even are His actions laid down in advance. For as the fulfillment, He is also the foundation of the Promise, the archetype by which and toward which all the types are drawn. That biography of Himself which He learns from sacred history is an account OF HIM, not preceding Him. Even if one could show a man photographs of himself taken twenty years later, they would not determine his course of life; they follow him, not he them."
So, how does this harmonize freedom and destiny? Destiny is always founded on divine freedom. And that freedom is the exertion of one thing: limitless love. Whatever inanition God allows Himself to suffer, He does so, and does so in blood earnest, because He has already, before the foundation of the world, freely chosen to love. The form of history, of ugly, brutal history, is love.
If we act out of this mystery of love, I think we will find in our own lives, even when most deeply constrained, an unimagined eruption of freedom. Only the ordeal proves the lover. And only the lover is free.