By The Rev. Sherry Deets
Feast of the Presentation – February 2, 2014
Today we celebrate the presentation of Jesus in the temple. This feast occurs every year on February 2, the fortieth day after Christmas. Once every few years February 2 falls on a Sunday and so we can keep this celebration more fully than may be possible otherwise.
Our Gospel from Luke recounts that forty days after his birth, Jesus is taken to the temple by Mary and Joseph. This is the expected thing for them to do. It is the custom of God’s people in that time and place.
Forty days after her child’s birth, Mary can again worship in the Temple. Her ritual cleansing calls for the sacrifice of a lamb and a pigeon, but because she and Joseph are poor folks, they offer instead a pair of pigeons, the accepted substitute that the poor can make in place of a more expensive offering.
It’s also time to consecrate this first-born son to the Lord. This recalls how the Lord delivered Israel from Egypt, how they redeemed them from their bondage. When the angel of death took Egypt’s first-born sons, the first-born sons of Israel were spared.
It’s not as though this young family has the vast temple complex to themselves. This house of the Lord at the center of Jerusalem is swarming with activity. Numerous people are there to worship the Lord, to fulfill their religious obligations. The little threesome seems to be hardly noticed among the press of hundreds of people. After all, there are many new babies brought to the temple this day.
But the young couple and their child are noticed by two people. The first of them is Simeon. Somehow he felt drawn to go to the temple that day. In itself, this is not surprising. He is a devout man who often visits the temple. Though he has never told anyone, he firmly believes that before he dies, God will grant him the privilege of laying eyes on God’s own messiah. Perhaps this will be the day.
Simeon walks through the milling crowds. He sees a couple with their child who look no different than the people around them. Yet what he hears inside himself is unmistakable. These are the ones, and their baby is the messiah! Simeon doesn’t know whether to cry or laugh. He’s not sure whether he’s grateful to God or angry. The messiah is a baby?
Simeon had always pictured him differently, as a strong man dressed in armor, or some superhuman figure radiating light. But a baby? This baby starts wiggling in his mother’s arms.
Something wells up inside Simeon. It comes out: a prayer to God, a flood of words, a song sung to an unknown melody. Now Simeon is an old man, slow, cautious, reverent, careful. Yet right there in the temple, high on the Holy Spirit, he sings out in a loud voice, like some teenager in the first throes of love:
Lord, you now have set your servant free,
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see;
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
The theme of the season of Epiphany is Light and Jesus is the manifestation of the Light of God in world. He is the light which shines in the darkness and cannot be overcome. He is the Light which reveals the truth in the world and in our lives. He is the Light which guides us through the darkness, whether that darkness is physical or spiritual. But Epiphany is also the season during which we are continually reminded of our calling to share in the work of being a Light to the Nations. We have the light of Christ within us.
The Church has always seen itself as a bearer of Light, which is one of the reasons that candles play such a large part in our worship and liturgies. Those candles, which were essential in an age before electricity, also represent the presence of God’s light with us and within us.
In fact, in past centuries on this day, there would be a blessing of candles for use in worship in the following year; and a popular name for the Feast of the Presentation was “Candlemas.” But in addition to the blessing of Altar Candles, families and individuals were encouraged to bring their own household candles to church to be blessed on that day. It was also traditional for families to burn a candle in the window on the evening of the Feast of the Presentation to show that they were Christians seeking to make the Light of Christ visible to the world.
I brought some little candles, tea lights, to the service today. I encourage each family to take one home and at sunset, light it as a sign, a reminder, that even in the darkest season of the year, the Light of Christ shines on.
The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.
He was with God in the beginning and dwelt among us.
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
God is the Lord; he has shined upon us.
The Shepherds have gone back to the fields and the angels into heaven. The Wise Men have returned to the East but God is still with us in Jesus Christ. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. Amen.
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