Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, often known by its nickname, Candlemas. It is the third feast of light along with Christmas and Epiphany illuming the darkness of winter. However, I will be celebrating it in Australia where it is summer time with long light-filled days! I had always found it a difficult feast to celebrate and make full sense of in the southern hemisphere. It took my time in London in the 1970s to really appreciate the full meaning of the feast.
I love the story in Luke 2:22-38 which tells of the young couple, Mary and Joseph, with the baby Jesus, heading up to Jerusalem to fulfil the obligations of Jewish law which provided that after 40 days from birth the mother needed to be purified (for those who watch Victoria on Masterpiece Theater you will remember that the young Queen had to “churched” a month after the birth of her first child) and that a first born male child be “presented” to the Lord with an accompanying sacrifice. This obedience to the Jewish law is important in locating Jesus in a religious as well as geographical location. Jesus was not just any old child but a particular child born of named parents in a particular location and part of their religious culture. This all underlines the particularity of the Incarnation. But what fascinates me in this story is the response of two old faithful people, Simeon and Anna, who hung out in the Temple, in expectation that one day they would see God’s Messiah. Simeon on beholding the parents presenting the child to the priest in the Temple took him in his arms and proclaimed those beautiful words we call the Song of Simeon (often known by its Latin name, Nunc Dimittis): “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.” It is one of the canticles set for Evening Prayer (BCP, 120) along with the Song of Mary. Simeon had waited patiently and faithfully for so long but is finally rewarded in a most unexpected way with the presentation of the baby Jesus in the Temple of the Lord. But in this child (rather like the Wise Men earlier), he sees the vision of God’s Saving Love and Purpose for the whole world. We can only pray that that Light which is Christ continues to lighten our world, and our leaders, and that we may be bearers of that light in all the dark places we encounter.
But, the story does not end there. Waiting in the wings as it were was the prophet, Anna, also of a great age (old people can have remarkable ministries!) and a person full of prayerful and faithful expectation. She also recognized God at work in the baby Jesus and “began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel.” Let us pray that our eyes may be enlightened so that we too may see afresh the saving activity of our God at work in us and around us.