The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord In the Temple ~ February 2nd, 2020.
It’s also known as Candlemas Day when there’s often a procession with blessed candles through the church, or in Latin or European countries through the streets. The sacred candles to be used at the altar for the coming year are also blessed at this time.
This is one of the old Christmas feasts as it is forty days after the birth of the baby Jesus. I’ll let our Gospel tell the story. . . .
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
(This is one of the few times that St. Joseph appears in the Scriptures. As we see here it’s his role to accompany Mary on the somewhat arduous journey to Jerusalem for the consecration of their child.)
Now here are some of scripture-scholar William Barclay’s notes on this feast day. . . .
For this first section he says, Jesus is undergoing three ancient ceremonies every Jewish boy had to undergo.
1. Circumcision. Jewish boys were circumcised on the eighth day after his birth,
2. The ceremony of the Redemption of the First Born. According to the law (Exodus 23::2) every first-born male, both human beings and of cattle was sacred to God. That law may have been a recognition of the gracious power of God in giving human life. Therefore there was a ceremony called the Redemption of the First-Born (Numbers 18:16).
3. The Purification after Childbirth. When a woman had borne a child, if it is a boy, she is considered unclean for forty days; if it is a girl for eighty days. She could go about her household duties, but she could not enter the temple or a attend a religious ceremony. At the end of that time, she had to bring to the temple a lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon for a sin offering. That was a somewhat expensive sacrifice, and so it was laid down (Leviticus 12:8) that if she could not afford the lamb she could bring another pigeon. The offering of the two pigeons was technically called the Offering of the Poor.
Again we see that it was into an ordinary home that Jesus was born where there were no luxuries, a home where the cost of everything had to be considered carefully. When life is worrying for us we must remember that Jesus knew what the difficulties of making ends meet can be.
These three ceremonies seem strange to us, but all three have at the back of them that a child is a gift of God. The Stoics used to say that a child was not given to a parent but only lent. Joseph and Mary would find this out about Jesus soon enough. Let’s continue with our story of today’s feast as told in today’s gospel . . . .
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
Now here’s what Barclay describes the context for understanding Simeon and also Anna . . .
The Jews regarded their own nation as the chosen people, but they saw quite clearly that by human means their nation could never attain the supreme world greatness that they believed their destiny involved. But they still believed that some day they would be masters of the world and lords of the nations. They thought some celestial champion would descend upon the earth; others believed another king in David’s line and all his glories would revive. Still others believed God himself would break directly into history by supernatural means.
But in contrast to all that, there were a few people who were known as the Quiet of the Land. They had no dreams of violence and of power or armies with banners held aloft. They believed in a life of constant prayer and quiet watchfulness until God should come. All their lives they waited quietly and patiently upon God.
Simeon was like that; in prayer, in worship, in humble and faithful expectation he was waiting for the day when God would comfort his people. God had promised him through God’s Spirit that his life would not end before he had seen God’s own anointed king. In the baby Jesus he recognized that king and rejoiced. Now he was ready to depart in peace and his words become the Nunc Dimittis,another of the great precious hymns of the church.
Wait! There’s more as the gospel story continues . . .
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
–and you yourself a sword will pierce–
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.
And I’ll just clarify a short note from our Presbyterian scripture scholar here about Anna . . . .
Anna too was one of the Quiet of the Land.
She was a widow. She had known sorrow and not grown bitter.
Anna was eighty-four years old. She was old but she never ceased to hope.
It all depends on how we think about God. If we think of him as distant and detached we may well despair; but if we think of him as intimately connected with life, as having his hand on the helm, we too will be sure that the best is yet to be and the years will never kill our hope.
How then did Anna come to be as she was?
She never ceased to worship. She spent her life in God’s house with God’s people.
She never ceased to pray. The years had left Anna without bitterness and an unshakable hope because day by day she kept her contact with him who is the source of strength and in whose strength our weakness is made perfect.
And now my prayer . . . .
Dearest Lord Jesus, I’ve always loved this feast for personal reasons.
It’s the fourth joyful mystery of the rosary that we meditate on too.
And now I ask you to draw my readers to yourself.
Draw them into your presence.
You are the Temple. The Temple in whom we can dwell right now in your loving heart. Please Jesus. We love you!
And before you go, here’s a powerful song for you ” King of Glory. Click here.
And here are all of this Feast’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
William Barclay / the New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Luke / Westminster- John Knox Press, Louisville,KY 1978–pp.28-34.