Yesterday, February 2, was a major feast day of the church, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, often called Candlemas. Falling as it often does on a weekday it is sadly not observed in many parishes. The Presentation is described in Luke2: 22-40 and occurred 40 days after the birth of Jesus. There we are told: “And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” The passage ends with the reiteration of the obedience of the parents: “And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.” Luke makes it abundantly clear that Jesus and his parents were thoroughly obedient and faithful Jews. They did everything to fulfill the law. While this may not have much meaning for us today, it is important to Luke to emphasize that this Jesus was not just born at any old time, in any old place, to just another couple. Rather this Jesus was born to particular parents, Mary and Joseph, in a particular place, Bethlehem, into a particular religious tradition, Judaism with particular obligations and customs, such as circumcision, purification and presentation. It is this particularity of the Incarnation: that this Jesus was born as a real person, in real place at a real time; that Luke dramatically outlines in his birth narrative. This is so important for us to grasp for it is all too easy to talk generally about God: who God is and how God acts; while avoiding the fact that God actually encounters people like you and me: real people in real time in real places. But there is another whole dimension to the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. There is certainly the religious rite carried out by the priest in the Temple with the accompanying sacrifice. But then two remarkable people appear on the scene: Simeon and Anna. Traditionally both are faithful, old people, who have been watching for signs of God’s activity in their midst. Luke tells us three times that Simeon is moved by the Holy Spirit to come into the Temple when Jesus is brought in for Presentation and that he “took the child in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles and for glory to thy people Israel.” This Song of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis, to give it its Latin name, is one of the much loved canticles of the service of Evening Prayer (BCP, p. 63). The song itself reminds us that this revelation of God in Christ is both universal light for all people as well as the glory of God’s particular chosen people. Simeon is immediately followed by Anna, a prophetess, who is of a great age, and spent her time in the Temple, “worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.” “And coming at that very hour she gave thanks to God and spoke of him to all were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Simeon and Anna, along with Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph, form an impressive line of faithful people linking the worlds of the Old and New Covenants.
With Christmas and Epiphany, Candlemas is the final of the three great feasts of light that brighten the winter gloom and remind us that Jesus is truly the Light of the World. May we know and experience that Light in our lives.