The Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple: February 2, 2014
Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7-10; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40
Today is the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, but instead we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple. Do you know why we do this, and what the feast is about? Do you know why the Presentation is celebrated on February 2nd? This service is also called “Candlemas.” I am not particularly familiar with it, because most of my life has been spent in small congregations, and we would only observe this day when it fell on a Sunday.
According to the Law of Moses the first born males of both humans and animals were to be consecrated to the LORD as a remembrance of how the LORD killed the first born males in Egypt in each household in an ironic twist (because Pharaoh wanted to slay all the male children of the Hebrews) which saved their ancestors. So the people of Israel would offer their first born male animals as a sacrifice to the LORD, but their first born male sons could be redeemed by a sacrifice. (Exodus 13:12-15) And according to our gospel lesson for today, Joseph and Mary brought a sacrifice of two turtle-doves or two pigeons, indicating that they were of humble means, or poor. (Leviticus 12:8)
So according to Luke, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the Temple to consecrate him to the LORD. But the presentation of Jesus in the Temple is celebrated on February 2nd, because it is forty days after December 25th, the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus. According to Leviticus 12, women who gave birth to a boy were considered unclean for seven days and on the eighth day the son is to be circumcised. Then 33 days later she will be considered clean of blood purification. At that time she is to present to the priest at the tent of meeting a lamb in its first year for a blood offering, and a pigeon or turtle dove for a sin offering. The priest will then offer these to the LORD to make atonement from her flow of blood. Now for women who gave birth to a girl, the time is doubled, 14 days to be ritually unclean and 66 days for blood purification.
Apparently, Luke conflates the consecration of the first born male, Jesus in this case, and the purification of the mother, Mary. So this feast celebrates the consecration of Jesus by his parents to the LORD and redeems him by a sacrifice, and also the purification of Mary by the sacrifice.
And finally, at some churches beeswax candles are blessed to be used, and a special procession is held with the faithful entering the place of worship saying the words of Simeon who claimed that Jesus would be “the light to enlighten the nations.” So on this day of the Presentation, candles would be blessed as signs of Jesus being the light of the world.
Although we do not observe the purity code of Leviticus, why is this story important for us? One reason is that this story reminds us of the cost of our redemption, as the Jewish people remember the cost of their redemption in the Exodus. A sacrifice is required and Joseph and Mary’s first born son Jesus was consecrated to the LORD.
Another reason for me is to show how we are all creatures of our times. We cannot escape our times, just as Jesus, Joseph, Mary, Simeon and Anna could not escape their time. They had to be faithful in their own time and in their own context, just as we are called to be faithful in our own time and context.
The story continues with Simeon and Anna both witnessing the presentation of the baby Jesus in the Temple. Simeon was a faithful Jew waiting for the Messiah to come. And he was strong in the Spirit as the Holy Spirit rested upon him and revealed to him that he would see the Messiah before he would die. So when Mary and Joseph entered the Temple with Jesus, Simeon took Jesus and blessed him and said in the translation from the Book of Common Prayer in Morning and Evening Prayer:
“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.” (BCP, pages 93 and 120)
And he also told Mary that their son would be the reason for the rising and falling of many in Israel and will be opposed so that her own soul will be pierced.
And then Anna the prophet who was widowed for most of her life after only seven years of marriage before her husband died spoke of the child Jesus as the redemption of Jerusalem.
Then Mary and Joseph returned home, filled with expectation of what their child would become.
What are we to make of the story of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple?
As Jesus was presented in the temple by his poor but faithful parents, and recognized by the faithful Simeon and Anna, I wonder if we can be the faithful in our time as Joseph and Mary were, and as Simeon and Anna were. And what would it mean for us to be faithful?
As I drove up to Grace Cathedral yesterday for the Vestry workshop, we talked in the car about the movie, The Butler. One person noted how the Presidents from Eisenhower through Reagan were unable to address all the social injustices of their times, and mostly ignored the injustice that Charles Gaines the butler served under each of them. So I responded that even when Jesus lived and offered his ministry, all the social injustices of his day would not be resolved, but over time if people were faithful life could become more like the reign of God than not. That is why we no longer live with the Purity Code of Leviticus, and women and men can be equal in the law if not in practice and why slavery is mostly eliminated for just a couple of examples. But each generation must strive for our common life to be more like the reign of God. We must strive for the kingdom of God.
Our challenge is to be faithful in our times. So what are some of the issues? We know that the environment is under great distress and is changing, as we are thankful for the little rain we have today. How can we be faithful stewards of the earth, in our use of water, for example?
We know that there is income inequality within our nation as expressed by the President. But do we know how we participate in this inequality? Are we more interested in improving our lot in society than we are in noticing how some of our neighbors in the rest of the world suffer even more than we?
We are creatures of our times and context. We must seek ways to be faithful to the gospel as it applies to our life today. One way for us to do so is to model our lives after Simeon and Anna, seeking the redemption of the world and the coming of God’s reign in our times. We must realize that it may it will not probably all happen at once, but we must strive for it, hope for it and plant it in the hearts of future generations, just as they did for Mary and Joseph.
I propose to show that just as Jesus was a creature of his times and context, and his parents proved to be faithful according to Law of Moses, so too are we creatures of our times and context. And will we be faithful in our time, not being subject to the Law of Moses, but being subject to gospel of faith by our Lord Jesus Christ. What will it mean to be faithful today? And will we be faithful servants like Simeon, Anna, Mary and Joseph who seeks God’s reign?
The Collect for the Day
Almighty and everliving God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Thus says the Lord, See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight-- indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
"Who is he, this King of glory?" *
"The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory."
Since God's children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."
And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed-- and a sword will pierce your own soul too."
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by 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.