Sunday, February 2, 2014

Presentation of Our Lord

February 4, 2014

 Luke 2. 22-40

 + So, let’s see if you can remember this. What happened 40 days ago today? Yes, Christmas happened 40 days ago today. I know it’s hard to even think of that, now in early February. It feels so long ago already.

 

But, yes 40 days ago we commemorated the birth of Jesus. Which is why, today, we are commemorating the Presentation of Jesus.  Which simply means that, in Jewish tradition, the first born son was to be presented to the Temple on the 40th day after his birth.  And on that day, the child was to literally be redeemed.

 

Reminiscent of the story of Abraham and his first son Isaac, an animal sacrifice would’ve made in the place of the life of the son, which in the case of Jesus’ family who were poor, would have been two doves.

 

Now why, you might ask? Why 40 days? Well,  until about the Thirteenth century, it was often believed that the soul did not even enter a boy child until the 40th day.  (The soul entered a girl child on the 80th day) So essentially, on the 40th day, the boy child becomes human. The child now has an identity—a name.  And the child is now God’s own possession.

 

This day is also called Candlemas, and today, of course, we at St. Stephen’s, in keeping with a tradition going back to the very beginning of the Church, will bless candles on this day.  In the early Church, all the candles that would be used in the Church Year and in individual people’s lives would be blessed on this day.  The candles blessed on this day for personal use were actually considered spiritually powerful. They were often lit during thunderstorms or when one was sick or they would be placed in the hands of one who was dying.  It was also believed that the weather on this day decided what the rest of winter would be like.  In fact there was also a wonderful little tune used in rural England that went:

 

If Candlemas-day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight
If Candlemas-day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won’t come again.

 

What does that sound like? Yes, Ground Hogs Day. In fact, Ground Hogs Day, which originated in Germany, was a Protestant invention to counteract what they perceived to be this Catholic feast.

 

Now all of that is wonderful and, I think, is interesting in helping understand this feast day and in its importance in the life of the Church and the world. But the real message of this day is of course the fact, in presenting Jesus in  Temple, the Law in Jesus was being fulfilled.

 

This morning, in this feast,  we find the old and the new meeting. That is what this feast we celebrate today is really all about . The Feast of the Presentation is all about the Old and the New meeting.  In fact, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, this feast is called the Meeting  of Christ with Simeon.
 
In our Gospel reading for today, we find Simeon representing the Old Law. He is the symbol of the Old Testament—the old Law. We have Simeon. He is nearing the end of  his life. He knows he is in his last days. But he also knows something new is coming. Something new and wonderful and incredible is about dawn.

 

The rites done at the temple by the priest would’ve been the Levitical rites that fulfilled the Law. The priest oversaw the rites of purification. Mary herself would certainly be going through the purification rites all mothers had to go through on this fortieth day.  Simeon, it seems, was present at the dedication service of the new child to God, which, of course, would have included both his naming and his circumcision.  All of this fulfils the Old Law.

 

Then, of course, there is a figure who we always seem to overlook in the scripture. The Prophet Anna.  I like Anna for some reason.  She seems to be the bridge here.  She comes forward out of the background and begins praising God and speaking of the greatness of this Child.  What she proclaims is the New. What she praises God for is Jesus—born under the most unusual of circumstances.

 

In case we forgot what happened 40 days ago, he was conceived and born of a virgin, with angels in attendance, with a bright shining star in the sky and mysterious strangers coming from the East. In Jesus, we have the Law fulfilled.  Eventually, in this baby that comes before Simeon, the old Law would find its fulfillment. The Law is fulfilled in this baby, who will grow up, to proclaim God’s kingdom in a way no else has before or since. This baby will also grow up to die on the Cross. No longer do we need those animals sacrifices. We don’t need two little doves to die for us.   His death did away with all those sacrifices.  Now, this all sounds wonderful.

 

But no doubt we start asking this important question: why do we even need the Old Testament? If Jesus came to fulfill it, it seems pointless.  But what we need to remember is that this New Law does not overcome or cancel out the old Law. It only solidifies it. It makes it more real.  The Old Law will simply change because now there will be no more need of animal sacrifices and atonement offerings.

 

In Jesus—the ultimate Lamb of God—those offerings are done. They were needed then. They are not needed now. But they foreshadowed what was to come. The Old Law helps us make sense who Jesus is. We have one offering—that offering of Jesus on the Cross—and through it we are all purified.  But even more so than that. This Feast of the Presentation is about us as well.

 

We too are being presented today. We too are presented before God—as redeemed and reborn people. We too are being brought before God in love. From this day forward we know that we are loved and cherished by God. We know that we are all essentially loved children of God, because Jesus, the first born, led the way for us.

 

The Old Law hasn’t been done away for us. Rather, Old Law has been fulfilled and made whole by the New . We see that there is a sort of reverse eclipsing taking place. The Old Law is still there. But the New has overtaken it and outshines it.

 

 

And today is about Jesus being presented to us. Presented to us in those who need us. Presented to us in those who are poor, or in need, or marginalized.

 

See, it really is a wonderful day we celebrate today. The Feast of the Presentation speaks loudly to us on many levels. But most profoundly it speaks to us of God’s incredible love for us. So, this morning, on this Candlemas, let us be a light shining it the darkness.

 

Let that light in us be the light of the Christ Child who was presented in the Temple.  We, like Jesus being presented to Simeon, are also being presented before God today and always.

 

So let us, like the prophet Anna, rejoice.  Let us, like her, speak to all who are looking for redemption. And with Simeon, let us sing:

 

“Now you may dismiss your servant in peace, according to your word;
For my eyes have now seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.

 

Amen.

 

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