This morning we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the temple at Jerusalem. Ancient Jewish law required that, following the birth of a firstborn male child, the mother must come to the temple after 40 days for purification and for presentation of the child to the Lord.
The presentation of Mary's child, however, was different from most. This was the Christ Child, Jesus, the Savior, the Messiah who had been promised. And he was recognized as such by the old prophet Simeon, who knew that this child was a light for revelation to all nations. Thus the image of light carries an important part in today's liturgy and links itself with the Christmas season and its lights of the Advent wreath, the decorative tree lights, and the many candles of the Nativity celebration.To mark this particular feast, the ancient tradition calls for 1) the blessing of candles to be used during the year and 2) a procession "to meet the Lord," just as Simeon and Anna went to the Temple and found the Christ there. The liturgy was called Candlemas (the Candle Mass).
Read the Gospel text here: St. Luke 2:22-40
“Standing on Tiptoe” – Reflections on the Gospel
Sometimes it seems that life is filled with waiting. We wait to be born, we wait to start school, we wait to do things we want to do until we are old enough, big enough, experienced enough or strong enough. It seems as though much of our lives are spent as if we are standing on tiptoe gazing over the fence into the future with hope and longing. The difficulty is of course that if we are too focused on the future we will miss the gift of the present. But to wait for the future with hope and expectation is a natural and normal thing for us to do.
According to our text today the old priest Simeon and the prophet Anna both spent a fair amount of time “standing on tiptoe” looking into the future, waiting with hope and expectation for the coming of the Messiah. The Gospel tells us that they were both greatly advanced in age, and had spent the better part of their lives at the temple watching and waiting. And finally Mary and Joseph enter the temple with their new baby Jesus and the waiting and watching is over. The old priest Simeon can hardly contain himself and he bursts into song – Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace, your word has been fulfilled. My eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people….. Simeon will not live to see Jesus grow into adulthood. He will not live long enough to hear Jesus preach and teach or to see the events of the passion and crucifixion unfold. Neither will Anna. But, it doesn’t matter. God has sent the Messiah. God has fulfilled God’s promise. The anticipation, the expectation and the hope of these two saints has come to completion.
This wonderful scene represents the conclusion of Luke’s introduction to the Gospel. We started with Elizabeth and Zechariah waiting and hoping, and after going through the annunciation and the birth of Jesus, with angels and shepherds, we now conclude the introduction with this story of Simeon and Anna and fulfilled hope. Luke through all of this is setting this story of Jesus right in the middle of the Old Testament tradition. From the earliest stories in Genesis right up through the events narrated in this Gospel prologue God is with God’s people. God is faithful to the covenantal promises God has made and is constantly finding new and different ways of entering into the story of human history. Simeon and Anna may have been standing on tiptoe, waiting with hopeful expectation, but there was never any doubt that God would fulfill God’s promises. The only question was how would God do it. And in typical form, God chooses the most unusual, unexpected and creative way to do it: being born into the world as a human baby. Who would have thought? And by being born into a dark period historically, into the darkness of poverty and oppression, God brings light to the darkest corners of human existence.
And not only that – Simeon goes on: …a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel. The light is for all – not just the chosen people of God, but through them to us all. There is also a thread of darkness woven into this tapestry of hope. As Simeon holds the child he speaks to Mary: This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed…. And a sword will pierce your own soul too. The darkness is real. It envelops us all, even Mary, the mother of our Lord, is not immune. But the light is real too and in the light of Christ is our hope.
Each of us struggles with darkness in some manner. Each of us is also standing on tiptoe – waiting and hoping. What do you see as you gaze across the field of the future? This Gospel today reminds us that in Jesus God is present with us and that our hopes will be fulfilled. We do not know how God will ultimately choose to fulfill God’s promises, but we know that God keeps God’s promises and always manages to come up with new and different ways of showing God’s love to us. And so as stand on tiptoe, gazing across the field of the future, let us never forget that God is with us – no matter what and God will never abandon us.
Painting by Carpaccio - Notice the crumhorn player at the bottom left of the painting!