The Presentation of Christ in the Temple
Luke 2.22-40: When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus 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 turtle-doves 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 worshipped 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 favour of God was upon him.
The Calendar and Lectionary of the Church keeps the 2nd February as Candlemas (also known as “The Presentation of Christ in the Temple”). The Feast of Candlemas is not an optional extra, but the natural climax after forty days, of the Christmas/Epiphany season. It is a celebration rich in meaning. The revelation of the child Jesus in the Temple, greeted by Simeon and Anna, calls for our rejoicing. Simeon’s words are prophetic: He speaks of the “falling and rising of many”, and of “the sword that will pierce”. By speaking in this way, Simeon points towards Easter, and Jesus’ suffering.
Coming at the very end of the Christmas celebration and with Lent very close (Ash Wednesday is the 5th March), Simeon’s words make Candlemas a kind of pivot in the Christian year. On the 2nd February we take one last look at Christmas – yes, God became incarnate, he came to us as one of us. The word was seen among us – God took human form. And at Candlemas we celebrate the time when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to give thanks for his birth. The child was greeted by Simeon and Anna who thanked God for what they had seen. It’s a wonderful story, and Simeon and Anna are marvellous characters. Physically, they are nearing the end of their lives. The world in which they live is narrow and limited, and yet they have a sense of vision and a depth of understanding not shared by their contemporaries. They are radical in their thinking. What Simeon says about the baby must have sounded absurd, even shocking, to the people of the day. How could this baby from an obscure carpenter’s home be a “light to lighten the gentiles”? Simeon proclaims that Jesus would be a light to all people, a light to the whole world, Jew and gentile alike.
What was it that made Simeon so happy in the temple? What did he hold in his arms that day? Simply a child, a baby not fully matured. A baby that would grow and develop to be the saviour of all, the new Adam. This is what the people of Israel had been promised, and this is what has been given to each of us. Rowan Williams, writing some years ago, succinctly summed up the significance of Christ’s presentation in the temple with these words: “Simeon the priest, when he had received Christ in his arms so that he might present him to God, understood when he saw him, that he was not offering Christ, but was himself being offered”.
Today, the promise that, through Christ we may be presented and raised up to God, remains the hope of all Christians.
With my love and prayers Chris Hardwick