Rev. Mary McCue
We have celebrated the epiphany of the shepherds coming to the baby Jesus in his manger, and returning to their homes, glorifying God for all that they had seen. Our Gospel today also tells us of epiphany. It is the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, moved to this Sunday, so we can celebrate it together. It is an important feast in our liturgy and one of 13 Great Feasts in the Orthodox Church.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’s parents have brought him to Jerusalem for their purification according to the Law of Moses. It was a solemn ceremony, marking presentation of the newborn to the Lord. As a first-born male child, he was designated as holy to the Lord, destined for the priesthood. The ritual for doing so was well enshrined in the law. So was the offering to be made in honor of the Lord. For less well-off families, it was the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
When they brought Jesus into the Temple for the ritual, they encountered a holy man named Simeon. Simeon is described as righteous and devout. “Righteous and devout” – those two words tell us a lot about Simeon. He was probably not a young man. He was probably spending most of his time praying. He had probably been waiting a long time for the consolation of Israel. And he had been made a promise by the Holy Spirit, an important concept in Luke’s Gospel. Simeon trusted in the Holy Spirit, which had revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah – the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for for hundreds ofyears. This day, his faith in the Holy Spirit is rewarded. Guided by the Spirit, he came into the Temple as Jesus was brought in by his parents. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon recognizes him. His recognition is so strong and so complete that he prays the beautiful Nunc Dimittis prayer, saying that
“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.”
It’s a prayer that we pray today, in Evening Prayer and in Compline. But Simeon was not the only one. Anna, a widow, never left the Temple, but worshiped and prayed there day and night. Anna, too, recognized the child, praising God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Not one, but two Epiphanies, to devoted, holy people. Both were people devoted to the law and religion – as were Jesus’ parents. Simeon, though, sees a vision beyond the law. He says, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed, so the thoughts of many will be revealed.” He adds a poignant word to Mary – “a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
What did Simeon see in Jesus’ face that caused him to pray the beautiful prayer about the ending of his life? ...In the face of an infant.
What did Anna see in that face that caused her to proclaim the redemption of Israel? ...In the face of an infant.
What did the apostles see in that face that caused them to drop their nets, give up their livelihood and their way of life to follow him? ...In the face of a young man?
What a beautiful, arresting face it must have been! It must have been infused with the Holy Spirit, with Grace and with Light.
How appropriate. Another name for this Sunday is Candlemas – a feast of candles and thus of light. Jesus is the light in our dark world. He brings us light, and into the light. Can we see the light? I think we can.
A wise man once said, “You’ll never meet a person that God doesn’t love.” As Simeon, Anna and the Apostles saw in Jesus, we can see Jesus in every person we meet – young, old, troubled, wise and not so wise. We can see the light when we pray to Jesus. We can see it when we Trust in Jesus’ love to us – what Simeon must have seen – what Anna must have seen – what the apostles must have seen. We can see it in the face of each other.
We can see light, and love, because Jesus has shown us the way. And we can follow that way. As the Collect for today says, “...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...”