Tuesday, February 2, 2016

On the Feast of the Presentation

Today is one of the Feasts of Our Lord, a day of rejoicing that Christ has come into the Temple to be presented, in accordance with the Law of Moses, to His Father. The story is found in Luke 2: 22-40.

This is a day of extraordinary beauty. In it is fulfilled the yearning of an entire people…though secretly, quietly, gently. The ancient Temple has its true purpose revealed and completed: the presence of God in this Holy Place is now complete, and the hostility between humanity and God is being overcome by God's own initiative

Mary and Joseph witness in awe and wonder the meaning of this moment, treasuring it in their hearts as will all future disciples of Christ. A prophesy of struggle and suffering for Mary is pronounced, something true for her in a unique way, but also a fact for anyone who follows Christ and the Gospel Way authentically.

Yet, there is more. Aged Simeon holds the child who is his Messiah in his own arms, bringing age, infancy, and eternity together. Anna—another aged prophetess—so rejoices at the Messiah’s coming that all around her take note in her delight. It is a day marked by joy, a joy much like that of the Day of Resurrection which it prefigures.

Each person who confesses Christ is fundamentally alive in this joy. It is a mark of true discipleship. Young and old, insightful and simple, mystical and practical: we all share in the light of Christ’s presence. That presence transforms and fulfills us in ways we cannot comprehend or imagine. It reaches through us into the lives and needs of others. “The light has come into the world, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

For centuries, it has been the custom of those celebrating this feast to bear small lamps or candles to recall this light of Christ come into the world—and especially the Holy Spirit given to us (much like Simeon). At Holy Baptism, a candle is presented to the newly-baptized (or a sponsor) to remind all present that this light is conferred and must be cherished.

Do we consciously bear Christ’s Light? Do we honor it? Do we see it as the one true gift—quite apart from our opinions, agendas, experiences, and goals—we have to give? Let us pray that this is so for us. To substitute something else for this light is to turn our back on the Savior, and to close the door on the mystery and power of the events celebrated on this beautiful day.

Rejoice with the Blessed Virgin, with St. Joseph, with aged Anna and Simeon on this day…and share the light given to you long after the candle you bear is extinguished!

A reading from a sermon by Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (7th Century)

Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.

The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.

The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.

The true light has come, the light that enlightens every man who is born into this world. Let all of us, my brethren, be enlightened and made radiant by this light. Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness. Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Simeon the light whose brilliance is eternal. Rejoicing with Simeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, the Father of the light, who sent the true light to dispel the darkness and to give us all a share in his splendor.

Through Simeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which he prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves. As Simeon was released from the bonds of this life when he had seen Christ, so we too were at once freed from our old state of sinfulness.

By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as he came to us from Bethlehem. Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen him present among us and have mentally received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel. Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in his honor.

Collect for the Feast of the Presentation

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.

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