A Sermon for The Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas)

The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple was February 2. It is a fixed date feast always falling forty days after Christmas. The collect and readings for the feast may be found here. The appointed gospel is Luke 2:22-40:

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25Now 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. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided 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, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then 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 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36There 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, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At 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. 39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

I always try to point out to the students of our parish school special days in the liturgical year. I explain what we do, why, and how the church colors and decorations change accordingly. This morning I explained that it was a special day in the year and described the blessing of candles, the candlelit procession, and the use of incense. I pointed out that the color for the day was white. “Does anyone know what is special about today? What day is this,” I asked. A little girl confidently raised her hand and called out, “It’s groundhog day!” “Yes, it is,” I said, “but that’s not why we changed the color to white.” I told them the story of Jesus and Simeon meeting in the temple and the importance of light on this day.

I thought about the irony of today being both Groundhog Day and Candlemas and then I realized the truth in that irony. Today is a day of both shadow and light. But it is not limited to today. Shadow and light are the reality of our lives and our world. We could all tell a story of what it was like to live in the shadowy places. Sometimes we go there by our own choices or actions and other times as a result of someone else’s action or simply through the circumstances of life.

Sometimes we hide in the darkness avoiding the light because of our shame or guilt. We do not want to admit the truth of our lives to ourselves and we sure do not want another to see that truth about us – our thoughts or the things we have done and left undone. The shadows, we tell ourselves, will hide us. Other times we live in the night of fear not knowing what will come next or how we will handle it. There is s sense of powerlessness and life seems out of control. There are those times when the black hole of sorrow and grief sucks out the life and the light of our world and we seem unable too escape the darkness. Sometimes we experience the darkness of ignorance and confusion. We are blind to our own identity, lost on the path of life, seemingly without meaning or direction.

Even when we choose the shadowy places they are always uncomfortable. That discomfort is the light shining in the darkness. No matter how large the shadows or how dark the night the light is still present. It was symbolized tonight by our candlelit procession. That little flickering flame you carried through this night was the reminder that Christ – “a light for revelation” – is with you. When we extinguished our candles the light did not go away. It is within you and it always has been, always will be. But we must begin to see with different eyes.

Sacred Tradition says that Simeon was 270 years old when he met Jesus in the temple and that he was blind. Yet Simeon himself declares to God, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” We could debate about the factual accuracy of Tradition and Scripture. Could Simeon really have been that old? Was he really blind and, if so, how did he see? Such debate and questions will surely miss the truth held before us in both the Scriptures and the Tradition. Yes, Simeon was blind. Yes, Simeon saw salvation. But he did not see with physical eyes. He saw with the eyes of his heart. Simeon experienced an inner seeing.

Christ is both the Light we see and the Illumination by which we see.

That Light and that Illumination are revelatory. They reveal mercy and forgiveness in the shadows of guilt and shame, presence and courage in the night of fear, compassion and hope in the black holes of sorrow and loss, a way forward in the blindness of ignorance and confusion, and life in the darkness of death. The flame of God’s love consumes the darkness, fills us, and frees us to go in peace just as God promised. We have seen salvation and Simeon’s song now becomes our song.

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