The Presentation of Christ
Crispin Harrison CR
Although the Christmas season ends with the Baptism of Our Lord, a beautiful afterglow occurs on 2 February with the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. This commemorates the gospel stories in Luke 2.22-39. They fall into three parts: the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mother of Jesus, the Presentation of the Saviour to God his Father, and the meeting with Simeon and Anna.
Blessed Mary observed the legal requirements of the Mosaic Law, Leviticus 12, though she needed no purification. She went to the temple in Jerusalem carrying Jesus in her arms and accompanied by her husband Joseph and there they offered the required sacrifice. St Luke sees in their devotion other fulfilments of the law of God. The child is presented and consecrated to the Lord, Exodus 13.1-2. His mother hallowed Jesus, like Samuel, for God’s service. But Jesus is far greater than Samuel as Luke shows in Gabriel’s message to Mary.
Their words invite us to wonder who this baby was. He looked like a child; he behaved like a child. He was a child, and yet faith discerns him to be ‘our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is both God and man, one Christ, equal to the Father as touching his Godhead: less than the Father as touching his manhood’ [Athanasian Creed]. So we rightly sing at Mass in the Gloria in excelsis Deo, addressing the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘You alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father.’ When Mary entered the temple courts, bearing the Christ child, Malachi’s prophecy [3.1] was fulfilled, ‘The Lord will come to his temple.’ This inspired the opening words of the lovely Candlemas hymn, ‘Hail to the Lord who comes, comes to his temple gate.’
No wonder Simeon and Anna rejoiced to meet the long-expected Saviour-King and inspired by the Holy Spirit they prophesied his future accomplishments. Their life-long devotion was rewarded. In our hearts we go with them to meet Jesus, this baby Jew, the glory of God’s people Israel but also a light to reveal God to all nations. The light will enlighten everyone, John 1.9-13. The darkness of evil, the opposition culminating in his passion and death, will not overwhelm nor extinguish the Light of God. Pain and suffering, which his mother and all his followers experience, will triumph in resurrection.
The church in Jerusalem in the fourth century marked this day with a procession in which all carried lighted candles to demonstrate that Jesus is the Light of the world and that those who carry his light are to be lights in the world. This observance of Candlemas spread throughout the Church. It is good to light a candle on this feast in thanksgiving for what Christ is and has achieved and as a reminder that we should shed his light around us.
With the greater desire these days to understand and appreciate other faiths, it is important that Christians confidently and courteously testify to our faith in Jesus, our incarnate Lord and God, the light of all the nations in the world.