February 2, 2020: The Presentation of the Lord - Pastor’s Corner
Happy Candlemas! No matter the day of the week, February 2 is always the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Forty days after birth, every Jewish family would bring their firstborn to the Temple for rituals of purification and presentation. So forty days after Christmas, Mary and Joseph travel from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to dedicate baby Jesus. Once in the Temple, the Holy Spirit enlightens the priest Simeon with the wisdom that this newborn is the promised Messiah. This is more than a sentimental moment. It a moment rich with spiritual import. In fact, this is the penultimate story we hear about Jesus before he enters into the hidden years of regular life in Nazareth. After this Presentation (and Finding in the Temple), we don’t know anything about Jesus until the beginning of His public ministry and His baptism thirty years later. The Presentation marks the culmination of Incarnation and Nativity. For this reason, the Presentation traditionally ended the Christmas season.
The Presentation reveals two important historical and spiritual truths. First, it is the moment when God returns to the Temple. In the first reading the prophet Malachi says “I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek.” This prophecy should rouse our curiosity. We usually think of the Temple as the place where God resides, where the presence of the Lord is found. But speaking hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, Malachi says that there will come a time when the Lord will come to the Temple. The implication is clear: God had left the Temple. While this might seem strange to us, consider that every Jewish person would know that Malachi was referring to loss of the Ark of the Covenant. When the Babylonians destroyed the temple in 6th century BC, the Ark vanished. Even though the Temple was rebuilt, holy of holies was bereft of the presence of God in the Ark. When Jesus is presented in the Temple, it is the moment when the Lord once again returns to the Temple. Jesus is the new Ark. He is living presence of the Lord who is Emmanuel, God with his people. The moment of presentation is more than simply a sentimental moment of infant dedication, it is the first moment of God being present to His people forever. Never again can God’s presence be lost, for the Presence of the Lord is present in the child of promise.
Second, the Presentation is a moment of illumination. In the Gospel, when Simeon is enlightened with the knowledge of Jesus’ identity, he says: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” Jesus is the light that will gather all nations together into God’s presence. Remember that, in the Temple, a sacred, seven candled Golden Lampstand always accompanied the Ark of the Covenant. The light from this Lampstand signified the presence of God and illumined the Holy of Holies. Just as Jesus is the fulfillment of the Ark, so too, Jesus embodies the reality symbolized in the Golden Lampstand.
Light as a symbol of Jesus’ special presence continues today in our Churches. Whenever you enter a Church, look to find the sanctuary candle which is often red in color. This red candle light signifies the presence of the Eucharist in the tabernacle. Simeon’s prophecy of the baby Jesus as the “light of revelation” is the reason why today is called “Candlemas.” Coincidentally this year 2020, February 2 falls on Sunday and so we bless candles at all our weekend liturgies. (We will use these candles for the St. Blaise throat blessings on Monday.)
On this Candlemas, we celebrate the definitive restoration of God’s radiant presence. This presence is a light which enlightens us both to see and be God’s light. When Simeon is enlightened, he shines with the prophetic radiance of his insight. So too, let us pray this week: Lord, help me see your light, so that be your light for others. Amen!
~ Fr. Michael