Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84:1-6; Hebrews. 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40 The Rev. Linda Spiers
The Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple – Year A – February 2, 2020
“Steve Biko was a well-known anti-apartheid leader, an Anglican and a leading proponent of ‘black consciousness.’ In 1977, while he was in the custody of the South African police, he was brutally tortured and murdered. His death became the rallying point for many in the freedom struggle.
His mother Alice Biko talked openly about both the anguish and the hope that have been part of being the mother of such a son…..In one of her last conversations with her son, [she] told him how difficult it was to be always worried about him being arrested and put in jail, how she never slept at night until she knew he was home. He had responded by reminding her that Jesus had come to redeem his people and set them free.
‘Are you Jesus?’ she had asked impatiently.
Steve had gently answered her, ‘No, I’m not. But I have the same job to do.’”
On this first Sunday of Black History month I encourage you to read about Steve Biko’s life and impact in the freedom struggle.
Mary and Joseph dutifully brought Jesus to be circumcised according to Leviticus 12:3 “On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” Now they bring Jesus to the Temple to be presented according to Exodus 13:1-2 “The Lord said to Moses: Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine.” Being poor Mary and Joseph offered two turtledoves because they could not afford a lamb according to the laws in Leviticus 12:8 “If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean.” Simeon and Anna were waiting for this child that was to bring new life to the nations. Waiting and waiting and waiting….
Once seeing the child—the Messiah promised by God—Simeon launched into these familiar words known to us through the centuries as the Nunc Dimittis—words that are said in the services of Evening Prayer and Compline—words that were said at the conclusion of Don Higgins’ funeral yesterday.
“Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.” (BCP, 135)
Simeon continued to indicate that even Mary would have a sword pierce her own soul. Simeon waited his whole life for this child and now held in his arms the hope of all the ages and the yearning of his lifetime.
For what are we waiting and yearning in our time?
Like Simeon Anna is a prophet—she’s a person of the Spirit, one who spent her time waiting and praying in the Temple. She spent a lifetime praying in the Temple night and day. With the sight of Jesus she “began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel.” (Luke 2:38). It was for Anna what Soren Kierkegaard calls “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” “There is need of only one thing” (Luke 10:42), to be near Jesus, to see salvation dawn.”
Through the wisdom and faithfulness of these two seasoned prophets Jesus was launched to be the person God intended him to be—launched with hope and with truth and with fear. Mary was to witness the falling and rising of her son. “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed…” (Luke 2:34-35).
Today is the Feast Day of The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ—40 days after the birth of Christ. Celebrated locally in Jerusalem on February 14 since c350, it is now universally celebrated on February 2. It’s a major feast day, and thereby we have white altar hangings. It’s also known as Candlemas, which includes a service of blessing of candles with a congregational procession much like at the Great Vigil of Easter. The Words of Simeon are said with the antiphon of “A Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.” The words commemorate Jesus’ entry into the Temple. A beginning prayer is said: “O God, source of all light, today you revealed to the aged Simeon your light which enlightens the nations. Fill our hearts with the light of faith, that we who bear these candles may walk in the path of goodness, through Jesus Christ the Light of the World. Amen.”
The procession is halted and this prayer is said: “O God, you have made this day holy by the presentation of your Son in the Temple, and by the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Mercifully grant that we, who delight in her humble readiness to be the birth-giver of the Only begotten, may rejoice for ever in our adoption as his sisters and brothers; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
As the procession approaches the altar, this antiphon is said: “We have waited in silence on your loving-kindness, O Lord, in the midst of your temple. Your praise, like your Name, O God, reaches to the world’s end; your right hand is full of justice.” Psalm 48:1-2, 10-13 is prayed. The Collect of the Day is then said, and the Holy Eucharist continues with the Gloria in excelsis.
This day commemorates the day of Jesus’ light being brought to all nations—this child bringing love for all people of every generation—this child destined for the falling and rising of many. Jesus suffered and died and then was raised to glory. Jesus was launched to be the person God intended him to be, as hard and painful as that must have been for his parents. Mary and Joseph were amazed at what was being said about him. I wonder if they knew all that was to come. I wonder if Alice Biko knew what was to come with her son Steve Biko in his fight for justice—in his gentle words to his mother, “No, I’m not [Jesus]. But I have the same job to do.”
We are all children of God and are all launched to be fully who God intends us to be. We’re created in the image and love of God to find our place in God’s mission. “We have waited in silence on your loving-kindness, O Lord, in the midst of your temple. Your praise, like your Name, O God, reaches to the world’s end; your right hand is full of justice.”
I wonder what our job is to do right now as we rejoice in having seen the Light that enlightens the nations along with Simeon and Anna. Simeon and Anna have much to teach us about patience and faithful waiting. Each in their own way were able to cultivate expectant hearts. They were ready and able to recognize the Messiah when Jesus appeared. They call us to be more aware of who is around us and what is happening around us. For what are we waiting and yearning in our time?
Let us pray.
“Fill our hearts with the light of faith, that we may walk in the path of goodness, and come to the Light that shines for ever, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.
- Joyce Hollyday, Clothed with the Sun: Biblical Women, Social Justice, and Us (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 219.
- Soren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, trans. Douglas Steere (New York: Harper, 1938).
- The Book of Occasional Services, 43.
- Ibid., 44.