The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (also known as Candlemas) marks the end of Christmas and the Epiphany Season. Nativity figures are put away for another year. We prepare for the Sundays before Lent and our attention turns from the crib to the cross.
Luke has a wonderful gift of painting pictures though the stories he tells in his Gospel and the story of Christ’s presentation in the Temple (Luke 2. 22- 40) is one of the best of them.
Through the main characters in the story, Luke gives us an image of a church community at its best where people of all ages need each other and where the gifts of the congregation are used to the full.
Mary, a young mother, who has given birth only forty days previously comes to the Temple with her husband and baby for her ritual purification after childbirth. We might imagine how she is feeling: vulnerable, exhausted perhaps but also remembering the words of the Angel Gabriel that her son, Jesus, will be holy and will be called Son of God.
By Mary’s side is Joseph, faithful and ready to accept his role as father of a child who, mysteriously, is conceived by the Holy Spirit. He and Mary dedicate their first-born son as Holy to the Lord, according to the Jewish rite of Redemption that looks back to the time of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Both parents are poor; they cannot afford the customary lamb that is used for sacrificial offerings in the Temple. They can only offer what is allowed in their circumstances, a pair of turtle doves or two pigeons.
There, they meet Simeon and Anna, older people who will pass on their wisdom and insight to these new parents. Both Simeon and Anna are prayerful and prophetic. Simeon recognises in Jesus the Messiah that he and many faithful Jews have been longing for. He praises God as he takes Jesus in his arms saying words we now know as the Nunc Dimittis: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation”. He prepares Mary for Jesus’ passion and warns her that a sword will pierce her own soul too.
Anna’s great age is no bar to her gift of evangelism. She too recognises the significance of Jesus. She praises God and tells others around her that the Messiah has arrived.
And at the centre of Luke’s tableau is the infant Jesus the focus of all the attention, the one in whom all the other characters discover their role and destiny.
This passage is a wonderful encouragement for us all as Church communities. Whatever our age, whatever our status (whether single, married, or widowed), whether materially we can offer much or very little, each one of us is important to each other and to God. Our unique gifts, talents and circumstances are vital to the building up of God’s kingdom. The young can learn from the wisdom of older people and young people can inspire and bring joy to those who are older. When we work together, we discover that Christ is at our centre.
May this beautiful image that Luke has painted in words for us, give us hope and encouragement as we seek to understand God’s vision for our Churches and communities at this time.