This week we celebrate the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, or Candlemas as it is often called. Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple. It’s forty days after his birth and, as required by Jewish Law, the time for Mary’s purification after childbirth. Luke portrays this as an opportunity for the young couple to present their child to God – in the same way that Hannah (in the Old Testament) presented her longed-for child Samuel to God’s service.
The young couple meet Simeon and Anna, two elderly people who both recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Simeon says words that we now know as the Nunc Dimittis from Evening Prayer/Evensong: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation”. Simeon can die in peace knowing that he has seen the promised Messiah who will bring salvation not only to Israel but to the whole world. He alludes to the opposition and death that awaits Jesus and warns Mary that “a sword will pierce your own soul too”.
Candlemas marks a pivot point in the church’s year. We look back to Jesus’ birth but we also look forward to “the coming days of his passion”. We turn from the crib to the cross. Our Epiphany season of revelation comes to an end at Candlemas and after only two weeks or so of Ordinary Time we shall begin the penitential season of Lent.
The Presentation in the Temple was pivotal in the lives of the four main characters, Joseph, Mary, Simeon and Anna. The older pair could prepare for their deaths, knowing that God’s promised salvation was to be fulfilled. The younger couple were given insight into their role as Jesus’ parents and into God the Father’s purpose for Jesus.
We often face pivot points in our own lives; discovering a new vocation; coping with unexpected losses (of partner, friend, job or home); preparing for a very different way of life.
Candlemas reminds us that Christ is deeply present in each pivotal moment in our lives, bringing light in what might appear darkness or the unknown. Like Simeon and Anna, can we live expectantly and make these words our own?
“My eyes have seen your salvation.”