The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, observed on the closest Sunday.
Scripture for the occasion: Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7-10; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40
Celebration of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, as described in Luke’s gospel, has a long history in the church, beginning in 350. The origin of its association with candles is rather unclear, but for well over 1000 years it has been part of the celebration of Christ as the light of the world and called Candlemas.
In a way, it recalls something quite ordinary: a couple bringing their new son to the temple in Jerusalem and making an offering of thanksgiving. They meet a couple of seemingly ordinary people there, Anna and Simeon. But as so often happens with Jesus, the ordinary becomes extraordinary and startling things are said about him.
In what happens and what is said about him, Jesus is linked to both the traditions of Israel and the future of his ministry. Simeon and Anna stand together to demonstrate that ordinary people with open hearts and minds can be transformed by the presence of Jesus into extraordinary witnesses; they also stand together as a reminder that men and women are equal in God’s eyes.
The ceremony of presentation of a first-born son, together with the ritual recognition of the purification of the mother after childbirth, was associated with cleansing. The prophet Malachi foresees a time for God to cleanse the temple of impurity, in words that anticipate reform; Jesus will ultimately be a powerful agent for transformation and renewal.
Candles figure within the worship as a reminder of the light of Christ shining into the dark places of the world, and coming to reform and renew not just in his own time, but in ours. There is still darkness in the world that merits exposure to the light of Christ.
As the body of Christ in our world, we have to ask ourselves what kind of light do we want to carry out into the world? How will we be carriers of light and life into the dark places of the world around us?
As we celebrate the ways in which Jesus can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, we have to remember that we also have the potential to be extraordinary in negative and destructive ways. As Archbishop Justin Welby reminds us in writing about his experience at Auschwitz: “these atrocities were committed by ordinary people.”
No two lives are the same, but it’s a very rare life that isn’t touched at some point by disappointment, sorrow, or suffering of some sort, and much of it is caused by human action or inaction. In Epiphany, when we celebrate and remember the meaning to be found in the life of Jesus, the incarnation, God with us, in a demonstrably, tangible way, at least we can rest assured that when we experience sorrow, or suffering, or disappointment, God is right there with us. We are not alone. Light will shine.
Meanwhile, Presentation reminds us of two important points: extraordinary things come out of ordinary celebrations; and in the incarnation, God becomes ordinary, and that makes us extraordinary.