The Presentation of Jesus in the temple, forty days after his birth, is a Christmas feast, even though our Christmas decorations are put away. It’s part of Luke’s Infancy Narrative.
The temple of Jerusalem– a reproduction is pictured above– plays a big part in Luke’s Infancy Narrative, even more important than the stable to which the shepherds came. The angel announced John’s birth to Zachary in the temple, and there Jesus is presented after his birth. Later, he will come to the temple as a young boy and impresses its teachers, as he listens to them and asks them questions.
Luke doesn’t dwell on the rituals or appearance of the temple– he may not know much about them–but the temple for him is where God is present, and so it’s the place where Jesus would be recognized. Forty days after his birth, two elderly Jews, Simeon and Anna, recognize him. They’re faithful believers who represent the generations waiting for the Messiah.
Old Simeon takes the child in his arms:
“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.” (Luke 2,22-40)
Afterwards in his gospel Luke describes the rejection of Jesus by his neighbors in the synagogue at Nazareth– neighbors who saw him so frequently but don’t recognize him. Here in the temple two faithful Jews, Simeon and Anna, waiting for years, receive him. The long wai in the temple has not dulled their eyes. In fact, it has made them sharper. They see salvation in this little child, ” a light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
So true, isn’t it, waiting can dull our eyes? Year by year can diminish what we expect and hope for. Day after day, faith can get tired. Prayers can become rote, sacraments can become routine. A holy place can become just another place.
It wasn’t so for these two elderly Jews. Their steady presence in the temple made them sharper, quicker to recognize the light that came to that place. We bless candles today, to burn in our church this year, and we pray that our church may never be dark but a place where we see the light of Christ and recognize his will for us and for our world.
“Outwardly Jesus was fulfilling the law, but in reality he was coming to meet his believing people. Prompted by the Holy Spirit Simeon and Anna came to the temple. Enlightened by the same Spirit, they recognized the Lord, so let us also gathered by the Holy Spirit, enter the house of the Lord and encounter Christ and recognize him in the breaking of the bread until he comes again, revealed in glory.” (Feast of the Presentation)