The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord is the last of the feasts of Christmas, even though most Christmas decorations have disappeared awhile ago.
The Feast is based mainly on Luke’s Infancy narrative which begins in the temple with the announcement to the priest Zacharias of the birth of John the Baptist and ends with the presentation of Jesus in the temple by Mary and Joseph. The two elderly Jews, Simeon and Anna represent the faithful generations that have been waiting for the Messiah.
Previously, Luke tells of the poor shepherds, the outcasts waiting in the dark, who are greeted by the angels. In Matthew, the gentiles are invited in the coming of the magi. Now the long wait of the Jewish people is rewarded as old Simeon takes the child in his arms and utters a prophecy that he will bring light to his people.
We bless candles today to symbolize our acceptance of the light of Christ.
God was present in the Temple of Jerusalem, the Jews believed. They prayed there and offered sacrifices to the Lord. Luke would have us see that God’s Son is one with his Father as he is presented in the temple. He becomes the new temple, God present in our midst in a unique way. He is our new High Priest who unites us to the Father by the sacrifice of himself.
Jesus later claims that role as he teaches in the temple and prays there.
From simple places, Bethlehem and Nazareth, Jesus was taken by his parents to the splendid temple of Jerusalem. From an everyday world where he’s hardly noticed, he’s carried to the glorious place where heaven and earth meet. From a town hidden on a mountain and a cave cut into a hill, he’s brought and placed as Light for the world.
The presentation of Jesus in the temple is a highly symbolic feast. Here are the readings for Mass. Here’s how St. Sophronius, an early bishop of Jerusalem, describes it:
“The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we come in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.
Rejoicing with Simeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, the Father of the light, who sent the true light to dispel the darkness and to give us all a share in his splendor.
Through Simeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which he prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves… By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as he came to us from Bethlehem.
Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen him present among us and have mentally received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel.
Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in his honor.”