Saturday, February 14, 2009

“When the time came for their purification...
the parents of Jesus brought [Jesus]... to present him to the Lord.”

(Luke 2:22)
Feast of the Presentation
Jan Robitscher
February 2, 2009
All Saints' Chapel

Malachi 3:1-4
Ps. 84:1-6
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2: 22-40

In honor of the divine mystery that we celebrate today,
let us hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager
to join the procession and carry a light.

(Sophronius of Jerusalem, Bishop, The Prayer Book Office, p. 734)

So we enter into this celebration of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Candlemas, The Encounter, The Meeting of the Lordor simply “The Meeting” as it is known in the East. By whatever name we call it, this is a hinge Feast, half way between Christmas and Easter, half way between winter and Spring, which has been in the Church?s calendar from the fourth century and has had a long and interesting history, of which I will give you only a small part:

Egeria, writing around AD 380, attests to a feast of the Presentation in the Jerusalem Church. It was kept on February 14th. However, the feast had no proper name at this point; it was simply called the 40th day after Epiphany.

In 542, the Emperor Justinian introduced the feast to the entire Eastern Roman empire in thanksgiving for the end to a great pestilence afflicting the city of Constantinople. Perhaps this is when Pope Gregory I brought the feast to Rome. Pope Sergius (687-701) introduced the procession to the Candlemas service. The blessing of candles did not come into common use until the 11th century.

Some superstitions developed about Candlemas, including the belief that if one does not take down Christmas decorations by Candlemas, traces of the holly and berries will bring about the death of the person involved!1

And yes, there is a connection between this Feast and Groundhog Day, but that?s another sermon!

Let us enter into just one aspect of this Feast: it's Eastern title “The Meeting”.
Meetings. Our lives are filled with meetings: annual parish meetings, board meetings, committee meetings, counseling or spiritual direction meetings. Many of these are long and involve hard work and get results. Others are long, unproductive and downright boring! They have agendas and minutes and sometimes forms for opening and closing. If all goes well, each one present gets a turn to speak and, hopefully, all are listening.. In the best case, meetings are useful, promote community, and some good fruit comes from them.

In one way, it was an ordinary meeting on an ordinary day when an ordinary couple came to fulfill an ordinary “agenda” of customs required of them by the Law. Mary and Joseph came 40 days after Jesus? birth in order to sacrifice two turtle doves (required of poorer folk) and so that Mary could undergo the rites of purification. Just another meeting... But this was not just a meeting; it was the Meeting. Today?s Feast is the celebration of a more-than-cooincidental coming together where Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus met with Simeon and Anna in the Temple.

Here was the prophesy of Malachi fulfilled:
Thus says the Lord, See, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you
seek will suddenly come to his temple...

Here Simeon took into his arms the Lord's Messiah for whom he had waited so long, and sang for joy:
Now, Lord, you have released your servant (from duty),
in accord with your Word, in peace.
Because my eyes have seen your Salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
A light for revelation to the Gentiles
and glory for your people Israel

(Tr. Nolland)

God's Salvation brings light to the Gentiles and glory to the people Israel! But Simeon goes on to speak a word to Mary, that the infant Jesus she held in her arms would grow up to be “the fall and the rising of many...a sign that will be opposed...” and Simeon declared to Mary that she would witness Jesus? own sacrifice, far greater than two turtle doves, “a sword, too, shall pierce your own heart...” And here was the promised redemption of Jerusalem which the prophet Anna could finally announce to anyone who would listen. So the cycle of the Christian Year continues, as one mystery leads into another...

Individually, Simeon, Anna, Mary and Joseph did not expect anything to be different when they went to do their duty in the Temple that day. Yet they were all impelled, whether by obedience or by divine action, to be there.. Meeting together, they received in the infant Jesus the wonderful revelation of God?s salvation.

But that's how God is--gifting us with the unexpected, even if we don't recognize or understand it at the time. We are invited--as they were--to a meeting--The Meeting--to celebrate the presence of Jesus, who is God-With-Us. The ordinary meeting became an extraordinary encounter with God and a revelation of salvation--an Epiphany-- right in their midst.

So it is with us. We have come to The Meeting. We, too, can come with Mary and Joseph, and can have an encounter with God. We, too, can receive Jesus in bread and wine and proclaim with Simeon that he is the Savior of the world. We, too, can sing Semeon?s Song, and when we light a candle and pray at evening, we can sing it to commend ourselves and one another to God for this life and the life to come. We, too, can go out from here and, like Anna, tell of God?s redeeming love.

And may this be so for all for our meetings here in this Chapel, day by day, but also for all our meetings in our parishes or here at seminary or in the world. Whenever two or three (or more) are gathered in his Name, Jesus is in our very midst. (Light a candle for a reminder.) May the Holy Spirit guide us as we set the agenda and help us to speak the truth with love. May our meetings bear much fruit, and may we go out from them changed by our encounters with one another and with God.

As Sophronius of Jerusalem invited us to enter the candle-lit procession which marks this feast, so Origen invites us carry it with us in this comment and prayer:

Let us too stand in the Temple and hold God's Son
and embrace him; and that we may deserve leave
to withdraw and start on our way towards a better
land, let us pray to God, the all-powerful, and to
the little Jesus himself, whom we so much want
to speak to and hold in our arms.
To God be the glory and power now and always.


(A Christmas Sourcebook, p. 85)

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