We celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple February 2nd, 40 days after his birth. St. Luke describes it in his gospel. (Luke 1-2) Our Christmas decorations may be down, but this event for Luke is the highlight of his Christmas story. For him, the temple in Jerusalem is more important than the stable in Bethlehem.
The model of the temple of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus that archeologists have reconstructed (Above) may help us see why. The temple dominated the city then. God was present here, “my Father’s house” Jesus called it when visiting as a young boy, listening to its teachers and asking them questions. (Luke 2: 25-41) In Luke’s Gospel the angel announces John’s birth to the priest Zachariah there. ( Luke 1: 5–25) Jesus is presented as an infant there. ( Luke 2: 25-38) The temple has a central role in the mission of Jesus and the church In Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.
At the outset of his ministry in Galilee, Jesus said that his “exodus”– his death and resurrection, must take place in Jerusalem. He died and rose again as the Passover was celebrated in the temple. (Luke 22:1) His followers prayed in the temple as they waited to be “clothed with power from on high. “ ( Luke 24: 49) After his ascension into heaven, they “ then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God. (Luke 24, 52-52) Their first vibrant proclamation of the gospel takes place in the area of the temple after receiving the Holy Spirit.
Luke’s account of Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple at his birth initiates this relationship. Luke doesn’t dwell on the ritual – he may not know much about it– when Mary and Joseph present the Child. He doesn’t give us the name of the priest or describe what Mary and Joseph do. At the heart of his story, God reveals himself through the Infant to two elderly Jews, Simeon and Anna, who wait patiently for the Messiah.
They’ve waited for years, but long waiting has not dulled their eyes. Waiting in the temple has made them sharper; they see salvation in this little infant, ” a light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
Isn’t it true, though, waiting can also 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 routine. A holy place 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. Hopefully, it will be the same for us.
We bless candles today, praying that our church may never be dark, but a place to see the light of Christ and recognize his will for us and for our world. We pray also that the temple of God that we are may never grow dark, but a place for God to dwell.
Simeon holds the Child in his arms; Anna proclaims him to all. A beautiful example for us.
Our Feast of the Presentation is an ancient feast celebrated by Christian Churches of the east and west. It calls for a procession as well as for blessing candles. The procession goes back to the early church in Jerusalem when, on this day, people went in procession from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, symbolically accompanying the Child, Mary and Joseph to the Temple of God, carrying candles to light their way.
When the feast was celebrated in Rome, the procession took place from the church of St. Simeon in the Roman forum to the church of St. Mary Major on the Esquiline Hill, the church where many early feasts of Mary found a home.