Malachi 3:1-4 | Hebrews 2:12-18 | Luke 2:22-40
“When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.”
Today, with St. Luke the Evangelist, the church recalls Jesus’ presentation in the temple at Jerusalem: the place where the presence of YHWH was understood to dwell, where heaven and earth overlapped in perfect resonance. This was YHWH’s chosen dwelling-place.This was the site of prayer, sacrifice, and pilgrimage, rebuilt by Herod to “recapture the glory of the Solomonic temple.”
The temple, temple language, and temple imagery likely do not resonate with us in the same vivid ways they did for the faithful of antiquity. The distances of time and cultural ethos have changed our relationship to temple language in deep, subconscious ways, but the image hangs over Luke’s gospel from beginning to end in ways both subtle and obvious. Mentioned more than seventy times, the temple features prominently within the vocabulary of Luke’s text when compared with the other gospels. Luke draws our attention to it at specific points in the narration of his gospel, and it comes to occupy a place of importance in his account of Jesus’ work, ministry, and self-understanding; destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.
Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple
As I read the opening chapters of Luke’s gospel, I often imagine seeing an enormous tent being painstakingly erected, like those that are used for outdoor weddings. With the introduction of each significant character – Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna – another stake or peg is fixed in the earth, with its own cord attached. These cords begin to cross and intersect at just the right angles, as if by the arrangement of some mysterious, divine geometry, held taut by the weight of poles and the canvas now unfurling from the ground into a recognizable structure. Into the particularity of time and space there unfolds a tabernacle, a tent or dwelling for Christ Emmanuel, God-with-Us. A web of divinely inspired, interpersonal encounters prepares the ground and provides a sheltering roof.
Today is Candlemas, and it’s a feast I’m very fond of. But then, I like candles! I remember as a young child, we lived in the country, and we were often having power outages. It was so exciting to slowly walk upstairs to bed carrying a candle, and then, tucked up in bed, nice and cozy, looking around a once familiar bedroom, now mysteriously alive with flickering shadows. Later, as I came to faith, looking at a candle helped me to pray: the flickering light spoke of the light of Christ, of warmth and comfort, and the mystery of God.
The candles in today’s procession, and on the altar, celebrate the event which took place 40 days after Christmas when Jesus, the Light of the World, was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the required ceremonies of the Law. He had already been circumcised on the eighth day and received his name. But because he was the first born, he was regarded as “holy” – in other words, belonging to the Lord – and his parents had to, as it were, buy him back by paying a shekel to the sanctuary. He was then “presented” to the Lord.
Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.” Or, translating more closely: The child was growing and was being strengthened, being filled with wisdom. The growingness was something ongoing and continuous; the being strengthened was something ongoing and continuous; the being filled with wisdom was something ongoing and continuous. Jesus grew in this very ordinary, organic, gradual way. Perfectly, completely human.
Today is Candlemas and it is a feast I am very fond of. But then, I really like candles. I remember as a young child, we lived in the country, and we were always having power-cuts. It was so exciting to slowly walk upstairs to bed carrying a candle, and then, tucked up in bed cosy, looking around a once familiar bedroom, now mysteriously alive with flickering shadows.