The Presentation, Year A

Most of the time when we hear February 2, we think of Groundhog Day.  According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will continue for six more weeks.  And if the winter has already been long and dreary, we pray that there will be no shadow and that winter will soon be coming to an end.  Not so this year.  It seems that winter ended for us over a month ago. 

As Christians we should know that February 2 is the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Templeor The Presentation if you use Episcopal “church speak”.  So this is a teaching opportunity.  Why don’t we have this celebration every year?  Pull out those Books of Common Prayer and turn to page 16.  Under #2, we have the instructions for Sundays and the three additional feast days (it refers to page 15 when in line 1-2 “In addition to the dated days listed above) that can be celebrated on a Sunday.  Note that the second one is The Presentation.  So only when February 2, the set day for The Presentation, falls on Sunday would most of us even think about it.  I recommend to you that you give pages 15 through 18 a read this week. 
There are rules about what we can do, when, and I have learned the hard way to be very careful about breaking them.  (Can tell the story about Evelyn and the Holy Innocents.)  Lesson learned.

What is The Presentation about?  As we are told in the gospel this morning, it is prescribed for in the Law of Moses.  “According to Lev 12:2-5, the purification after childbirth applies only to the woman (in this case Mary).  She is to offer a year-old lamb and either a turtledove or pigeon, but if she is poor she can make the offering as described by Luke (Lev. 12:8).  Luke takes this opportunity to point out that the parents are among the poor of the land.”  (Sacra Pagina, Luke, page 54).  The other part is the presenting or “dedication of the firstborn son to God in memory of the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt, when the firstborn sons of the Egyptians died and those of Israel were spared.”  (Holy Women, Holy Men, February 2).  There must have been many mothers and firstborn sons being presented at the temple inJerusalem that day.

It becomes special because Simeon recognizes that this child is the Messiah.  Simeon is led by the Holy Spirit to the temple…to this child!  While Jesus was recognized by the shepherds at his birth, Simeon presents Jesus as the Messiah to the community.  Simeon acts as oracle, to letIsraelknow for the first time that the prophecies have been fulfilled in this child.  The Song of Simeon, or the Nunc dimittis, is said at the close of Compline and as a Canticle can be used between the lessons of Morning or Evening Prayer.  His words of praise give us hope, because we recognize that Christ is “the Savior for all the world to see, a light to enlighten the nations”.   

“When Mary placed her small son into the arms of Simeon, it was the meeting of the Old and New Dispensations.  The old sacrifices, the burnt offerings and oblations, were done away; a new and perfect offering had come into the temple, God had provided himself a lamb for the burnt-offering, his only son.”  (Holy Women, Holy Men, February 2). 

In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer emphasizes that Jesus was fully human in order to be exactly like his brother and sisters, not for his sake, but so that we would be able to trust him.  “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”  (2:18).  This is the part that is important for us today. 

 How many of us find comfort in someone saying “I know what you are going through,” when we know they’ve never been in our shoes?  We can find an amount of comfort in their caring, their sympathy, but our true comfort comes from someone who can relate to our circumstances because they have experienced them.  And if there is no one else around us who has been through the same trials, Jesus has.  Jesus is with us, beside us, experiencing the pain again with us.  There is our comfort, our assurance that we don’t suffer alone.  It’s what makes us followers of Christ, the promise that Jesus was and is our brother, the one who willingly gave his life to redeem us all.  We can trust in him because he was one of us.

Maybe next February 2, you will think first about it being The Presentation and second about it being Groundhog Day.  The lifting of the child by Simeon in the temple is infinitely more important to our lives than the groundhog being lifted up by the mayor of Punxsutawney.  AMEN.

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