The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Candlemas)
5 February 2023
Mal.3.1-4, Ps.84, Heb.2.14-18, Luke 2.22-40
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised; for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see: A Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel. Amen.–Nunc dimittis, The Book of Common Prayer p.106


Today we celebrate a feast in the Church called “Candlemas,” and although it that might be lesser known it is highly significant nonetheless. As we follow the Church Year this feast brings us to look upon a forty-day old Jesus who in obedience to the law of Moses has been brought to the temple to be offered up to God as Mary and Joseph’s first-born son. Mary’s presence at the temple was also in obedience to the purification rites prescribed by the law for all women who have given birth. They were to offer two turtle doves as was the prescribed sacrifice and were to be given by those who were poor.

We are at a pivotal point where we are able to look back at Christmas and begin looking forward to Lent and Easter but before we go, we pause to experience and take in this important scene at the temple. In the Christmas story we see that only a handful of people saw Jesus for who he really was, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men. At Candlemas this small circle grows by two more souls. We encounter a devout and righteous older man by the name of Simeon which in Hebrew means “to listen” and he had definitely been listening to the voice and leading of the Holy Spirit who had led him to go to the temple that day. He had come to believe that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah – the one who would deliver Israel and all the nations from the grip of all evil and worldly powers.

Simeon had a divine discontent with the status quo, and had a great longing to see the fulfillment of prophecy that all Israel would be saved and delivered from all tyranny and sin. The minute he laid eyes on Jesus he knew that he was the One he had been waiting for! He comes over to the Holy Family and takes Jesus into his arms and rejoices with words that have become one of the great songs of the Church “The Song of Simeon – in Latin, the Nunc dimittis.” Simeon also makes a prophecy himself that pointed away from the cradle and forward to the cross when he said to Mary: “and a sword will pierce your own soul too!” He knew that bringing about the salvation of the world would not be easy but painful for Jesus and for Mary, his mother.

We still have one more person to meet at Candlemas, Anna, whose name in Hebrew means “grace and favor.” Like many of us, she had a grand plan for her life that included marriage, children and a long life. She managed to get two out of three – a 7-year marriage and a long life. However, her dreams were cut short when her husband died after only seven years of marriage and they had not had any children. After being widowed, Anna cast herself on the Lord and her life went in a totally different direction.

She was granted the rare distinction in the biblical narrative of being known as a “prophetess” a female prophet. She stayed in the temple night and day, where she fasted and prayed. Because of her closeness to God she was granted the privilege of seeing Jesus, the messiah, with her own eyes. She began praising God and proclaiming the ancient prophecies that Jesus was to fulfill!

Here we have two more admitted to the inner circle of those who saw Jesus for who he really was. Two retired Senior adults joined an elite group of the faithful who had no standing in the worldly sense but to God they were precious and their faith was great and they saw what only a few were granted to behold.

What might we have in common with Simeon and Anna that would qualify us to see Jesus in our own day? Poet David Whyte points toward a possible answer – longing. He writes: “Longing is divine discontent, the unendurable present finding a physical doorway to awe and discovery that frightens and emboldens, humiliates and beckons, makes us into pilgrim souls and sets us on the road…making us willing to give up our perfect house, our paid for home and our accumulated belongings.” 

Simeon and Anna point the way for us with discontented hearts. Just the other day, I had the privilege of listening to someone rejoicing in their spiritual journey, that reminded me of Simeon and Anna. See if you can guess who it is:

“I found myself ascending those steep front steps to the welcoming Red Doors that seemed to open magically on their own. I was met by no less than 4 delightful men – with bulletins in their hands, directing me to sign the guest book and enter the sanctuary. My heart soared as I entered—taking in the architecture and environment of the nave. I saw the font to my right and my fingers automatically went to the water and I crossed myself vividly remembering my own baptism many years ago in 1938. I proceeded down the center aisle toward the altar and couldn’t seem to stop until I reached the first pew, and it has become my own worship place.  Siting there in silence, the atmosphere suddenly became permeated with a sense of Holiness and Awe, and the choir entered with that great organ “exploding” into the silence of the sanctuary—and the singers became as one with the organ. The feeling of serenity washed through me as the processional hymn rang out from the rafters and clergy and company proceeded up the center isle—-in essence imparting the mood and anticipation of what this service was all about and why we each were here sharing with others, the gifts of the “WORD” and the gifts of music and the gifts of fellowship. With anticipation and excitement in what was to follow, I sang, I listened, I saw, and I felt that in the rituals, the WORD, the music, and the traditions handed down through the years, were the very “core” of what St. Luke’s is all about.  I am thankful for the divine events that placed me here in this community–and being led to take a “hard right” into that parking lot and then led me to those lovely RED DOORS. I had finally found my place! 

I realized that I was HOME at last.”

If you haven’t guessed already this was the experience of our own, 93-year-old, widow, Frances Tice.  And I think what we’ve just heard could be called “The Song of Frances!”

The liturgy for today, like all liturgy has an important role for the people who are present to play. As we have stood with our blessed candles, lit and held up to illuminate our way into the darkness of the unendurable present and fueled by our divine discontent we are reminded that this story of salvation is on-going. What started as a spark in the stable at Bethlehem like a chemical reaction has set in motion and ever-expanding circle, encompassing more and more of humanity, until the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the seas.

The Light that illumines the whole world has come and called and invited us into this circle of fellowship with Jesus, the Messiah, to celebrate the salvation brought to the entire world, and to be bearers of that light, that the darkness will never overcome. Amen!