Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
February 2 is the Feast of the Presentation, also known as Candlemas. It is understood by some as a closing feast of Christmas. Many people keep their crèches in place until this feast. Some even keep their Christmas trees up and decorated (ours would never have lasted - there were more pine needles on the floor than on the tree by January 6
th!). Traditionally, churches have processions with candles, symbolic of the one who is "a light to lighten the gentiles."
The gospel reading appointed for the day is from Luke 2:22-40, an acco
unt of the Mary and Joseph bringing the infant Jesus to the Temple where they are encountered by the elderly pair - Simeon and the prophet, Anna. This encounter has always captivated me.
Luke - himself likely a gentile, a non-Jew - appears a little confused about Jewish customs and practices of the time, conflating the purification of the mother after childbirth with the redemption of the first born and offering the child's service to God. No matter, these are details. It is the encounter with the two elders that provide the power and drama of the story.
Simeon, described by Luke as "righteous and devout," is looking for the "consolation of Israel." Luke tells us, "the Holy Spirit rested upon him." The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. I wonder how long he had been waiting, yearning for that promise to be fulfilled. Then it came. Luke writes, "Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God..." and prayed his treasured words, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace...." Can you imagine? Can you imagine how his heart stirred, how his heart sang?
But the moment is not all joy and singing. Simeon blesses the parents, saying to them, "This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed." What, I wonder, did Mary and Joseph make of this?
They didn't have much time to think about it. Simeon turned to Mary and said, "and a sword will pierce your own soul too." It is a foreshadowing of Good Friday. What did she make of those words then? What did she make of them as Jesus grew and became an adult? Did those words echo in her heart and soul when she stood on Calvary?
Anna comes on the scene. Luke tells us she is a prophet. She, too, sees the child, and not only sees the child, but sees in the child, God's revelation. Luke writes, "At that moment, she came and began to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel." She knew. She just knew.
It is striking to me that the very last words faithful Episcopalians who recite Compline, the closing office of each day, say are a variation of the words uttered by Simeon in the temple so long ago:
Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace according to your word
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. (BCP, p. 135)
As God's faithful, "righteous and devout," we should be able to take our rest each night, confident that, at some point during the day, we have seen the Lord's Messiah. In the midst of all we do, in the people we meet and the love we show, Christ is present. We can rest, be set free, and go in peace according to God's word.
Where have you seen the Lord's Messiah this day? Give praise and thanks with Simeon and Anna. Speak with them about the child to all whom you meet. Know your story, live it boldly!