Feast of the Presentation

February 3, 2014

Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Presentation. Actually this feast has a couple of names, and they’re all long. This feast is always occurs on February 2nd, and it is one of the most significant days in the church year. But not everyone might be familiar with the ins and outs of today, so it might be good to ask the questions, “what exactly is the Feast of the Presentation?” and perhaps more importantly, “why do we care?”

We heard the story of the presentation in this morning’s gospel, but I’ll recap it. Thirty days after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to be blessed at the temple. If you’re doing the math, February 2nd is 30 days after Christmas. According to the law, the first born male children were “holy to Lord” – this was part of the reminder of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. But anyone who has been around children knows that they are often not terribly holy, so the parents offer a sacrifice in exchange for the child. Also, new mothers can be ritually purified after thirty days, so Mary was going to the temple to indicate that she had recovered from childbirth and was ready to take up a public role again.

But when they get to the temple, they have a series of strange encounters. The first is with Simeon, who prophesies about the child, and he says that the child will be a light to the nations, and the glory of Israel. And the also meet Anna another prophet who speaks to everyone about the child. In this story, for the first time, people begin to hear about Jesus life and work. So this is the Feast of the Presentation.

Now the second question, why do we care? As we listen to this story, there’s a lot about it which comes out of a very different society from the one we live in. We don’t impose period of ritual impurity on new mothers. We don’t expect to offer animal sacrifices in thanksgiving for a birth. From out perspective, this is pretty weird stuff. But this is exactly how God chose to come into the world. We talk at Christmas about God humbling himself, and this is an extension of that. God humbled himself to come into a particular society at a particular time, and he chose to live by the customs and the laws of that time. He came not to abolish all of our customs, but to redeem them.

We live with our own customs and our own laws. And the thing about these kinds of customs is that we are often too close to even recognize them as customs. For example, many of us may be watching some sort of sporting event later this evening. At the Super Bowl, it is estimated that Americans will consume 1.25 billion chicken wings. On the one hand, we could see this is simply a delicious snack. But we could also see this is some kind of informal sacrificial ritual that makes up part of American culture. This is one small example, but we could all find hundreds.

Jesus came to be the savior of the world in the time and the place and the culture that he found himself in. We are called to live as Christians in the society that God has placed us in. So the question for us today is: how do we eat those chicken wings as Christians? Or to be a bit more serious, how can we continue Christ’s work of transformation? How can we live in our culture, and yet bring the light of Christ to it? Sometimes this means refusing to participate in practices that perpetuate injustice. Sometimes it means reaching out to someone who is different from us to see the face of another child of God. We need to pray for the Spirit of discernment to see the places where our culture is good and where it leads us away from God. If we really reflect on this, it is not an easy task, but it is a task which has already been finished by Jesus. We walk in his light, and by grace, we can become mirrors of his light. Simeon foretold that Jesus would be a light to the Gentiles, and has is a light to us. Today on the Feast of Presentation, we remember that we are also called to be lights of Christ’s love in our day and in our time.

– Michael Tuck+

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