Feast of the Presentation
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
February 2, 2020
Today marks the end of the 40 days of the Christmas cycle. Just like Lent is 40 days long, so is Christmas. It is only every seven years or so that today’s feast falls on a Sunday, so we are taking advantage of the opportunity. Now I’ve heard a rumor today might be considered a special day for another reason…perhaps because of some event that is happening this evening. Your minds might be on the big baseball game that’s about to happen – perhaps you’re planning a party or figuring out which sports bar is the best place from which to watch. All I ask is that you give me just a few minutes of your mental and spiritual time, and I promise, you’ll be out of church at least a few minutes before the game begins.
Today, on this last day of the Christmas cycle, we remember when Mary and Joseph took the child Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. The requirement in Levitical law was for Mary to be “ritually cleansed” forty days following the birth of a male child. Until that day, she could touch no holy thing nor enter the sanctuary in the Temple. This purification ritual made it into the early prayer books in our own tradition in the ceremony called “the churching of women.” We continue to celebrate this rite in our church today, though with a less flashy name. In the current prayer book, it’s called “A Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child” and in it there is no hint of the ritual impurity of women. The Candlemas blessing and procession we just experienced has its roots in the churching of women. Instead of purifying something that is ritually unclean, the rite celebrates the old man Simeon’s response upon seeing the holy family. Simeon praised God and acclaimed the infant as “the light to enlighten the nations.” This image of Christ as the light has led to the celebration of light countering darkness, with candles taking a central place in the observance of today’s feast.
Friends, today is about light. Light that expels the dark shadows of evil in the world. Jesus Christ is this light. As St. John says in the prologue to his gospel, he is “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Each candle that we see today, and each candle that was blessed today and will be used throughout the year symbolizes his light. The physical candles end up being extinguished and even burned down to a stub. But you and I are called to shine this light brightly in both word and in deed. As St. Luke says in chapter 11 of his gospel, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.”
How can we speak this light to our friends and family through our words? What words of encouragement and love might we say to those who need to hear it? How can we shine Christ’s light brightly in our actions this day, tomorrow, and throughout our lives? What might we do in service and love to our neighbor to make the brilliance of his eternal light known to them?
I leave you with these words preached by St. Sophronius, bishop and patriarch of Jerusalem in the seventh century, at Candlemas:
“Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ. The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him. The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God. The true light has come, the light that enlightens every man who is born into this world. Let all of us, my friends, be enlightened and made radiant by this light. Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness. Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Symeon the light whose brilliance is eternal.”
 Robert Atwell and Christopher L. Webber, comps., Celebrating the Saints: Devotional Readings Saints' Days (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub., 2001), 50.
 John 1:9, King James Version
 Luke 11:33, NRSV.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!