Sunday 31st January – The Presentation of Christ in the Temple


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Collect

Almighty and ever-living God, clothed in majesty,
whose beloved Son was this day presented in the Temple,
in substance of our flesh:
grant that we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts,
by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

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First Reading

Malachi 3.1-5

Thus says the Lord God:  See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.  The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight – indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.  But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?  For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.  Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.  Then I will draw near to you for judgement; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow, and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

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 Gospel

Luke 2.22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.  (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  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, saying, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.  Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four.  She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day.  At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.  When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

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 Post Communion Prayer

Lord, you fulfilled the hope of Simeon and Anna,
who lived to welcome the Messiah:
may we, who have received these gifts beyond words,
prepare to meet Christ Jesus when he comes to bring us to eternal life;
for he is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

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Sermon – The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Candlemas)

With the story of Jesus’ presentation in the temple Luke brings his nativity narrative to an end. The narrative began in the temple with the appearance of an angel to Zechariah, announcing that his wife Elizabeth will bear a son. We are told that Zechariah and Elizabeth were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. (Luke 1:6)

Likewise the narrative ends in the temple. This time with a man, Simeon, who is described as

righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel,

and a woman Anna, concerning whom Luke says:

She did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.

 Although many of our images of Christmas centre on Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus, Luke wishes to move our vision beyond the manger to Jerusalem and the temple. So our gaze moves backwards, as through the figures of Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, Luke represents the expectation of Israel that God would send his Messiah to save the people.

This expectation centred upon Jerusalem and the temple, hence in today’s first reading from Malachi we read

And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple.

Luke also moves our gaze forward, and the presentation of Jesus in the temple foreshadows his later entrance into Jerusalem, where he will present himself to his Father upon the cross, as the true sacrifice for our salvation. All of this is summed up in Simeon’s prophecy.

We are told that Simeon, inspired by the Spirit, entered the temple as Jesus is brought in. Simeon immediately recognizes in the child the fulfilment of the salvation God has promised, and with this recognition he knows that it is time for him to depart in peace. The child is the fulfilment of a life spent living in expectation, an expectation that sums up and represents all of Israel’s waiting for the Messiah.

Yet Simeon also looks forward, and declares that this child is

a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory of thy people Israel.

 Jesus is the one who fulfils all Israel’s hopes, and in doing so he will extend God’s offer of salvation to all peoples. Again, Jerusalem and the temple act as a key for understanding how Luke widens our vision, for in the Acts of the Apostles Luke will describe how under the action of the Holy Spirit the Church will grow out from Jerusalem to all ends of the earth.

So, in presenting the nativity story, Luke moves our gaze backwards into the history of Israel and forwards to the sacrificial death of Jesus and the subsequent Spirit-led growth of the Church. There is another dimension, however, that Luke uses to deepen our vision, and this is best summed up in the image of light. Simeon describes Jesus as:

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and afterwards tells Mary that in her child:

the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.

Jesus is the light from above, who enters into the darkness of human history to bring all our deeds, good and bad, to account. Luke directs our gaze upwards, so that we can see how the whole of human history is transformed by the entrance of God into our world in the person of Jesus Christ.

Again Jerusalem and the temple are important for understanding this movement in Luke, for the temple was the place where humanity encountered divinity, where God entered into our world. So Luke is telling us that now, in the child Jesus, we have the new temple, the place where God dwells with his people.

In the person of Jesus Christ, in this small child, whom Simeon holds in his hands, Luke connects the whole of our history. For in this child God enters into and transforms that history, so that all our lives, through this child, are united and seen in the light of eternity.

Amen