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The following is an excerpt from Steve's Epiphany book from the Pilgrim Year book series.

Candlemas: Feast of the Presentation of Jesus

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord…

Luke 2:22
Candles

For some Christian traditions, Epiphany is a single-day feast on January 6. For others, it is a longer season, like Advent, extending from Twelfth Night in the Christmas season all the way through to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. For others, the season of Epiphany closes here on February 2 with the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus, sometimes known as Candlemas. The story is recorded in Luke’s Gospel (2:22-40) and is worth reading to refresh your memory before you read further here.

The traditions of Candlemas are varied, of course, but coincide meaningfully with this story of Mary and Joseph who, in keeping with Mosaic law, went to the Jerusalem Temple 40 days after the birth of their son, for ritual purification and to present for blessing, in essence, Jesus to God. And so, over time it has become a tradition on the 40th day after Christmas for the Christian faithful to bring candles to the church to be presented and blessed and then used for the rest of the year. These blessed candles serve in the home as a symbol of Jesus, who referred to himself as the Light of the World. Thus… Candlemas.

The story itself is nuanced and deserves prayerful attention. For instance, the sacrificial offering Mary and Joseph bring for the ritual – two turtledoves (a concession to the five shekels otherwise required) – reveals the poverty of the holy spouses and therefore of their child. This is not insignificant. Holly Hearnon writes,

The saviour of the world is born in a stable, while another ‘saviour’ of the world, i.e. Caesar, sits on a throne in Roman splendour. In striking contrast, Jesus’ parents bring the offering designated for the poor: two turtledoves. It is this child born in poverty who is the true saviour. He is the sign of God’s consolation and redemption.


Holly Hearnon, “Commentary on Luke 2:22-40,” Working Preacher (December 28, 2008), https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=207

This is instructive for our day, as the basic structure of Western market capitalism assumes that power and wealth (blessing) naturally and rightly trickle down from the top, whereas in the economy of God’s salvation, it seems, rather, to bubble up from the bottom. How would our orientation to others change if we, in our marrow, believed this to be true?

Another nuance of the story to consider is that Jesus’ divinity is immediately recognized by the “righteous and devout” Simeon and Anna, who was “of a great age”: venerable elders devoted to fasting and prayer in the Temple. Theologian Joy Moore has noticed how this coincides with the author’s (Luke’s) gospel-habit of,

…partnering women and men as witnesses to the presence of God that leads to peace.


Joy Moore. “Commentary on Luke 2:22-40,” Working Preacher (January 1, 2012),
http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1180

Here, too, is elevated the gift of patient prayer, which far from being a distraction to active service and charitable utility, is shown to be the precondition of redemptive revelation:

Those who pray,… like Simeon and Anna, are open to the breath of the Spirit. They know how to recognize the Lord in the circumstances in which He manifests Himself because they possess an ample interior vision, and they have learned how to love with the heart of the One whose very name is Charity.


https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2018-02-02

But mostly it is the words of Simeon that move me so deeply. Upon seeing Jesus, Simeon swoops the child up into his arms and addressing God, he exalts,

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.

Luke 2:29-32

Notice the words ‘eyes,’ ‘seen,’ ‘light,’ ‘revelation,’ ‘glory.’ Repeat them enough and you’ll soon discover what poets call a “found poem.”

Here I wish you could meet my father. If anyone looks like I imagine Simeon to look like, it would be him. Dad’s body is worn out from years and illness. His eyes are failing, his hearing is shot, and he can only move about slowly and carefully. But he, like Simeon, has been a righteous and devout man, who has served God and neighbour his whole life with an ever-whelming wisdom born of a steady commitment to selfless living and prayerful study. It is rare that I go to visit him and don’t find him in the company of others who have stopped by for wise counsel. But if you do get him alone, Dad’s eyes will start to shine, as he is likely to want to tell you what new glory he has beheld as a result of his prayerful meditations.

My grandmother, like Anna in the story, was a widow who by her own confession spent her last years “memorizing hymns and psalms, preparing for glory.” In her last days she totally lost her sight… But my! how her eyes shone whenever she spoke of her Lord.

… eyes, seen, light, revelation, glory!

However, in the moment of all this shining delight and joy, clouds gather. The story continues.

After blessing the holy family, Simeon takes Mary aside and says,

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” ).

Luke 2:34, 35

These are unexpected and foreboding words. In them, we begin the turn from Epiphany to Lent and Holy Week. Here we begin to sense that the light of love reveals not only the glory of God, but human hearts as well. When hearts have been darkened, they don’t respond favourably to light.

Light is simple in that its nature is to reveal what is there. Yes, it judges, but not like a gavel-pounding, impartial judge discerning a complex and bloodless law. More like a poor person on the street who by simple presence reveals the stony hearts of passersby. More like a defenceless weakling whose vulnerability attracts and reveals the cruelty of a bully. More like the cry of any given group of people who suffer mercilessly because of another’s commitment to a political, economic, philosophical or religious ideology over and against all compassion. In the end, light reveals both love and its opposition. Simeon lowers his eyes to Mary and says, “and a sword will pierce your own soul too,” as if to say, “if you choose to love Love, it’ll tear your heart out… but do it anyway.”

Some time ago, I wrote a song with my friend Jamie that tries to imaginatively get at the heart of Simeon’s words to Mary and the meaning of this feast. I hope you’ll go to this book’s companion website to listen to it. Melody can often fill in and articulate past the limit of words.

May this day, this feast, this remembrance, fill your heart with light and blinding wonder and the courage you need to see and nurture the offspring of your own love to maturity.

A Sorrow For Connoisseurs

lyrics by Steve Bell and Jamie Howison
music by Steve Bell
Appears on the 2001 CD release: Steve Bell / Waiting For Aidan

Maria I’ll tell you right now
My old heart is finished and full
This child that you bring
That my eyes have seen
He’s the glory of Israel
He’s gonna tear your heart out
Even after you’ve loved so well

Chorus:
For love is like a fine wine that you take by the fire
It rolls on the tongue and it gladdens the heart
But what we’ve learned from the reckless
Who can’t get enough
It’s gonna break your heart
You know there’s such a fine line of comfort and pain
Love criss-crosses over it again and again
But your options are loveless so don’t be afraid
Just know before you start
Lady, that’s how it works
Love is a sorrow for connoisseurs

You may not believe it right now
I don’t understand it myself
But an old man can make
Mysterious claims
Some things we just know, so we tell
He’s gonna tear your heart out
Even after you’ve loved so well

Chorus:
For love is like a fine wine that you take by the fire
It rolls on the tongue and it gladdens the heart
But what we’ve learned from the reckless
Who can’t get enough
It’s gonna break your heart
You know there’s such a fine line of comfort and pain
Love criss-crosses over it again and again
But your options are loveless so don’t be afraid
Just know before you start
Lady, that’s how it works
Love is a sorrow for connoisseurs

Oh don’t you get it
I’m trying to explain
Sorrow is not the saddest thing
Don’t be offended
Let it sink in
Sometimes the best is hidden in
This strange, strange cross
Love is gain and love is loss

Chorus:
Love is like a fine wine…

One thought on “Candlemas: Feast of the Presentation of Jesus

  1. Steve, thank you for this reflection. It takes me away from this go-go, get-ahead world and perhaps there is some light shining from my face, having thought about the truths and the humble, insightful folk you cite in the Bible and your own father, too. Your contrast of trickle down economics and trickle up blessing was insightful.
    I hope your concert in Hamilton was good, sorry I couldn’t make it. The last time I heard you was with Malcolm in Kitchener a couple of Christmases ago, when I helped escort an older gentleman with developmental challenges. I’ve seen his face shine many times!
    I encourage you in your ministry of reflection, word, and song.

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