They say that our Christmas season is a really busy time of the year. I'm beginning to think that every time is a really busy time! In sports we are in the second half of NBA basketball and NHL hockey seasons, the PGA golf tour is in full swing, the baseball Major Leagues start Spring training in two weeks, there is the Winter Olympics up next week, and, of course--the NFL Super Bowl is later today—GO SEAHAWKS!! In less mundane things like regular life—we have those who work regularly in full go until the Spring break or Memorial Day for a day or days off. Kids have all kinds of school itself and extra activities in full action mode. And in church life it is the middle of Epiphany, followed by the season of Lent and Easter week—with Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday thrown in for good measure.
Today normally would be celebrated as the 4th Sunday in Epiphany, but this year it also fell on a day celebrated as the Presentation of Jesus (some churches also call it the celebration of the Purification of Mary). And, some churches began, in time, to mark this day with a celebration of light: the Candle Mass, during which priests would bless the candles to be used in the year to come. Coinciding with the turn toward spring and lengthening of light in the Northern Hemisphere, Candlemas offers a liturgical celebration of the renewing of light and life that comes to us in the natural world at this time of year, as well as in the story of Jesus. As we emerge from the deep of winter, the feast reminds us of the perpetual presence of Christ our Light in every season. (That's why we had the short Candlemas service at the start of our worship today.)
Our Gospel reading from Luke tells us specifically all about the Presentation of Jesus. In reading various sources I found some confusion around this story—did it take place at eight days after the birth of Jesus (as it says in Luke), or 40 days after, when Mary would also have gone to the temple for her purification/cleansing after her birthing activity? One source said that Luke presented two regulations -- the purification of the mother and the dedication of the firstborn male child at different times, while another source said that Jesus' presentation in the Temple was just part of the purification rite for Mary after childbirth, as well as his circumcision marking him as a child of the Abrahamic Covenant.
When in our lives do we “present” ourselves? Whenever we start in any new situation in life—starting each year of school, starting a new job, taking up a new sports or craft, volunteering for a committee or some local organization—all are times we present who we are to others. While on our vacation in Palm Springs, we saw about 200 young men taking a shot at professional baseball by participating in the California Winter League, a short 3 week season just before the baseball Spring training season. These were people who had either already washed out in the professional leagues at some level, or had completed college baseball and had not been drafted. They were there by invitation, and we got to talk with several of them. This activity is all about presentation—each athlete presenting themselves to the coaches and scouts there, hoping to get a contract and a chance to prove they can play pro ball.
I'm doing a type of presentation of myself as I work on getting another job—complete with resume, and recommendations from those I know or have worked with before. It is interesting and kind of scary to be doing this at 61 years old for the first time since my college days.
Back to the Presentation of Jesus—he had a really good support group for his presentation. The obedient Joseph and Mary, and two people they didn't even know would be presenters—Simeon and Anna. Mary and Joseph come to present Jesus to God, demonstrating their confidence in God's promises. Simeon is described as a righteous and devout man seeking the consolation of Israel. The prophet Anna fasts and prays for the redemption of Jerusalem. Anna makes no specific prophecy, but her thanksgiving implies she has knowledge of Jesus' real person. Simeon, in the power of the Holy Spirit, witnesses directly to Jesus' messiahship.
Some thoughts around the stewardship angle for this Gospel by our own Canon lance Ousley: “Both Simeon and Anna recognize that this poor little child from Nazareth named Jesus had tremendous gifts that would change the whole world ushering in the kingdom of God. Think of the wonderful implications this perspective of recognizing the valuable giftedness of others (and ourselves) can have in our congregations.”
Yesterday Bonnie and I went to the Camp Victory girls Winter party, where about 15 girls got to be together again and do various fun crafts, sing songs, and just hang out with a group of adults. These adults Mama Lions were presenting themselves as solid people from all kinds of backgrounds who the kids could look up to and model, and show God's love to this kids.
Back to Lance's thoughts: “When we empower others in ministry inviting them into the transformational process it is joyful and life-giving to them. This is the power of stewarding the contributions of others as full members of the Body of Christ. But to do this consistently, we have to understand our own giftedness and offer our gifts - time and abilities, as well as material and financial gifts. This understanding comes from our own identity as beloved of God which is often discovered in offering ourselves and resources in ministry spurred on by being encouraged by others. In our sacrificial giving we are opened more fully to the revelation of Christ's love for us personally shown in his sacrifice for us. So the beautiful cycle of discipleship stewarding the gifts of the Body consecrated to God is essential to the life of the Church. Simeon and Anna give us a wonderful model in exercising our prophetic voices proclaiming the gifts of others, for their spiritual benefit and the mission of the Church. Both of these elements of stewardship feed our souls.“
How do we recognize each others' gifts and those of others we meet, no matter how big or small, and how will we offer the presentation of Lord to the world?