The Pas Presentation of Christ in the Temple
Candlemas – Year A
5 February 2017
God of love, you gave your Son to be a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. With Simeon and Anna and all who hail redemption’s happy dawn, may we sing your praise and proclaim salvation in Jesus Christ, your Word made flesh. Amen.
I turned on CBC, this week, and heard a report on the role of architecture to inspire and be a product of society’s expression of art in and for society.
And as I had been looking at the gospel, for today, and trying to find something new to talk about, today, I thought we might look at the structure of the Temple, and how our architecture is inspired by our surroundings, yet, at the same time is meant to inspire us as well.
When we read the gospels, the bible, and the buildings and architecture interacts in and around the passages of the day. Yet, we don’t get a lot of description of those structures. The exceptions to this are few, but it does include the Temple in Jerusalem.
There are structures in Greece that are small residential dwellings as well as grand palatial spaces, markets, and temples, pointing out that much of our lives, at that time, were spent out in society, and we only returned home to sleep, maybe to eat.
Even the height of the walls, and the style of the roof tells us much of those who used these dwellings, how life was lived, and even the climate and the faith practices of the day.
Religious structures, temples, places of corporate worship, also have their own unique impact on the society around them. In warm climates, places of worship had a lot of, colonnaded structures, set out with large outdoor spaces and courts where people could gather and worship together in prescribed ways. We can see this in the diagrams and descriptions of the Temple in Jerusalem.
As churches began to dominate the landscape, they, too, took their architectural clues both from the past and from the climate. At one time, you could identify where you lived by the spires of the church in your neighbourhood or community.
We can explore the ruins of medieval churches that are small stone structures, not well lit or heated. Yet only a few centuries later we find the remains of cathedrals that are light and airy structures, where sound travels easily throughout. Structures that were designed from the start to foster an appreciation of God, a feeling of awe in the presence of the divine that we cannot even begin to comprehend.
As the interpretations of the generations shift and change, so do the architectural offerings to society. In different eras and ages, differing styles dominated, all designed to bring beauty, at the same time to inspire faith, as our gifts as those skilled as builders also have talents and gifts from to make these beautiful, intricate, and inspired designs.
But even saying that, there are common aspects that arise in the design of specific buildings, like churches. For example, the porch or entry way of a church is called a Narthex, a word we get from those ancient colonnaded temple structures.
Where the congregation sits is called the nave, after navy. The reason for this is that when missionaries arrived by boat, they’d turn the boat over and use it as the roof of the new church – nave. In some churches, the roof still looks like the interior of an overturned boat.
The space where we do much of the movement associated with worship – ahead of the pews, is called the chancel, and the place where the altar sits at the furthest point from the narthex, is called the apse. In some of the older models of churches, and in some cathedrals, the apse and sometimes the chancel are hidden from common sight by the presence of a wall or barrier called a rood screen. All of this takes us back to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Today, in the gospel passage, we encounter the Holy Family entering the courts of the Temple. We find them entering one the most respected and admired buildings in Israel.
We find God incarnate, the Messiah, wrapped in swaddling clothes, surrounded by the incarnate expression of humanity’s faith in structure form.
They’re in the temple in Jerusalem. And in this form, only two people, aside from his parents, acknowledge who this babe in arms is, and what he will be contributing to the world around him.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re not the only people in the temple. People would be coming and going all throughout the day, and those passing by on their own business of faith, of confession, of admiration, and of redemption hear the praises being heaped by Simeon, and by Anna.
Yet, at the same time, these two people have become almost fixtures in the temple, so, how many people listened to what they say is difficult to understand.
It would be equivalent to knowing how many people listened to the shepherds when they declared the birth of the Messiah, in the stable in Bethlehem. Or, when they described the angel choruses, and when they described the awe of the situation.
But Simeon and Anna, God’s prophets in the Temple in Jerusalem, do recognize, the Messiah, the Christ, carried through the temple, sleepy in his parent’s arms. They do recognize God made manifest in the midst of the faith inspired beauty and splendor.
Malachi says: “’I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Mal 3:1)
This is what Simeon has been waiting for, all of his life. He has been promised by God that he will not die until he sees the Messiah, and today he holds him in his arms. Today he looks into the face of divine love incarnate, and recognizes the power of God to be here, today, to bring the light of God’s love into our hearts our lives.
Today, “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God” (Lk 2:27-28)
Now, we can imagine this, right? We can see this in our minds eye.
Amid the opulence of the Temple, this wizened, old man, reasonably well groomed, but not wealthy, in appearance, comes up to this impoverished young couple, carrying a baby, and a pair of turtledoves. And taking the baby in his arms, looks down into the face of the child in his arms he recognizes God, the Messiah, the future redemption of Israel.
And with tears of gladness, of joy streaming down his weathered cheeks, he praises God. He strokes the baby’s soft cheek, gently, and he plays with his tiny hands. At the same time, he remembers Malachi’s words and he remembers God’s promise that he will live to see the redemption of God, not just for Israel, but for everyone.
We can see this right?
He praises God, but he’s not needing to raise his arms, to look up to heaven, shout to the heavens or any dramatic actions. Instead, he’s standing stock still, looking into the eyes of the child, and he says, softly, tears streaming down his face, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (Lk 2:29-32)
Gazing into the eyes of this tiny babe, he sees God’s divinity, he sees the light of salvation, not just for himself, but for all of creation.
He’s thrilled to meet God in this way, to see the future of Israel, of the known world in the pudgy little hands of this tiny child. He acknowledges that God’s word is fulfilled, not just for his life, but for all of Israel, for all of the world. That God reaches out and blesses us in such away that it takes an old prophet to realize what’s coming, and that its beautiful.
God’s light has entered the world, and with it hope for all of humanity.
Surrounded by the splendor of the Temple, we find the Majesty of God in the most unlikely place possible. In the midst of the Temple, we find the light of God has come into the world, and we, with Simeon, with Anna, celebrate that, we celebrate the light of salvation, the light of God manifest in the world.
And as Simeon, tears in his eyes, and streaming down his face, looks up, he sees that the parents, Mary and Joseph, know who it is they have been asked to bring up in faith and in holiness.
He sees the burden, the uncertainty in their own abilities to carry out the tasks God has given them to do, and he gives them his blessing, and his admiration for the task that lies ahead of them.
Anna, too, another prophet, one who has dwelled in the temple for many years, recognizes the fulfillment of prophesy. She recognizes the child as Simeon gives him back to his family, and she, too, praises God. The gospel tells us: “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Lk 2:38b)
Simeon looks into the face of redemption and knows that he has seen God’s salvation for all humanity. Anna acknowledges that God is amongst us and that great things are starting to happen.
John’s gospel tells us: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:4-5)
I like the light of candles. I love that it gives light and warmth to the darkness, to the dimness that can be a part of our lives. In the church, we use candles to remind us that for as much darkness as we encounter in the world, in life around us, there isn’t enough to overcome the light of a single candle. As John reminds us, there isn’t enough darkness to overcome the light of Christ in the world around us and in our lives.
This is the light that draws Simeon and Anna today. The light that Jesus brings into the world, that he shares with us and with all of creation.
This is the light that we find in each of our hearts, in each of our lives because of the gift of God, because of what Jesus teaches us of God’s love because of what Jesus does for each one of us to break the bonds of sin and death and bring the light of God into the world.
Are we still able to be inspired by architecture? Sure. There is beauty all around us, and within us as well, when we embrace the light of God in and for our lives, today, as well as tomorrow.