The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus
Most of us have reached the point of exhaustion with the winter season. It seems the holidays are long gone and the hope of Spring has yet to be seen. We have endured cold and ice and snow and gloomy skies and we sometimes wonder…"will it ever be warm again?” Of course, we know the answer, we know that winter is not eternal in our part of the world and that Spring will arrive about the same time it does every year. Still it seems almost hopeless most days, doesn't it? Many of us battle with winter depression, cabin fever and the feeling that gloomy clouds dictate the course of our lives. It is doubtful I can take that feeling away as much as I would love too, believe me I would! However, the event in Jesus's life which we celebrate today does give us a little hope. It shares a little ray of light, to keep us going until we have those first few 50 degree days and until Wal-Mart puts out the first flowers of Spring, much to early to actually survive.
Today we celebrate the Presentation of Jesus in the temple and it is no mistake that it falls in the bleak midwinter season when Christmas is long gone and Easter is still far away from us. The church planted this feast, this celebration of humanity, to remind us that all hope is not lost, that the gloomy skies do not withhold the light of God from us and that sunshine is truly on the horizon.
The Gospel today reminds us of Mary and Joseph’s visit to the temple to present their child Jesus forty days after his birth, as Jewish law required, and for Mary to undergo the postpartum rites of ritual cleansing. The author of the Gospel of Luke tells us a resident prophetess named Anna and a very old man named Simeon immediately welcome Jesus into the court of the temple and acknowledge his presence. Simeon takes the little child Jesus into this arms and turning his voice toward God offers praise and thanksgiving for the “light for revelation” that has come into the world for both Jew and Gentile. Today, we might say for both the believer and non-believer. For the Christian and non-Christian.
Simeon catches a glimpse of something in the flesh and blood child Jesus that is sacred, hopeful and life-giving. He believes he has seen a fulfillment to God’s promise that one day all humanity will be freed from slavery, imprisonment and fear and this allows him to depart, or to die, in peace. Yes, Simeon beheld in the eyes of a innocent child the light of hope and in the coos of the forty day old infant the emphatic proclamation that deliverance had arrived not only for Israel but for all the earth.
Today we are presented with the sacred opportunity to take up the gift of hope into our arms and acknowledge the light of God has not perished nor is it far removed from us. We too are called to bear witness to the hope of God found not only in the child Jesus but in the faces of every newborn who graces this earth. We find hope in the laughter of children and in their innocent ability to love all equally without regard or bias. We stand in the temple of our own lives, surrounded by signs of God, signs of promise, but do we take the time to acknowledge and interact with them as Simeon and Anna did? Do we present ourselves to God or do we stand in oblivion?
Often times we are so very busy with our own agenda that we miss opportunities to interact with God. On the day of Jesus’s presentation you can be assured the temple was overflowing with people who had gathered to worship God, it was constantly busy. People were coming and going making sacrifices for theirs sins, striving to offer up their best gifts to God, begging for forgiveness and demonstrating (or showing off) their talents. However, most were so busy trying to be faithful believers in God they missed his appearance, when it came in an unexpected way, in the child Jesus.
Most of us would probably be just as guilty, we presume to know the ways in which God manifests herself, we know our doctrines, our traditions and we know to keep our eyes to the heavens - after all we were taught that is how good people of faith behave. However, today we are reminded that God can show up in whatever form she desires and it is often much closer to the earth than it is the heavens. Much more simple than the grandiose plans we have concocted in our heads for how God should appear. And ultimately much more satisfying, if we will take notice that God constantly comes to us in a tangible and realistic way. God is presented to us in the seasons of the year, yes - even the slushy snow, in the creativity of artists, in the theatrics of humanity and in the flicker of a candle.
If you followed any of the fringe news this week you might have heard of the insanity that occurred in a public school in Utah. Forty some children had their lunches torn away from them, when it was realized they had negative account balances. Here is an excerpt from the story:
"She took my lunch away and said, 'Go get a milk,'" fifth-grader Sophia Isom told NBC station KSL. "I came back and asked, 'What's going on?' Then she handed me an orange. She said, 'You don't have any money in your account, so you can't get lunch.'"
This story is heartbreaking beyond words and I will let you decide who, or what force, was represented in the abusive power display. However, if you followed the story any deeper you eventually read about the lunch ladies who shed many tears watching this horror be committed in the name of the almighty dollar and “teaching a lesson.” Yes, God cried in that lunch room, God was found in those lunch ladies. God was also found in the student who went home and told their mother what had happened, resulting in the two of them making lunches for all the students the following day to be sure everyone had enough to eat. I dare say God was found in those lunch ladies, that student and the mother, more visibly then God is found in most Christians, most churches and most worship services. That isn’t something we necessarily want to hear, we treasure our rituals but God is oftentimes in the background yelling: “HELLO! I am over here!”
Where has God been trying to reveal himself to you lately? I encourage you in the coming week to take time to be aware of the many appearances of God in some of the most unlikeliest places. Become an Anna or a Simeon and be on the lookout for God’s presentation, not in liturgical acts or in the sky above, but close to the earth, in the faces of people around you, in the movement of the weather, in the tears and laughter you encounter. When you find God be ready to present yourself and your love fully and completely. And then be ready to turn around and become the flesh and blood human that presents to someone else the light of hope. This is our calling, to seek God and to offer God to others. And rest assured, the sunlight is returning, the snow will eventually melt, hiding itself, and the flowers of Spring will peek out and reach for the sky.
I leave you with this simple thought: Seek and you will find, for God is everywhere.