We’re halfway through winter, literally and figuratively, and there’s light to be shined, work to be done, with the grace and help of the One we follow, tested as we are so Christ can help us in our testing.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Presentation of Our Lord
Texts: Luke 2:22-40; Hebrews 2:14-18
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
We’re halfway through winter. That’s important to remember.
Yes, this is the Feast of the Presentation, forty days after Christmas. Jewish mothers underwent purification rites forty days after giving birth; first born sons were presented in the Temple then, too.
But in Ireland and Britain February 2 held further significance as a cross-quarter day. Christmas Day, the Annunciation (March 25), St. John the Baptist/Midsummer Day (June 24), and St. Michael’s Day (September 29), marked the quarters of the year, falling very close to the solar turning points, the solstices and equinoxes. But Gaelic culture also marked the half-way points between these quarters. Presentation is the cross-quarter day between Christmas and Annunciation, and is about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
Today our forebears started to ask how long winter would be. They had celebrated the coming of light at Christmas, but the sun still rose late and set early, and it was still cold. How long before spring? they’d ask.
The movement of the earth around the sun gives holy reminders of our life in God’s care, reminders our ancestors lived and breathed deeply. We’ve reduced today to a silly ritual with a groundhog, a joke. But there’s nothing funny about the question of how long winter will last. For those wise ones, it wasn’t just a question of weather. The yearly journey through dark and cold taught them about the same journey our lives are making.
Winter is more than weather for us, too. And in a world where cold and fear are growing, what might it mean that tonight we note that we’re only halfway through?
As we hear of Simeon and Anna, it means we’re not in their enviable position.
These ancient saints diligently served and waited, worshipped and prayed, and at the ends of their lives were blessed to witness the coming of God-with-us, Christ in the flesh. Simeon’s beautiful song anticipates departure and rest, because God’s light has come.
But we’re not at the end. We’re still in the middle of winter. The coming of God’s light in Christ isn’t the signal for us to lay down and rest; the task is still before us.
We celebrate the coming of God’s light but we see how dark it still is.
We rejoice in the warmth of God’s love we know in Christ Jesus but we feel how cold the world still is.
We delight in Christ’s resurrection and the promise of eternal life, but we’re painfully aware of the pervasiveness of death.
In every way that matters, we’re in the middle of winter and are longing for God’s spring.
But that’s why we’re here.
Not to answer, “How long?” Simply because it was a sunny day today doesn’t mean we have any idea when spring will return. Likewise, no answer awaits us as to when God’s full healing and restoring of creation will come to pass.
But our ancestors knew that, even if they engaged in weather prediction on this day. The festival of Presentation was tied to symbols of light, to the blessing of candles, as ours were tonight. Because Simeon sang of God’s light revealed. But also that they might remind each other of the signs of the light they had, the candles who bring light and warmth to the dark and cold.
And in the very long winter this world now faces, we gather tonight to remember the light we celebrated forty days ago on the darkest of nights. We gather to see fire and eat bread and smell beeswax and taste wine and sing songs and hear God’s words that sustain us in the winter, until the spring comes.
And now the Hebrews reading makes sense to this day.
On first glance, it seems unrelated to the Presentation. But if we’re in the middle of winter, and there is work for us yet in the world’s cold and fear, it is exceedingly good news to know we leave here not just with memory of tonight’s light and warmth.
We leave here with the grace and presence of Christ who has already lived through winter, who is the embodiment of God’s spring. Christ can help us as we are tested by the cold and fear, because Christ was also so tested. We go out into the middle of winter with Christ our Lord who knows how to hold hope and light in the deepest cold and ice and hatred and fear. Who is our strength, our courage, our encouragement. Who is always with us, no matter how long winter lasts.
So we sing with Simeon but with different meaning.
We sing, not at the end, but in the middle of things. When we sing, “now let your servant depart in peace,” it is our invitation to Christ to go with us as we depart into the wintry world that desperately needs God’s light and warmth.
When we sing, “a light to reveal you to the nations,” we ask for Christ’s light and fuel to keep that light burning in our hearts. Not just so others may see. But also that we don’t despair at the depth of the winter.
We sing, “your Word has been fulfilled,” not as the end of all things, but as confident hope that in us God’s Word is living into the world bringing light and healing.
We’re still in the middle of this thing. But as we join Simeon and Anna in song, we know that we’re not in the middle alone. We go with Christ: our Light, our Spring, our Warmth. And nothing can stop this grace from reaching this world.
In the name of Jesus. Amen