Friday, February 2, 2007

Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Today, February 2, is a Feast Day. I was surprised when Father Acker came out with cream vestments, rather than the usual green for this short "Ordinary Time" between Epiphany and Lent. But today is celebrated in the Anglican (and probably Catholic, perhaps also Orthodox) Church as "The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, commonly called The Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin." That's certainly a mouthful of a title!

The feast springs from the second chapter of St. Luke's Gospel, starting in verse 22. To summarize, Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to the temple when the days of her purification are over, and they present Him as their first born (and therefore dedicated to the Lord). The sacrifice, according to the Law, is a pair of turtle doves or two small pigeons. While they are in the temple, they meet up with Simeon,an elderly man who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Lord's Christ before he died. Simeon's praise, called the "Nunc Dimittis," part of the Office of Evening Prayer in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, goes like so:

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel. (St. Luke 2:29+)

Simeon adds to Mary, "...yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also." What a prophecy -- frightening, I'm sure, to the young mother. What a lot this woman had to ponder regarding this babe in her arms!

Then Anna, an octogenarian prophetess who has prayed in the temple night and day since her widowhood early in life, approaches the new parents, adding her blessings, thanks, and praises to God for the Christ Child.

The Collect (prayer) for the day reads thus:

Almighty and everliving God, we humbly beseech Thy Majesty, that, as Thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in substance of our flesh, so we may be presented unto Thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

May we indeed posses pure and clean hearts, not through our own paltry efforts, but through Him who was, is, and ever shall be, perfect and blameless. To HIm be all glory, honour, and praise!

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