Wednesday Word: The Feast of the Presentation
The Feast of the Presentation is the day we celebrate Joseph and Mary making the ritual presentation of their firstborn son in the Temple. This goes back to the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord” (Ex. 13, Luke 2:23). We also see it in the story of Hannah presenting her son Samuel to the Lord (1 Sam. 1:19 – 2:11). This feast takes place 40 days after Christmas, falling on February 2, and this year that happens to be Sunday.
Because the Feast of the Presentation is a fixed day, it is not transferred to the closest Sunday; which means that we rarely get to celebrate this day as a congregation. And, to be honest, this is the first time I recall celebrating this Feast (on a Sunday or any other day), so I had some learning to do as well.
This 40-day period from Christmas to February 2 is also known as Christmastide, the formal length of the Christmas season (and might explain why some people have yet to take down their creche sets). But it can also be confusing, since we are also in the Season after Epiphany (another period of Ordinary Time). However, this 40-day celebration is reminiscent of other 40-day events in the Church year – such as the 40 days of Lent and the 40 days from Easter to the Ascension.
February 2 is also known as Candlemas. You may have begun to notice earlier sunrises and later sunsets. February 2 is the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, so light is becoming more noticeable. Because of this, it was the time when new candles were traditionally blessed. It was a day to bring new light into the home as a symbolic way of driving out the darkness.
This idea of new light is also scriptural. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5) is a major basis of Jesus being the light of the world. Add to that the Song of Simeon (or Nunc dimittis) from Luke 2:29-32 where Simeon proclaims of Jesus, “A Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.”
I'm now wondering what it would be like to celebrate Christmas during the whole 40 days. What would it look like if we intentionally made time to celebrate and commemorate St. Stephen, St. John, the Holy Innocents, the Holy Name, Epiphany, the Baptism of Our Lord, the Holy Family, the Confession of Peter, the Conversion of Paul, and, finally, the Presentation/Candlemas? How would it look if we continued the celebration and kept our Christmas decorations up for the whole 40-day season? It might give the neighbors something to talk about; or it might give you something to talk about with your neighbors.
But whether or not you celebrate all 40 days of Christmastide, we will be celebrating Candlemas at the 10:15 service this Sunday. Candles on all altars and walls will be lighted and new candles will be blessed and lighted in a liturgical first for me. So come and help us proclaim Jesus as the light that enlightens the nations and as the light that darkness cannot overcome.