This year, the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple falls on a Sunday, which means that it can supercede the observance and readings from the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. Commemoration of this day began in the fourth century in Jerusalem, and by the 7th spread throughout the Western Church. Because it also included candlelight processions, the day also became known as Candlemas. In some places it is the day when all the candles to be used throughout the coming year are blessed – in some monasteries that includes boxes and boxes of candles!
Mary and Joseph were following tradition by presenting their firstborn son in the temple on the fortieth day after his birth. Simeon, an aged prophet, present when they arrived, recognized this as the one for whom he had been waiting all his life: “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32, Isaiah 42:6). Taking the child in his arms, he praised God, and declared that he, Simeon, could now rest in peace, for he had seen the Savior. Luke tells us that Anna, also a prophet, was there with Simeon, and offered her words of praise and prophecy as well.
Simeon’s words have come to us in what is called the Nunc Dimittis or Song of Simeon, and are spoken or sung as a response to the readings in Morning Prayer, and following the second reading in Evening Prayer.
Lord, you now have set your servant free *
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations, *
and the glory of your people Israel.
In this season of Epiphany may we be blessed, like Anna and Simeon, to recognize the Light of the World as he makes himself known to us in our own lives, and rest secure in that knowledge.
Peace and blessing, this day and always.