A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

The Presentation of Our Lord

Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, 12th century cloisonné enamel icon from Georgia 

Candlemas 2020
The Presentation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple
Rev. Doug Floyd
Malachi 3:1–4, Psalm 84, Hebrews 2:14–18, Luke 2:22–40

For the Lord God is a sun and shield. – Psalm 84:11a

The sun in the heavens enlightens the whole world, energizing all things and revealing all things in glory. The glory is all consuming. If we were to stare into the sun, we would eventually go blind. If we were to stand in the full light of the sun for too long, it would burn our skin. We can only bear this glory within limits. At the same time, we cannot live without the sun. If not for the sun, we would die in darkness.

The glory of the sun is but an image of a greater light, the Creator of heaven and earth, who said, “Let there be light” and there was light. In him and his light we live and move and have our being. We cannot bear the full light of his glory or else we die. He is both sun and shield. He makes a way for us to draw near, to dwell in the light of His glory without being consumed.

We behold our Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.”

Gregory of Nyssa helps explain this phrase “light from light.” He writes,

“We see that the radiance from the sun is integral to it and that the substance of the sun is not divided or diminished, but its substance is entire, and its radiance perfect and entire, and the radiance does not diminish the substance of the light but is as it were a genuine offspring from it. Thus we see that the Son is begotten not from without but from the Father and that Father remains entire, while the “stamp of his substance” exists always and preserves the likeness and image without alteration.”[1]

In the face of Jesus Christ, we behold the full glory of the Father, and yet we do not go blind. We are not destroyed, but instead we grow from glory to glory. Just as Simeon beheld the glory of God in infant Jesus, we behold him and are changed.

Sophronius of Jerusalem tells us that,

“The true Light has come, ‘the light that enlightens every person who is born into this world’. Let all of us, beloved, be enlightened and be radiant with its light. Let none of us remain a stranger to this brightness; let no one who is filled remain in the darkness. Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Simeon the light whose brilliance is eternal. Rejoicing with Simeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, the Origin and Father of the Light, who sent the true Light to dispel the darkness and to give us all a share in his splendour.”[2]

Today as we observe the Presentation of the Jesus Christ in the Temple, we rejoice that Jesus is the “light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to God’s people Israel.”[3] From the early ages of church, candles have been lit at the altar and in the church as a sign of this joyous news.

Today marks 40 days after the Feast of the Nativity, Christmas Day. According to Jewish law, a new mother must wait 40 days after having a child to return to the Temple for purification.  

As Mary returns to the Temple, she is not simply obeying law, she is fulfilling it. In one sense, Mary becomes an image of all Israel. She is the culmination of human longing and satisfaction in the coming of the Lord to His Temple. Mary bears the child who will fulfill the ancient promise to Abraham. From his offspring, God will bless all families of the earth.

Jesus Christ, born of Mary, has come to restore Israel to the Father in Heaven. According to our reading in Hebrews, Jesus is the faithful high priest, who comes to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  In the words of Simeon, we see hints that Jesus will be offered for His people. He is the great high priest, and he is the sacrifice. And according the words of Jesus, His body is the Temple. Even as the law is obeyed, the law is being fulfilled. Jesus is making a way that will restore His people to God that will lead them from death to life and from glory to glory.

And as Simeon says, Jesus is a “light of revelation to the Gentiles.” Jesus will not only redeem His people, he will call Jew and Gentile into one new family, one new man, one holy communion before the Father in heaven. He will make a way through his very life. His life will be poured out unto death on the cross and even as He is raised from the dead, he will raise many to new life.

With this in mind, I return to the image of Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple. In this moment, we see but a glimpse of what is to be. Even as Mary presents Jesus, she is the one being presented, being made clean, and ultimately is the one being presented to the Father by Jesus.

Even as Mary fulfills the ancient promise to Israel in the birth of Jesus, she marks the beginning of the church. Mary is often seen as the first disciple. She is the first one to follow Jesus and to suffer for his name sake.

His suffering will be bound up with her suffering. But even as she suffers in his suffering, she also suffers in the pain of letting go. She must let of the baby born to her and offer him back to his father. The baby born to her is the Son of God, and her relationship will change from mother to son. She will become the child even as Jesus will make a way for her before the Father in heaven.

Even as Mary must learn to follow and not to lead, we learn from Mary. We must learn to follow Jesus in the way where He is leading us. He is not our own personal Jesus come to fulfill our every whim. He is the Lord of Glory. He is light from light. We have not taken hold of him. He has taken hold of us and is leading us into the fullness of glory.

Just as Mary will know the way of the cross in the sword of suffering, we will know the way of the cross into the fullness of His life. Jesus has come that we might have life and might have it abundantly. But this life is His life, the life of God, the life of the Father, Son and Spirit, the life that gives all and receives all in a communion of never-ending love.

In the cross, we see a picture of life freely and completely poured out in love. For some disciples that means physical suffering and even death. In the last hundred years, the church as a whole has experienced greater suffering and persecution than anytime in history. We must always remember our suffering brothers and sisters who know the cross in a physical way.

At the same time, Paul shows us that the way of the cross that becomes a pattern of daily living. On this day of Candlemas, the Day of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are also presented as God’s people. As set apart holy unto God in all our various callings. Whether we serve in business, in the home, in the school, in ministry, or some other varied expression of vocation and service, we are all being presented in Christ.

Last week I spoke of how our varied vocations, our skills, our dreams, our gifts and callings can be transformed by and through Christ. The carpenter works for the glory of the Lord even as the accountant brings glory as a faithful and honest servant. This week I want to continue this emphasis, but now I want to think of our how our gifts and callings submit to the cross of Christ.  

What does the cross look like? When Paul uses the language of following in the way of Jesus or presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, he is specifically focused on laying down our lives for one another. He offers a pattern that contrasts with the pattern of a world that focuses on personal achievement, self-reliance, individual success.

The pattern of this world is to promote our own gifts, our own calling, our own name above others. In Romans 12, Paul suggests that we should not think of ourselves more highly that we ought. Just of Jesus pours out His life in love, we are learning to pour out our lives, our honor, and even our gifts on behalf of one another. We rejoice when others shine even though we may be overlooked.

As Paul says in Philippians, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”[4] Then he proceeds to give us an image of how Jesus reveals the way of discipleship by pouring out his life on our behalf. After an extended meditation upon the life, death and resurrection of Christ, Paul writes,

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, [5]

We shine out with the very light of Christ into the world. In and through Christ, we ourselves have become the candles burning with the light of joy and love.

[1] John Anthony McGuckin and Thomas C. Oden, eds., We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ, vol. 2, Ancient Christian Doctrine (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 50.

[2] Atwell, Robert. Celebrating the Seasons . Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 2:32.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 2:4.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 2:12–15.


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