Presentation of Our Lord (Candlemas)

Phyllis Anderson—February 1, 2006

Readings:
Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm 24
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40

Just a year ago today, February 1, I arrived at PLTS. Against all odds, the moving van made it up the hill with all our stuff inside. It was after he got the truck up here on campus that the driver realized what trouble he was in. There was no way out the other side. And there was no place big enough on this campus to turn around a 70 foot van. How could he get out? He was not going to back the van down Euclid. Some of us watched for three hours while he jockeyed the big rig back and forth, trimmed some bushes, and broke some concrete, before he finally got the thing turned around.

That seems very long ago now. Things have gotten considerable better since. On this one year anniversary I want to tell you how much I love this place and you people, and doing this job. I want to tell you how much I have missed you these last several weeks when we have been scattered and what a joy it is to welcome you back. I am eager to hear the stories of your January adventures whether here or at home or in far away places like Guatemala and South Africa and Chicago. Mine took me to Minnesota and Arizona.

My presidency really began not with the stuck truck, but the next morning in chapel. Here I met this community for the first time and preached on these texts for the Presentation of Jesus, or as they call it in the Orthodox tradition: The Meeting. And I thought, “What an amazing and auspicious beginning. How fitting for you and I to meet here in the temple while celebrating the meeting of the baby Jesus with Simeon and Anna of old.”

Well, as this year rolled around, it was my turn to preach again. In case you haven’t noticed, Dr. Aune sets it up so that the president preaches at Eucharist at the first and last Wednesday of every term. At first I was surprised to discover that this year it was the Presentation of Our Lord again. And it gradually dawned on me that it will be the Presentation of Our Lord on the first Wednesday of the spring semester next year too, and the year after, and the year after that. And this began to feel less amazing and auspicious and more like a scene from Bill Murray’s Ground Hog Day—which in fact will be tomorrow.

Every year when the members of this community come back from our long winter break, we gather in this chapel and hear the story of the Presentation of our Lord. We light our candles and hear once more the song of Simeon.

My eyes have seen your salvation,
Which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
A light for revelation to the Gentiles
And for glory to your people Israel.

You have each celebrated Christmas since we were all last here together. With your own eyes, in your own way, with other communities—you have worshiped the Christ child. You have seen your salvation wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. You have seen the light of the star. You have sung the “radiant beams from his holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace.” As we gather again in February—huddling in this chapel wishing we had brought a warmer coat—it is good to hear Simeon’s song and remember the joy and the promise of Christmas… and make it present again.

Next year and the year after and the year after that, this community will begin the spring semester with the Presentation of Our Lord and the sober prophecy Simeon spoke to Mary:

This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.

Strange words—scary words. Who knows what all they mean to say. But surely they are a warning to Mary about what the future will hold. They foreshadow the hatred and fear and violence her son will provoke in others. This child is destined for awesome power and danger. In the Gospel for last Sunday, we saw Jesus full grown, speaking with authority and power, confronting evil, dealing with demons. In the weeks ahead we will see him exerting power over deadly diseases. We know that the reaction is coming. He is destined to be a sign—a sign that will be opposed. And that opposition will take the ultimate form of the cross.

This prophecy of Simeon reminds us that identifying with Jesus is dangerous. Going the way of Jesus will take you into the darkness. You will have to make choices, take sides against evil, confront the powers. You will not escape suffering. Some of you have traveled to dark places during this January interim. Some of you have seen signs and wonders. Some of you have been stretched to think in new ways about the cost of discipleship. Some of you have had to struggle with your own inner demons.

In Arizona last week, I shared in the sadness and disappointment of the Grand Canyon Synod at the resignation of their much loved and very effective bishop, Michael Niels, for sexual misconduct. The death of Coretta Scott King yesterday brings to mind her husband’s legacy and his own violent death. This is dangerous business.

Before we get fully emerged in the routines of a new term, it is good to be reminded that we are playing with fire here. We shouldn’t be surprised by troubles, opposition, suffering, temptations. This child is destined for the falling and rising of many—including us. It is worth hearing this again every year about now.

Each year at the beginning of the spring term, we hear the story of the Presentation of Jesus—how Jesus’ parents fulfilled all righteousness by bringing him to the temple and offering the appropriate sacrifices. We hear the prophecies of Simeon. We also hear about Anna, and it is good that we do. Pious Anna doesn’t get the great lines that Simeon does, but she must have been quite a talker in her own right. When she saw the baby Jesus in the temple, she gave thanks to God and began to tell everyone about the child. As we start the new term, it is good to have this image of Anna before us—a woman of deep faith, spontaneously, authentically, urgently speaking about this child with people who were longing to hear good news.

The story ends with a rare glimpse into Jesus’ growing years. And it so powerfully captures what we hope for you as you renew your studies, that it really does bear repeating every year as we begin the spring semester. “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”

May God bless you this term, through these 14 short weeks. May you be sustained by regular, intimate communion with the incarnate one, Immanuel, as Simeon was by his meeting with Jesus in the temple. Meet him at this table, in the Word. Hear him in your prayers. Learn to know him in your classes. Experience him through this community.

God give you courage to follow Jesus, knowing it will be costly—dangerous—as Simeon warned Mary long ago.

May you grow in your passion and your capacity to tell others about the love of God you know in Christ Jesus, as Anna did.

May you grow and become strong, filled with wisdom as Jesus did.

May the favor of God be upon you—as it was upon him.

God be with you all year, until we return again next February to hear again the story of the Presentation of Our Lord.