Andrea Celesti, Presentación de Jesús en el Templo (Wikimedia Commons)
Although our family commemorates the events of Luke 2:21-40 shortly after Christmas, usually on the Sunday following it, traditionally they are recognized in the liturgies of many Christian churches 40 days after the Feast of the Nativity. This is because the Presentation of Jesus in the temple is associated in the Lucan narrative with Mary's purification, which came forty day's after Jesus' birth. In the Anglican tradition (and formerly in the Catholic), the Presentation is celebrated as "Candlemas," partially as a recollection of the lamps of the temple, when candles for the coming year are brought to the church and blessed. In the Eastern Orthodox churches, the feast is often called Hypapante, Greek for "meeting," which recollects how the prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna met the Messiah in the temple.
Sections of the Presentation Episode (Luke 2:21–40)
- Circumcision and Naming of Jesus (Luke 2:21)
- Mary’s Purification (Luke 2:22–24)
- Simeon’s Testimony (Luke 2:25–35)
- Canticle: Nunc Demittis (Luke 2:29–32, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace”)
- Anna’s Testimony (Luke 2:36–40)
Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple (see Good Tidings of Great Joy, 88-90)
Leviticus 12:1–8 mandated that when a woman gave birth, she must be purified of ritual uncleanliness after a period of forty days. As diligent keepers of the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took advantage of their proximity to Jerusalem to make the appropriate offering at the temple in connection with her purification. Although the designated offering was a yearling lamb along with a dove, they took advantage of the alternative that the Law allowed those who were poor to substitute a pair of doves. References to Mary’s purification (Luke 2:22a, 24) frame a second ceremony, the redemption of the firstborn (Luke 2:22b–23). After the Lord delivered the children of Israel from Egypt, he had claimed the firstborn of every family in return for having spared them the night of the first Passover, requiring them to be consecrated to his service (see Exodus 13:2, 12–15). Although the Lord later accepted the service of the entire tribe of Levi in place of the firstborn of all Israel, the Lord still required that the firstborn be redeemed by the price of five shekels (Numbers 18:15–16).
The redemption of the firstborn did not need to take place in the temple, but the presence of the holy family in the sanctuary for Mary’s purification provided Luke with the opportunity for some important symbolism. While we can assume that Joseph and Mary paid the required five shekels required by the law, by not mentioning the actual payment, Luke implies that Jesus continued in the service of the God rather than being redeemed from it. In this the story of the Old Testament prophet Samuel had served as an anticipation: after he had been weaned, Elkanah and Hannah had brought the boy Samuel to the sanctuary at Shiloh, where he was presented and left for a lifetime of service to God (1 Samuel 1:24–28). Recalling how Hannah’s song had served as a model for Mary’s own Magnificat strengthens the connection, suggesting that Mary too was willingly presenting her son to God. While Jesus does not remain in the temple, during his later boyhood visit, he makes it clear that he belongs there and that his mission is to be about his Father’s business (Luke 2:46–49).
Simeon's Testimony (see Good Tidings of Great Joy, 91-92)
|Greg Olsen, Simeon Reverencing the Christ Child|
This good man, assumed to be elderly and approaching death because of his subsequent words, had received a promise by the Holy Ghost “that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). Accordingly, the Spirit brought him to the temple at just the right time to encounter the holy family, whereupon he takes the child in his arms and blesses him (Luke 2:28). This Simeon at the beginning of the story of Jesus thus finds a certain parallel with Joseph of Arimathaea at its end: that Joseph is also just, waits for the kingdom of God, and, in taking Jesus down from the cross and burying him, likewise takes him in his arms (see Luke 23:50–53).
At that moment Simeon blesses God and utters an inspired song, the fourth and final canticle in Luke’s Infancy Narrative (Luke 2:29–32). By tradition it is known as the Nunc Demittis, from the Latin for the first line: “Now you are sending away your servant in peace” (KJV, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word”). Having at last seen the promised Savior, Simeon feels that he can die comforted and reassured “for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” He then continues by describing this salvation in terms rich with Old Testament allusions (see Psalm 98:3; Isaiah 40:5, 42:6, 49:6, 52:9–10). However, whereas Zacharias had also sung of salvation in the Benedictus, his prophecy had centered on the deliverance that would come to Israel. Simeon, by contrasts, speaks of how Christ has been prepared for all people, and he balances both Gentiles and Israel in the final line, calling him “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:32).
Concluding the canticle, Simeon turns to Mary and speaks a final prophecy, telling her, “this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against” (Luke 2:34), prophesying that while Jesus was the glory of Israel, many of his own people would reject him and he would cause divisions even within families (see Luke 12:51–53). Finally, Simeon alludes to the Passion and death of Jesus that Mary would witness so poignantly, telling her that her own soul would be pierced but that in the end judgment would come through her son’s sacrifice (Luke 2:35; see John 19:25, 33–34).
Simeon and Believers Today
The image of the aged Simeon in the temple, meeting at last his promised Savior, is one that resonates with many believers today. It is also one that has come to have special, personal meaning to me. In 2010, just four days before Christmas, my grandfather, Cannon Huntsman, died. Two days after Christmas we buried him. Funerals at Christmastime are always poignant, even when they are held for good men and women who die at an old age. The sense of loss and sadness can weigh heavily on and even dampen the Christmas spirit.
But it was the story of Simeon that gave me great comfort the day after Christmas. I read it that night to Elaine and the children, and I decided to use it in my remarks at the funeral the next day. As long as health permitted, Grandpa spent as much time as he could in the temple. And like Simeon, he had a powerful faith in his Savior and Redeemer. While he did not hold the Baby Jesus in his arms nor see the Risen Lord in the flesh, Grandpa had seen the hand of the Lord all his life and rejoiced in his testimony of Jesus.
While modern revelation tells us “thou shalt live together in love insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die,” it also reassures us that “those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them” (D&C 42:45–46). I have come to believe that men and women of Christ, like Grandpa, can share the sentiment of Simeon when their time comes, crying out in their hearts, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:29).
Anna's Testimony (see Good Tidings of Great Joy, 92)
|James Tissot, The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple |
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