Weekly Reflection - 2/2/2023
St. Mary's Reflection: The Rev. Kira Austin-Young
This week holds one of my favorite lesser-known and observed Holy Days of the Church – the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, understandably shortened to the Feast of the Presentation – on February 2nd. It is a day that is rich with both religious and cultural meaning due to it falling at the mid-point of winter, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It is the beginning of the end of winter, as those of us in the Northern hemisphere have noticed the amount of daylight increasing. Particularly in a time before electricity and gas heat, this would indeed have been a cause for celebration for the people of Northern Europe. You might know this feast day by its more secular name, Groundhog Day, and they are actually related. On the same day when we look to a large rodent in Pennsylvania to tell us how many more weeks of winter we might have, we observe forty days after Christmas when the Holy Family presented Jesus in the Temple. Before Vatican II, this also marked the end of the Christmas season.
One of the panels of the courtyard mural beautifully portrays the events of the Feast of the Presentation as it is told in Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke. Jewish Law required ritual purification of mothers who had given birth as they were considered unclean, and so Mary, Joseph, and Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem to obey the Law, which also included dedicating one’s first-born son to God. This ritual required a sacrificial offering of a lamb, though families who could not afford a lamb could offer two turtledoves, which is what the Holy Family offers. Also, at the Temple that day were the prophets Simeon and Anna who had spent their lifetimes waiting for the Messiah. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he saw the Savior, and he recognizes the infant Jesus as this Savior. The song he sings, known as the Nunc Dimittis, is one of the prescribed canticles in our service of Evening Prayer.
This day also begins our focus on the approach of Lent and the inauguration of what has been known as “Shrovetide.” It’s a good time to start thinking about what Lenten disciplines you might engage in come Ash Wednesday. In some places, the Feast of the Presentation is known as Candlemas, as the custom developed for people to bring their candles to be used for the year to be blessed in church. The candles then reminded the people that Jesus was the true light of the world. In France, Belgium, and Switzerland, Candlemas is known as La Chandeleur and the custom is to eat crêpes, whose round shape reminds us of the return of the sun.
Though we might not suffer through winter in San Francisco as much as our compatriots in other parts of the country, the Feast of the Presentation offers us an opportunity to celebrate both the lengthening days and the gift that is Jesus. It can also be a time to create new traditions in your household that are tied to our liturgical calendar, whether that is lighting a candle and reading Luke 2:22-40 or eating delicious crepes. If you are intrigued by this biblical story, we will be delving into it more deeply at the Quiet Day on February 11th from 12 PM – 5 PM as well!
The Rev. Kira Austin-Young