A Year of Worship: The Presentation of Our Lord

Image: The Presentation by James B. Janknegt

I confess that until today, my Christmas decorations were still up. This wasn’t intentional – there’s a newborn in our home after all. In the South, there’s a superstition about leaving your decorations up past New Years. By English tradition, Twelfth Night (Jan. 5th) is the proper time to de-decorate as it’s the night before Epiphany.

But in many parts of the Christian world, decorations are left up until February 2nd, exactly 40 days after Christmas. For many Christians, the “Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord” is the end of a whole Christmas & Epiphany season.

Forty days after his birth, as part of her worship, Mary brought Jesus to the temple. She was dedicating her firstborn son in obedience to Exodus 13:12-15 and making the sacrifices God commanded in Leviticus 12:1-4.

But this dedication was unlike the thousands of other dedications that had taken place there before. As Mary’s son, Jesus’ dedication was indeed in response to God sparing the firstborn of Israel when he passed over them in Egypt. But as God’s son, Jesus’ presentation at the temple was a foreshadowing of the cross. God spared the firstborn of Israel, but God’s love for Israel was so deep, he would not spare even his own firstborn son to redeem them!

The people who encountered Jesus that day knew that this was no ordinary dedication. This was the LORD God himself returning to his own temple. The prophetess Anna gave thanks because the Redeemer of Israel had arrived! Simeon, who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not “see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ,” exclaimed, “My eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Simeon’s proclamation of Jesus as the “light for revelation” for the whole world is reflected in the Christian tradition to bless candles during Feast of the Presentation services. This act led to another name for the day itself: “Candlemas.” The tradition highlights Christ’s light as one of the major themes of the Epiphany season, a season that begins with three Magi finding Jesus by following a star and ends with three disciples seeing Jesus transfigured before their eyes with bright rays of light.

Candlemas is a rare celebration among Cumberland Presbyterians. Nevertheless, it remains part of the ancient worship of the Church which proclaims Jesus as the Light of the World:

“The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. . . The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness.” (Sophronius, Bishop of Jerusalem, AD 638)

A Year of Worship: Advent

While the world is already busy celebrating “Christmas,” the Church waits for Christ’s advent.

My sister could never wait for Christmas. She was the baby, so she always got her way – despite my disapproval as the elder brother and self-appointed guardian of “family tradition.” Opening presents on Christmas Eve after the evening service evolved into opening them before . . . and then to before lunch. One year, I think we opened some on December 23rd. Some years later, my own hypocrisy and impatience were exposed when a certain ring burned a hole in my pocket, and I caved, and I gave my then-girlfriend-now-wife her present three days before Christmas.

No one likes to wait. Waiting is surrender to someone else’s timeline.

We structure our time by our whims. Certainly, there are demands made of us and our time that we must honor. Certainly, there are circumstances that limit the control we have over our own time. Yet even the busiest among us – even those of us who are chained to schedules and alarms and calendars – reserve our right to make final decisions about how we structure our time. The world around us can offer its input, we can look to the norms of others, but ultimately, we turn up the Christmas music in October if we feel like it! (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

God’s time is not our time. It is not our time in the same way that God’s ways are not our ways nor his thoughts our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9) The emphasis in Scripture is not so much that God is timeless – that God stands impervious and indifferent to time. God reigns over time.

For us who serve Jesus as Lord, we acknowledge his complete Lordship over “our” time. Jesus is not simply one more demand placed on our schedules; it’s even wrong to say he’s the most important demand on our schedule. God has bought all of our time for a price, the price of his beloved Son, just as God has bought our very souls. (1 Corinthians 6:20)

The Church Year is our reminder that God is sovereign over time, that we should make “the best use” of our time (Ephesians 5:16) in a walk of holiness, and, ultimately, that God has redeemed our time through Jesus Christ. This is why the Church Year is shaped by the life of Christ himself. From birth to burial to resurrection to reign, every day of the Church Calendar is meant to fix our present eyes on the historic works of Christ so that we see him shining in eternal glory. Following the Church Year means repentance and surrender.

Advent (“coming”) is the Church’s time of penitential, hopeful waiting for God to fulfill God’s promises in Jesus Christ at the right time, his time. (Romans 5:6) It starts the Church Year as a reminder of how the faithful of Israel surrendered to God while waiting in hope for the Messiah. It is a reminder that, even today, we are eagerly waiting for Christ’s return. “Surely, he is coming soon. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)