This stained glass depiction of the Presentation of the Lord is found in St. Michael Church, West End.
This stained glass depiction of the Presentation of the Lord is found in St. Michael Church, West End.
Gospel Reflection for Feb. 2, 2020

The midpoint of winter, 40 days after Christmas, the traditional end of the Christmas Season, is celebrated by many cultures in various ways and is one of the highpoints of the Liturgical Year. A feast which never transfers from a weekday to a Sunday makes this celebration unfamiliar to most of us.

As the sun marks its transit in the sky, Feb. 2 notes the quickening of the lengthening of daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere. The darkness that has overtaken us is increasingly ebbing as the sun rises earlier and sets later each day. This phenomenon was noted by ancient and pre-Christian cultures throughout Europe and the Americas, lending to the overall significance of the date in its cultural and liturgical meaning.

As the Lord is presented in the Temple and as he is proclaimed by Simeon: “a light to the Gentiles,” the confluence of the celestial and the liturgical calendars becomes evident. So, even as pre-Christian cultures saw this day to be important as spring approaches and there is a resurgence of light and life, so the liturgical calendar, too, proclaims that Jesus is the Eternal Light penetrating the primordial darkness of sin and death.

While we strive to be a people of light, we are surrounded with darkness. One interesting and perhaps troubling aspects of much contemporary cinema is its darkness. Many serials written for television or streaming services carry dark themes, along with dark backgrounds, drab costumes and dark set design. There is a fascination with the dark side of characters, and with the presence of evil forces at work in the world.

This is not a new phenomenon. The use of bête noire in drama and literature was known even in the ancient world. Literary characters such as Lady Macbeth, Uriah Heep, The White Witch, Voldemort, Grendel and Ajax come to mind much more readily than do Pip, Isabella, John Coffey or Neville Longbottom. Hence, the danger looms as dark and evil figures become more and more endearing and attractive. While it is true that each one of us carries within us a hidden certain darkness and struggle with sinful tendencies, most of us do work to overcome the darkness by immersing ourselves in the light. This tendency toward sin – what theologians call “concupiscence” – is tempered by the desire for the good.

This same tension is acted out by the celestial forces at work in the universe in a rhythmic cycle each and every year. As the “heavens proclaim the glory of God,” so too do the heavens constantly take us through the struggle between light and darkness.

The flash of light at creation, bringing order to chaos, occurs as the Father utters the Word. That same Word, now incarnate in the Son, is the Eternal Light, Jesus Christ. This Eternal Light, penetrates the chaos of darkness and sin, and points us towards eternal life.

This convergence is expressed as Jesus is presented in the Temple, according to Jewish custom, on the 40th day after his Birth. This is the first visitation of the Lord to the Temple, foreseen by the prophets and longed for as a sign of God affirming the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus might come to the Temple as an infant, carried in his mother’s arms, yet he is already recognized and proclaimed by prophets Simeon and Anna as messiah and Lord. The Light of God’s revelation extends now, not just to the Jewish people, but to all nations, so that Jerusalem stands as a beacon leading all people to salvation.

As we bless the candles and proclaim Christ as the Light at Mass for this Feast, we enter into the depths of the created order, seeking the Light in the midst of darkness. In the prayer for the blessing of the candles the priest intones: “O God, source and origin of all light, who on this day showed to the just man Simeon the light for revelation to the Gentiles, we humbly ask that, in answer to your people’s prayers, you may be pleased to sanctify with your blessing these candles, which we are eager to carry in praise of your name, so that, treading the path of virtue, we may reach that light which never fails.”

Let us never cease to reflect that Light in our lives as we walk the path to eternal life, inspiring others to follow the way.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.