Surely he did not help angels but rather the descendants of Abraham; therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
The Presentation of the Lord falls mid-way between the end of the Christmas season (the Baptism of the Lord) and Ash Wednesday, which falls on March 1 this year. It is a feast of light; many parish churches and diocesan cathedrals will bless a year’s supply of candles today. We see the Child of Light entering God’s temple to brighten the darkness.
On this day we remember the joy of Christmas even as we anticipate the grief of Lent. He had to become like his brothers and sister in every way: meaning that he would take upon himself the grief, shame and guilt of our sins to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
In the fourth century controversies about the Holy Trinity the bishops of Nicea saw clearly that Jesus cannot save us if he is not the eternally begotten Son of God; they insisted also that he cannot be subordinate to the Father in any way. Though perfectly obedient to the will of his Father, he is not the inferior of the Father. If he were inferior his obedience would not be purely generous and utterly sacrificial. It would be a debt owed to a superior rather than a free act.
Amid the controversies, Saint Athanasius explained how the Father and the Son are one – consubstantial – although the Father is not the Son nor is the Son, the Father. From eternity the Father begets the Son; he would not be father if there were no son. He compared Jesus to the light of the sun, which is inseparable from the sun. It would be absurd to speak of the sun as if the sun might exist without its light, or the light without its sun. We echo his conviction every Sunday when we recite the Nicene Creed, “light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father.”
Simeon describes the baby as a light to reveal you (God) to the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.
Gradually the days are getting longer, though we’re still a long way from the equinox in late March. The light of spring begins to dawn across the northern hemisphere. Traditionally, secular Americans celebrate this as Groundhog Day, which also acknowledges the inevitable end of winter and the certain return of spring.
But the darkness in human minds prevails, the darkness of fear and hatred, the darkness of violence and revenge. We meet it daily in a thousand ways. We recognize it in the morning news, our midday anxiety, and our nightly examination of conscience.
The Presentation in the Temple celebrates the victory that Jesus has already won for us. As Simeon and Anna welcome the Holy Child and tell all Jerusalem about him, we hear the Good News that the Light has come, our Salvation is assured.