Message: There will be a lot rituals today at MetLife stadium. Enjoy them, but remember your priorities.
Someone has put out a T-shirt that says, "God, Family and the Seahawks...in that order." Today's Feast can help us get things in their right order. It's a nice coincidence that the Super Bowl falls on the Feast of the Presentation. So let's talk about how this Feast can help us rightly order our lives.
First of all, let me say I do not want to dampen anyone's fun. I'll certainly be rooting for the home team and, all in all, sports are a good. But, like anything good, we need to place the right value on sports. You will agree, I am sure, that God and family are more important than the Seahawks. At the same time, what we know in our minds does not always play in out the way we live our lives.
The Feast of the Presentation will help us live our priorities. One way it does that is by showing how keeping track of dates can be part of honoring God. Today, February 2, is exactly forty days since Christmas. If you add the days between Christmas and New Years (7), the month of January (31) and the first two days of February, you reach a total of 40.
I have asked groups of children - and adults - if they know what happened forty days after Jesus' birth. They give all kinds of wild guesses, but seldom the correct answer. We have it in today's Gospel: the purification of Mary and the presentation of Jesus.
After childbirth the mother remained apart for forty days. This custom may have emerged for very practical reasons. The birth of child brings enormous joy, but also great pain and stress. The mother needs time to recover physically and emotionally. While the amount of time varies from woman to woman, forty days seems like a good average.
So, forty days after Jesus' birth, Mary received the rites of purification. They did not imply any sin, but rather physical and emotional re-integration into the community.
Like any Jewish couple, Joseph and Mary kept careful track of the days since the birth of their child. It meant an end to the mother's days of seclusion, but it also meant something significant for the child.
At the same time the mother was "purified," the parents presented their first-born male child. Parents who possessed sufficient resources offered a lamb, but the poor could substitute a pair of pigeons.* Thus Joseph and Mary fulfilled the rite which extended back to the Escape from Egypt (c. 1250 B.C.). They identified themselves as members of a chosen people.
This sense of identity and belonging also is part of the Super Bowl. People in Seattle and Denver feel pride that their home team made it to the big game. It's a fairly harmless form of pride because (even though we talk about the importance of the "twelfth man") we know that we can take little or no personal credit. The Jewish people likewise the pride in their identity. The rituals speak about their relationship to God and the world. The Presentation signifies dependence of God and dedication to him. It means to put God first and to see everything in relation to Him.
The Presentation also involved a family celebration. No doubt, for a couple like Joseph and Mary, it was a modest affair - but still a celebration infused with joy. Just so, for the early Christians today was a joyful day. They celebrated it by having a candle-light procession. Here is how one writer describes this day:
"Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole world radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go out to meet Christ."
Now, you and I will be seeing a lot of rituals today - not candle processions, but there will be plenty of rituals at MetLife stadium. Enjoy them, but remember your priorities. Maybe today your family can find time for another small ritual: light a candle in your home. Tonight, after the game is over - whoever wins - light a candle. Like Simeon we can say, "My eyes have seen your salvation...a light of revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel." Amen.
*No doubt the early Christians saw an irony: the parents who could not afford a lamb, present the true Lamb of God.
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