Malachi 3:1-4; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40
February 2nd is a day of celebrations. Many know it as Groundhog Day, the day when it seems the whole world watches the behavior of a groundhog in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. What many may not know is that this lighthearted little distraction began over a century ago as a Protestant attempt to take attention away from the Catholic celebration of Candlemas. By ancient tradition, February 2nd, the last day of Christmas, is the day on which candles to be used throughout the year are blessed at holy Mass.
February 2nd is also reserved for a much different kind of celebration. At memorial services around the country, people will gather and candles will be lighted to honor four chaplains who in World War II served on board the USS Dorchester. On this night in 1943 the Dorchester was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. Out of time, options, and life preservers, these four men – two Protestant ministers, a Jewish rabbi, and a Catholic priest – gave up their life jackets to four soldiers without one, locked their arms together in prayer, and went down with the ship.
This is exactly the kind of heroic witness that goes to the heart of the greatest celebration on February 2nd – the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. For, from the moment of their own consecrations, each of these men had, like Christ, committed himself to bringing the love and light of God to those around them. While none knew the fate that awaited him, each spent every day preparing for it; offering themselves to the Father that others may live. When the final moment came, each man came to it exactly as Simeon came to the Temple; in the Spirit, using the gifts only God can give, for the same reason that Christ came in the first place – that others may live.
But their lives and deaths are more than just a good story; they point the way for us. We too are consecrated to the Lord. At our baptism, each of us received a lighted candle while our parents and Godparents were told, “This light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. He (she) is to walk always as a child of the light.” The Feast of the Presentation is the perfect time to remember that moment and re-dedicate ourselves to it. As children we depended on others to teach us the faith and to help light its fire in our hearts; as adults we are charged to pass that faith on to others. In both ways, we are called to present ourselves to the Lord and to live out our consecration to Him.
Begin conformed to Christ in this way will mean that we like him are to be signs of contradiction; teaching life to a culture of death, showing what happiness is to a world so frustrated in its pursuit of pleasure, and living the spiritual life as a model for those who see only the material. That will no doubt bring joy but also rejection and suffering. Jesus experienced this; as we heard in the letter to the Hebrews, he himself was tested through what he suffered. But the author doesn’t leave it there; he concludes by saying that he is able to help those who are being tested (Hebrews 2:18).
This is the most hopeful note of all, for it means that whether those moments of testing sting like the ice water of the North Atlantic or burn like the refiner’s fire, Christ has not abandoned us; to the contrary, he walks with us, the light for our path and the Light of the world, constantly forming and conforming us in ways more and more like himself – as the prophet Malachi said, a sacrifice pleasing to the Lord.
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