January 30, 2022
Candlemas reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world. This is the message that we and the wider world needs right now. There is light in the darkness of the current age and that light is Jesus. Sometimes the light of Jesus comes in ways that are unexpected. Sometimes it comes quickly like lightning. Other times it comes slowly, like noticing that the sunrise is coming earlier each day and the evenings are growing longer. Either way, God is faithful.
We are shown God’s faithfulness in the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy. The messenger in verse 1 is John the Baptist who came to prepare the way for Jesus. ‘The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple’, to the surprise and disbelief of many this is the baby Jesus in the loving arms of his parents. Not as expected.
Mary and Joseph, being good Jewish parents, bring Jesus to the temple as was the custom of the day. This was to be expected as part of custom and fulfillment of Jewish law. Any presentation was a three-step process: circumcision, redemption and purification.
Circumcision is first commanded in Genesis by God. It would serve as a sign of the covenant (a promise) between God and Abraham. The rite of circumcision was God’s way of requiring the Jewish people to become physically different, by cutting off because of their relationship to Him. Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day of his young life. This was the first action of devout Jewish parents for a firstborn son. The New Testament also talks about circumcision, but this is of a spiritual nature and not a physical one. Colossians 2:11 ‘In him (that being Jesus) you were also circumcised, in putting off the sinful nature.’ We too, like the Jewish people, are to be different because of our relationship with Him.
We all have bits of ourselves, if we are honest, that could be cut off. Those things in our characters or personalities that are difficult or unpleasant, that make life harder than it needs to be. Maybe we hold our money and possessions a little too tightly? We may have areas of sin that need to be cut out. This is what Jesus came to do for those who believe in Him.
The Rite of Redemption was a reminder to the Jewish people that ‘the Lord brought them out of Egypt with his mighty hand’ (Exodus 13). God had redeemed His people from their slavery in Egypt. Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem in obedience and thanksgiving to God for having redeemed His people. Young parents would present their firstborn son to God, symbolizing the act of giving him up to God by saying ‘He is Yours and we give him back to You.’ Then they would immediately redeem him or buy him back effectively with a lamb of a pair of birds. We must all be redeemed. For us non-Jews, we are not bought with birds from God by our natural parents. Rather, we are bought by Christ who used his life to redeem our sinful, natural states and gave us to God. In the New Testament Jesus fulfills this very rite as he came to redeem us. Ephesians ‘in Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.’
Thirdly, the Rite of Purification. This is the last of the baby birth rites. It is an act of cleansing for the mother after giving birth. When this time was over (33 days for a boy and 66 days for a girl), the mother was to bring offerings to the priest. The required sacrifice was a lamb plus a turtle dove. However, if the mother could not afford a lamb, she was to take two turtle doves. This is what Mary and Joseph bring, the offerings of poverty; they brought the least sacrifice permitted by Jewish law. Yet they had in their arms the greatest sacrifice that God could ever make for purification – Jesus. They brought the least and were given the greatest.
Malachi talks of the Lord being like a refiner’s fire and fullers’ soap. These are both painful ways of being cleaned. A refiner’s fire is incredibly hot to burn off the impurities of gold and silver. If Mom or Nan has ever had a go at you with the soap and a brush – you will know the pain of being cleaned with a hard scrub. Again, these OT images of physical purification are translated into spiritual purification in the NT.
In these rituals, Jesus is presented to the people he came to save and redeem. This is where Simeon and Anna fit. They were at the temple the day that Jesus was presented. They are proof of the faithfulness of God. I am going to tread lightly on one of the major themes of Candlemas which is death. I am not afraid to talk about it; I was a MacMillan Palliative Care Nurse for a few years.
However, we have all had our fair share of death in the last two years from Covid. It is fair to say that Simeon and Anna are at the end of their lives.
Simeon was told that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Simeon held on to this promise by living a devout life and waited – maybe for decades until finally the day came. Simeon got himself ready through devotion, worship, prayer, watching and waiting. Anyone wanting to experience the glory of God, want to deepen your relationship, strengthen your faith – be like Simeon and work at it! Simeon’s faithfulness is rewarded by God’s faithfulness as he responds to seeing the baby, ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles’.
The faithfulness of God also features in Anna’s story. I don’t think you can talk about Simeon and then ignore Anna. She was the next person Jesus is presented to. Her life has been defined by death as Jesus’ would be. Anna was widowed probably when she was 20 or 21, she would not have had children and now she is 84 – so spent 65-ish years in the temple. Anna has lived a life of patient hope as she spent 65-ish years in the temple. She didn’t waver, didn’t give up but daily lived with faithfulness and expectation until the day the Messiah arrived.
On this day of presentation, we too can present ourselves again to God. We don’t need to sacrifice any lambs or birds, we can go directly to the Father. If we can hold the three rites: circumcision, redemption and purification as what Jesus ultimately came to do for us; we will come to a fuller understanding of Jesus and a richer life in him.
We need circumcision to cut away those things in us that do not bear fruit. Jesus will do a much better job of this than we ever will.
We need redemption to be brought into the family of God. Only Jesus can do this for us with his blood.
We need purification as we need clean hands and a pure heart. Again – it is in the death and resurrection of Jesus that we are cleansed.
God is faithful in all of these things and all through our lives if we look to the example of faithfulness of Simeon and Anna.