Candlemas: Cleaning up

Candlemas – Year B

Malachi 3:1-5
Luke 2:22-40

Christmas is now really and truly over. Although it has felt like that for a while! As we celebrate Candlemas today we have the final Christmas reminder that Jesus came as the light of the world. This is the message that everyone needs right now.

Sometimes the light of Jesus comes in ways that are unexpected. It comes in epiphany moments like we have seen in our readings over the last 2 weeks. Other times light dawns slowly, like noticing that the sunrise is coming earlier each day and the evenings are growing longer. The light comes as it comes; showing us God’s faithfulness.

We are shown God’s faithfulness in the fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy. The messenger and the Lord spoken of in verse 1 are John the Baptist and Jesus. John came to prepare the way for Jesus. To the surprise and disbelief of many, Jesus comes to the temple as a baby in the loving arms of his parents.

Mary and Joseph, being good Jewish parents, bring Jesus to the temple in order to fulfil Jewish law. Any presentation was a three-step process: the rite of circumcision, rite of redemption and rite of purification.

The Rite of 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.

The New Testament also talks about circumcision; 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 Jesus.

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. We may or may not be aware of them. Maybe we do not always understand why people react to us the way they do. Maybe we hold our opinions, money or 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, symbolising 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 all must 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. Paul in Ephesians explains, ‘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.

Malachi speaks 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 Mum 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. We will tread lightly on one of the major themes of Candlemas which is death. 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 who is ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles’.

The faithfulness of God also features in Anna’s story. 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. Anna has lived a life of patient hope as she spent 65-ish years in the temple. She did not waver, did not give up but daily lived in faithfulness and expectation until the day the Messiah arrived.

On this day of presentation, we too can present ourselves again to God. We do not need to sacrifice any lambs or birds, we can go directly to the Father. By holding the three rites: circumcision, redemption and purification as what Jesus ultimately came to do for us; we can come to fuller understanding and richer life in Jesus.

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. Not so that we can behave better or follow the rules; rather that we can live fully and abundantly not weighed down by sin and guilt.

When we look at the world around us and into our own lives, we need God’s light. We need to see things and ourselves the way they are. We also need God’s light and faithfulness to lead and guide us into abundant life. To be light to others. Let your light shine.

Author: Sue Lepp

I am currently the Lead Chaplain of Gatwick Airport and the Priest-in-Charge of Charlwood St Nicholas and Sidlow Bridge Emmanuel in the Diocese of Southwark. I served my curacy in the Parish of Langley Marish and trained at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Former Nurse in both Canada and the UK. Specialised in Palliative Care, Gynaecology-Oncology and a bit of Orthopaedics (just to keep me travelling). Worked as a MacMillan Nurse Specialist in a few specialities in London.

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