Happy Candlemas, everybody, it’s February 2nd, the candle-mass. Candlemas is a feast day, it’s the “Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, which… celebrates an early episode in the life of Jesus. In the Eastern Orthodox Church and some Eastern Catholic Churches, it is one of the twelve Great Feasts…Other traditional names include Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and the Meeting of the Lord. In some Western liturgical churches, Vespers (or Compline) on the Feast of the Presentation marks the end of the Epiphany season.1
Candlemas, being on the feast of the Purification of Mary, was also a prime time to do what was called the churching of women – any of you remember that, it was in the old prayer books. The Churching of Women is the ceremony wherein a blessing is given to mothers after recovery from childbirth. In the (old days in) UK and Ireland, new mothers who had yet to be churched were regarded as attractive to the fairies, and so in danger of being kidnapped by them. At one time the rite was practiced in both the Eastern and the Western churches,” but we don’t see much of that anymore.2
All of these traditions came to be because Joseph and Mary did what they were supposed to do. I think it needs to be said that Mary didn’t say to herself, “I’ve just given birth to the Son of the Living God, so I’m going to Disneyland, or I deserve a break, or I’m so special that I don’t have to do what those other people have to do.”
It was not in their nature, Mary or Joseph for that matter, to think themselves as being somehow special, and if they did at any time think themselves special, they probably thought that their specialness made them more responsible for doing what was right.
And so anyway, Joseph and Mary do what they were supposed to do, and as is often the case when you do that, amazing things happened. First, an old man named Simeon laid eyes on the Child that Joseph and Mary had with them, and the amazing thing was, Simeon had been expecting this Child for some time, long enough that having seen Jesus, he was ready and willing to die, presumably happy. His words, codified in the Nunc dimittis, have been said or sung daily for more almost two thousand years. Secondly, Simeon said something else; he said to Mary “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” That doesn’t sound so hopeful, does it? So the second amazing thing that day was that Simeon told the whole truth of what happens when God visits men, that is, we will go absolutely berserk and most likely do something that will pierce the soul of His mother. The third amazing thing is that this other character, Anna the prophetess, she began giving thanks to the Lord for His son’s presence in the Temple before she even set eyes on the Child; her soul, conditioned for 84 years to receive the Christ at His coming, felt the presence of Jesus.
And so what do we draw from this today, in as simple a way possible? First, like Mary and Joseph, we can never know the amazing things that the Lord will lead us into if we don’t trust Him to lead us into them. We should, to the best of our ability, look to be used by the Lord in all circumstances, so that the Lord will turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Second, like Simeon, we can acknowledge that life in the Kingdom of God is always surprising, always challenging, but that having seen the Lord, we like Simeon, are pointed in a certain direction, toward the redemption of the whole world. Third, like Anna, we can remember to train our souls like athletes train their bodies, so that when the moment comes for the Lord to say ‘Hey, I have need of you’ or ‘Hey, I’m about to do something great in your life’, we’re ready for Jesus to show up.
Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, having done what they were supposed to do, were blessed beyond measure; they had Jesus quite literally in their arms. The question for today becomes What are we doing to prepare ourselves for our Lord, and how will we react when He arrives?
2Churching of Women, Wikipedia