Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7-10; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40
This week we celebrate the festival of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known as Purification, because after 40 days, under the Jewish Law, a woman who had given birth (Mary in this case) was deemed to be ritually clean.
This has been a fixture on the Christian calendar since the year 350. It is also commonly known as Candlemas because since early times it was customary to give thanks for the light of Christ in the world, and to bless candles, symbolic of that light, for use in the church. Candles used in homes may also be blessed, reminding us to carry the light of Christ in our lives and into the world.
The readings for the week focus on Christ’s humanity, and especially the account, from Luke’s gospel, of the occasion of Jesus being taken to the temple, something routine and fairly ordinary, and his family encountering two reasonably ordinary, if slightly eccentric elderly people.
In the process something extraordinary happens: Simeon gives thanks for the child, recognises him as one chosen for special purpose, but also gives Mary a warning about the piercing of her heart – and with the benefit of hindsight, we know that her heart will be pierced by grief. Similarly, Anna gives thanks for the child, and in a more positive vein, praises God and proclaims the redemption of Israel.
Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last in the life of Jesus, God takes something ordinary and transforms it into something quite extraordinary.
In the same way, God inspires Simeon to utter words of blessing that are tinged with a dark shadow, and ultimately – but not before their stark fulfilment – transform them into words of blessing, through the love of God manifest in Christ.
For this to happen, we have to turn our attention away from the blessing of incarnation, and the light that came into the world at Christmas, and towards the Passion and Resurrection of Christ – and this day is the watershed in the season of Epiphany when this occurs.
Meanwhile, Christ is to be shown in the world, through remembering his life and ministry – and through our own living example.