A Reading from the Book of Malachi (3:1-4)
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
1. How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
2. The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
3. Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.
4. Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.
5. Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, *
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
6. They will climb from height to height, *
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.
7. LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
hearken, O God of Jacob.
8. Behold our defender, O God; *
and look upon the face of your Anointed.
9. For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
10. For the LORD God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;
11. No good thing will the LORD withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.
12. O LORD of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews (2:14-18)
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (2:22-40)
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” “And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
by the Rev. Deacon George Snyder
MAY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THE MEDITATION IN ALL OF OUR HEARTS BE ALWAYS ACCEPTABLE IN YOUR SIGHT, O LORD! YOU ARE OUR STRENGTH; YOU ARE OUR REDEMPTION!
Today is a special Sunday in the church year—and, no, Judy and Jim, I am not referring to the Feast of Super Bowl. Besides, you do know that the Bengals aren’t playing tonight, don’t you. But, more importantly, New England isn’t playing either. What I don’t understand is since neither of those teams is playing, why are they even having a game tonight?
Today is special for three different reasons, and the Sunday actually has three different names indicating that. Today is known variously as
- The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- The Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ
- and, Candlemas Sunday.
All of those are referred to in today’s Gospel lesson.
Candlemas means the mass of the candles. I suspect most of you have never even heard of Candlemas. I think—that is, I think—I remember hearing it before Father Mike mentioned it to me on Christmas Eve, but I am not sure. Consequently, I had to do some reading over the last couple of weeks.
Candlemas has a long tradition in the Anglican Church, and previously in the Catholic Church. Candlemas occurs forty days after the birth of Jesus. Forty—that special number in Jewish tradition. Since the fortieth day after Christmas changes each year, it only occurs on Sundays every seven years, except as changed by Leap Year. Besides the scarcity of Candlemas Sundays, many churches simply do not celebrate it. I have, to my knowledge, never attended a Candlemas service. On Candlemas Sunday the tradition was to bring all the candles that the church would use during the year into the sanctuary, and bless them for their holy use. Today with electric candles and oil filled candles that tradition hardly seems important.
Candles were very important to the ancients. They were the only source of light both in their homes and in the church service, but there is more to it than that. The ancients, and even those who lived up through the Middle Ages, used candles as protection against plagues, illnesses, and famines. For Christians, there is another importance attached to candles. During those ancient times, people often felt lonely, lost; they were afraid as if they were facing the world on their own without anyone to help them.
Isn’t the same still true of us? Who is going to be there to help when my insurance company refuses to pay for my treatment? Who is going to be there when I lose my job because the factory is moving to Mexico? Who is going to be there to help when my unemployment insurance runs out? We can use that “Who is going to be there” questions for hundreds of situations.
That fear of being alone, all changed with the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem because when Jesus came, he came giving his light to the world with his message that we would lead all of God’s children to the Father, and that he would be with them always. We still light candles today during our church service—not because we need their light. Dayton, Power and Light takes care of that for us. We use the candles to remind us that even if we feel the world closing in on us, if we feel lost because of all the troubles that every man and woman has to face in their lifetime, we are still not alone. Christ Jesus is there to lead us. The candles remind us that Jesus dispelled all darkness from the world.
In addition to Candlemas, we celebrate the Feast of the Purification of Blessed Virgin Mary and the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ today. Jewish tradition dictated that a family with a new child had to present itself in the temple exactly forty days after the birth of the child. That is what is happening into today’s Gospel lesson. Joseph took Mary and the child to the temple to fulfill ancient laws. Jewish tradition said that following the birth of a child, the mother was ritualistically impure. Since she was impure, she was supposed to be separated from the world; only after the purification ceremony could the mother once again partake of Jewish religious tradition.
I don’t think the purification ceremony is of much interest to modern Christians. However, something else occurs in that visit to the temple that is important to us. Simeon was a righteous and devout man. He had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah.
I am going to move away from the wording in today’s Gospel and use another translation that I think, is clearer in its meaning. For those of you who are familiar with the service of Morning Prayer, two or three Bible readings are done; they are followed by another short reading—many called canticles. There are about twenty readings that can be used for this. One of those choices is known as the “Song of Simeon,” what we just heard in the Gospel. But Morning Prayer in the the Book of Common Prayer uses another translation. I use it because I am more familiar with it, and it has an unparalleled beauty:
Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
When Simeon was a younger man, he was visited by the Holy Spirit, and it told Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. Simeon had to have looked at every person that he saw after that, asking himself, “Is this the Messiah?” When Simeon saw Jesus, he instantly knew that this baby was God’s promised one. Simeon knew that the words of the Holy Spirit were being fulfilled when he saw Jesus. His journey was over; Simeon could now die in peace, “For these eyes of mine have seen the Saviour.” Simeon’s waiting to see the Saviour prevented him from joining his God. He had to wait no longer now.
We are told that Mary and Joseph were amazed at Simeon’s message. Surely, Mary remembered the words she heard at the Annunciation. Surely she remembered how important to mankind her son was to be! But, she had been caring for this infant day and night for over six weeks. I wonder if between the breast feedings, and the diapering, and the myriads of other things that she had to do for her baby, if Mary’s memory of the angel’s message had diminished in her thoughts. She was doing the normal things that a normal mother does for a normal child. Maybe the angel’s message was more dreamlike. All she saw for six weeks was normal daily life. Maybe, just maybe, Simeon’s words served as a reminder to the young mother of the plans that God had for her son. You could understand her amazement.
But that wasn’t all that occurred that day. The two parents encountered a prophet, Anna, in the temple. We are told that Anna was 84—a remarkable age for that time when most people did not live for fifty years, and it was even more remarkable for a woman, a widow. Anna had been married; her husband died after seven years of marriage. If you recall, widows were often left penniless in that era—no means of income, dashed into poverty. Anna spent her time praying and fasting every day and night in the Temple. When Joseph and Mary entered the temple with Jesus, Anna knew that she was in the presence of a special child. The Gospel says, “At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were
looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Twice that day, from two different devout people of God, Mary and Joseph received an affirmation of God’s plans for their child. We, too, are reminded of the special nature of that baby born in the city of David. If we had celebrated a Candlemas here today, those candles could remind us of the words of Simeon and Anna. Those candles would remind us that not only has Christ Jesus served as the light of the world for over 2 millennia, he continues to serve as the light of our world—the hope of our salvation. We need to remember that. Life is not easy to traverse; it is filled with obstacles that are too large for us to deal with on our own. Life can be overpowering. And the point is, we do not have to do it alone. He is there to guide us, to light our way.
The next time you feel alone, adrift, go into a quiet room and light a candle; stare at it, realizing that that light is our guide, our pathway. Realize that you are not alone, the Light of the World is right there with you.