One of the neat things about the liturgical calendar utilized by some churches is that specific days of the year are set aside to mark important events in the life of Christ. Even in non-liturgical churches, there are vestiges of this… most churches observe Easter and Christmas, and some observe the season of Advent (which, though it doesn’t mark a specific event in the life of Christ, is a season of preparation for the coming of Christ).
Today, February 2nd, is set aside to mark the events recorded in Luke 2:22-35. Depending on the particular tradition, the day is called some variation of “The Feast of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus.” It is also sometimes referred to as Candlemas for reasons we are about to explore.
That particular passage in Luke recounts the journey of Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus to the temple forty days after his birth. Jewish law required the mother of a child to come to the temple and offer a sacrifice to complete her ceremonial purification after the birth. And, when the child that had been born was a firstborn son, he was to be taken to the temple to be presented to the Lord.
When Joseph and Mary enter the temple, they are approached by an elderly man who recognizes their child as the promised Messiah. He takes the infant Jesus in his arms, blesses him, and utters words still used by some churches in the canticle known as the Nunc Dimmittis (Latin for the first few words of the canticle: “Now you let depart…”).
Simeon says (to the Lord) that “[M]ine eyes have seen Thy salvation… a light to lighten the Gentiles…” Jesus later echoes this in his own words: “I am the Light of the world.” (John 8:12)
Eventually, it became customary for the candles that were to be used by a church in the coming year (as well as candles to be used in the homes of the parish members) to be blessed during the Mass held to mark the day on which Simeon recognized Christ as the Light of the world, hence the name “Candlemas.”
The folks at Trinity Lutheran Church in Old Dime Box presented a short program tonight in which the children acted out the events at the temple recorded in Luke 2:22-35. As you probably guessed (since there are pictures), we made the short drive up there and were in attendance.
Blessèd are You, O Lord our God, king of the universe,(“Thanksgiving for Light,” found in the “Evening Prayer” setting in the _Lutheran Service Book_)
who led Your people Israel by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
Enlighten our darkness by the light of Your Christ;
may His Word be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path;
for You are merciful, and You love Your whole creation
and we, Your creatures, glorify You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.