St. Mary-the-Virgin, News for Sunday 2nd February: Candlemass.
We celebrate the feast of Candlemass on Sunday which marks 40 days following the birth of Jesus. This was a significant date in the Jewish tradition, when women who had given birth to a child would attend the temple for a rite of purification and thus bringing them back into the worshipping community. As it was prescribed in the Book of Leviticus (Chapter 12) – 40 days for a male child and 80 days if the child was a girl; the mother would attend the temple to be purified after childbirth. The tradition even carried into Christianity and found its way into the Book of Common Prayer under the heading “The Churching of Women”!
Of course, Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit and gave birth “without stain”, so we may wonder why she needed to attend the temple for the rite of purification? Perhaps we forget that Mary and Joseph were a real family and that Jesus, whilst being God, was also man or boy or child; and for the first thirty years of his life, the Holy Family did what every other Jewish family did: and 40 days after his birth, that meant taking him to the temple.
But this is no ordinary visit as Luke tells us in the Gospel account from Sunday: “Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord.”
Imagine – as the Holy Family enter the temple – the hairs on the back of Simeon’s neck start to twitch. This is it. The time has come. Simeon takes Jesus into his arms and proclaims: “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace.”
If you would like to experience that sensation, then I would strongly urge you to pop along to St Andrew’s Kingsbury at 6.00pm on Sunday Evening, where the St Alphage Chorus will be performing at Solemn Evensong and singing the Nunc Dimittis (also known as The Song of Simeon).
As we start a new month, we are also introduced to a new ACAT Prayer Case of the Month. Niloufar Bayani is, what Margaret Davies describes as “Iran’s version of David Attenborough” – a conservationist who has been photographing and tracking endangered species, but whom the Iranian authorities have imprisoned under the ruse of espionage against Iran. You will see that there are some good news updates at the foot of this month’s Prayer Case, so never under-estimate the power of prayer. Have faith, as Simeon had faith, and let Christ’s light shine in us for all the nations to see.