Forty days after the birth of a male child, the Torah recognizes that the mother’s purification may be completed and celebrated with an offering in the Temple (Leviticus 12). This timing is observed in the feast called the Presentation of the Lord or the Purification of his mother. The celebration is also known as Candlemas because the custom arose of blessing candles for usage during the course of the year at this time, a tradition that links to Symeon’s acclamation of Jesus as a light for the nations in today’s reading from the Gospel according to Luke.
The First Reading
God Comes with Purifying Power
In the period of the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple, the prophet Malachi announces the imminent appearance of God, who sends a messenger in anticipation. God will arrive at the Temple, says Malachi, setting the stage for this reading to serve as commentary on the day when Jesus’ parents presented him at the Temple in Jerusalem. The passage encourages hope that this moment will have a purifying effect on the worship practices of God’s community.
Look! I am sending my messenger who will clear a path before me. Suddenly, the ruler whom you seek will arrive at the Temple. The messenger of the covenant, for whom you yearn—look!—he is coming, says the Lord of the heavenly divisions. Who can endure the day when he comes, and who will stand fast when he appears? For he is like a smelter’s fire and launderers’ lye. He will judge as a smelter, a purifier of silver, to purify the Levites and to refine them like gold and silver, so that they will properly bring offerings to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and of Jerusalem will please the Lord, as in ancient days and former times.
Happy Are Those who Dwell in God’s House
The pilgrim yearns to reach and dwell in the house of the Lord—that is, the Temple in Jerusalem, referred to here as Zion. Depicting the joy of standing in God’s presence, the psalm calls God’s blessing upon the righteous who make such an arduous journey. The psalmist also asks for God’s favor upon the Davidic king, whose rule protects Zion and demonstrates God’s continued presence there. The terms “our shield, God’s anointed” in verse 9 refer to that king.
- For the director, on the gittith, of the sons of Korah, an accompanied psalm.
- 1. How lovely are your dwelling places, Lord of the heavenly divisions.
- 2. My innermost being yearns—I am exhausted in longing for the courts of the Lord.
- My heart and body cry out in joy to the living God.
- 3. Even a sparrow finds itself a home, and a swallow its nest,
- in which she sets her fledglings, alongside your altars,
- Lord of the heavenly divisions,
- my sovereign and God.
- 4. Happy are those who dwell in your house;
- they continually praise you.
- 5. Happy are those whose strength is in you,
- in whose hearts are the paths of the pilgrim.
- 6. Those who cross the valley of Baca—
- they deem it a place of springs.
- Indeed, the early rain wraps it with blessings.
- 7. They go from strength to strength,
- appearing before God in Zion.
- 8. Lord, God of the heavenly divisions, hear my prayer;
- pay heed, God of Jacob!
- 9. See our shield, God!
- Look upon the face of your anointed!
- 10. For one day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else.
- I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
- than live in the tents of the wicked.
- 11. For sun and shield is the Lord.
- God will provide grace and dignity.
- The Lord will not withhold what is good
- from those who walk in integrity.
- 12. Lord of the heavenly divisions—
- happy are those who trust in you!
or Psalm 24:7-10
God’s Enthronement in the Jerusalem Temple
Psalm 24’s imagery and use of questions and answers (“Who is this sovereign of glory? The Lord….”) suggests its place in the liturgy of the ancient Temple. It was recited, perhaps, on holidays or occasions on which God’s presence—possibly in the form of the ark of the covenant—was recognized as returning to the holy place. God then was welcomed as a hero returning from battle, and even the Temple’s gates (verses 7 and 9) were understood to rise in joyous greeting. Liturgical use of Psalm 24 continues in the synagogue to the present day. The congregation recites it when they return the Torah scroll to the ark, after reading it and joyously parading it through the congregation.
- 7. Stand tall, gates—
- be exalted, ancient doorways!
- The sovereign manifest in glory is entering!
- 8. Who is this sovereign manifest in glory?
- The Lord—mighty and powerful—
- the Lord is powerful in battle.
- 9. Stand tall, gates—
- exalt, ancient doorways!
- The sovereign manifest in glory is entering!
- 10. Who indeed is this sovereign of glory?
- The Lord of the heavenly divisions;
- God is the sovereign manifest in glory.
The Second Reading
Jesus’ Redemptive Suffering
The Epistle to the Hebrews focuses on Jesus’ redemptive role for humanity, the way his death releases people from the power of sin and death. The author emphasizes that, as a human being, Jesus endured suffering in order to confront and overcome the power of death on behalf of others. The reading contrasts this flesh-and-blood purpose with any attempts to portray Jesus in angelic terms, which the author believes are too distant from human reality to do justice to Jesus’ unique accomplishment.
Because the children of God share blood and flesh, Jesus indeed took part in these together with them, so that through death he could overwhelm the one who holds the power of death—the devil—setting free those who all their lives had been held in slavery to the fear of death. Obviously, he is not caught up with angels, but he is caught up with Abraham’s seed. So he had to be like his family in every way, to become a merciful and faithful high priest in relation to God, making reconciliation through sacrifice for the sins of the people. Tested by having suffered, he is able to provide aid to those who are tested.
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
Although the forty-day period of purification set out in the book of Leviticus (12:2-4) applies to Mary as the mother of a male child, Luke’s Gospel also focuses on the infant Jesus. As a firstborn son, he belongs to the Lord from birth according to the book of Exodus (chapter 13). Symeon and Anna, both prophetic figures associated with the Temple, then reinforce this focus. They look ahead to the fulfillment of Jesus’ identity in his final days in Jerusalem, even as he returns with his parents to Nazareth.
When the family had fulfilled the days of purification according to Moses’ Torah, they brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord—as is written in divine Torah, that every male breaking open a womb shall be called holy to the Lord—and to give sacrifice according to what is said in the divine Torah, a pair of mourning doves or two doves. And look: A man was in Jerusalem whose name was Symeon. This man was righteous and devoted, anticipating Israel’s consolation, and a spirit was holy upon him, and it had been imparted to him by the holy Spirit—not to see death before he saw the Lord’s Anointed. He came in the Spirit into the sanctuary, and at the very time the parents brought the child Jesus in for them to do according to what is customary in the Torah concerning him, he received him into his arms. He blessed God and said, “Now you release your servant in peace, Master of all, according to your oracle, because my eyes saw your salvation, which you prepared in front of all peoples, a light for gentiles’ revelation and your people Israel’s glory.” And Jesus’ father and mother were marveling at the things spoken concerning him. And Symeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “Look: He is set for the collapse and arising of many in Israel and for a contradictory sign, and through your own soul a sword shall pass in order that the deliberations of many hearts might be exposed.” And there was Anna, a prophet, daughter of Phanuel, from Asher’s tribe—she had passed many days living with a husband seven years from her puberty, and she was a widow until eighty-four years—she did not separate herself from the sanctuary, fasting and offering petitions night and day. In the same hour she presented herself and made profession to God and spoke concerning him to all those anticipating Jerusalem’s redemption. And when they had completed all according to the divine Torah, they returned to Galilee to their own town, Nazareth. And the child grew and strengthened, filled by wisdom, and God’s grace was upon him.