I confess that until today, my Christmas decorations were still up. This wasn’t intentional – there’s a newborn in our home after all. In the South, there’s a superstition about leaving your decorations up past New Years. By English tradition, Twelfth Night (Jan. 5th) is the proper time to de-decorate as it’s the night before Epiphany.
But in many parts of the Christian world, decorations are left up until February 2nd, exactly 40 days after Christmas. For many Christians, the “Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord” is the end of a whole Christmas & Epiphany season.
Forty days after his birth, as part of her worship, Mary brought Jesus to the temple. She was dedicating her firstborn son in obedience to Exodus 13:12-15 and making the sacrifices God commanded in Leviticus 12:1-4.
But this dedication was unlike the thousands of other dedications that had taken place there before. As Mary’s son, Jesus’ dedication was indeed in response to God sparing the firstborn of Israel when he passed over them in Egypt. But as God’s son, Jesus’ presentation at the temple was a foreshadowing of the cross. God spared the firstborn of Israel, but God’s love for Israel was so deep, he would not spare even his own firstborn son to redeem them!
The people who encountered Jesus that day knew that this was no ordinary dedication. This was the LORD God himself returning to his own temple. The prophetess Anna gave thanks because the Redeemer of Israel had arrived! Simeon, who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not “see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ,” exclaimed, “My eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Simeon’s proclamation of Jesus as the “light for revelation” for the whole world is reflected in the Christian tradition to bless candles during Feast of the Presentation services. This act led to another name for the day itself: “Candlemas.” The tradition highlights Christ’s light as one of the major themes of the Epiphany season, a season that begins with three Magi finding Jesus by following a star and ends with three disciples seeing Jesus transfigured before their eyes with bright rays of light.
Candlemas is a rare celebration among Cumberland Presbyterians. Nevertheless, it remains part of the ancient worship of the Church which proclaims Jesus as the Light of the World:
“The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. . . The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness.” (Sophronius, Bishop of Jerusalem, AD 638)