There are 327 days remaining until Christmas in our countdown but on this day we actually celebrate a day reflective of the fact that Christmas was 40 days ago. This day is known as Candlemas. For many, the thinking of this day as a Christian celebration is natural as many Christian denominations mark this as the day the Christ was presented at the Temple. But it must be remembered that this tradition of Candlemas is not Christian in origin at all — it is Jewish.
After all, Christ was a Jew. Joseph was a Jew. Mary was a Jew.
At this point in the Christ Child’s life only a few had an idea of his true paternity. Most assumed he was the son of Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth. So far in his young life he had followed Jewish tradition in all things — at eight days he was circumcised and was formally given his name.
According to the Law of Moses and by Jewish tradition, Mary remained in seclusion for 40 days after the birth, after which she and her husband brought the baby for a formal presentation before God, as was the tradition for first-born male children. Jewish history recalled the bondage of Israel for hundreds of years, and Israel was only set free after a series of miracles, signs and wonders. In the course of that drama Pharaoh resisted and God responded by inflicting a series of plaques upon Egypt — including the death of the first born of all in the land, except for those of the Jews.
In remembrance of this great event Jews dedicated their first born sons to the service of the sanctuary. Later the Lord prescribed that this should only be with the first born sons of the tribe of Levi instead of the first born of every tribe. Nevertheless the first born son of every tribe was in some way dedicated to the Lord and could only be exempted by paying a ransom.
As part of the ceremony of purification every mother was required to sacrifice a lamb and a pigeon or a dove as an offering for sin. For those who were very poor, two birds in the place of the lamb would be accepted. In the case of Joseph and Mary in regards to Jesus, they brought two doves, says the Bible.
The experience of Jesus in the temple that day is marked by two encounters. One with Simeon and the other with Anna. Simeon was an old man, very devout and seemingly blessed. At some time in his life experience he was promised that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah in the flesh. He recognized Jesus immediately. “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”
Perhaps most curious in the temple that day is the parallel experience of Anna, who is described as a “prophetess”. Women are not generally accorded much exposure by Jewish tradition but in this presentation of Christ at the temple it is clear that Anna was a regular at the temple and every bit as blessed and devoted as Simeon. Her’s would be but one curious connection to women that would follow Jesus through out his mortal ministry.
It should be recalled that other than the shepherds coming to the scene of the Nativity Joseph and Mary had only their own heavenly manifestations of the divinity of their Child. Up to this point they had been mostly alone and in seclusion with Him. You have to wonder what they thought of all the fuss made about the Child that day in the temple.
This is precisely why they 40th day after Christmas is remembered in the celebration of Candlemas.