This Sunday is February 2. In the U.S., we will mark the day in several ways. The first way for most of us is that Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday. It’s been fifty years since the Kansas City Chiefs have made an appearance. (No pressure, but this is a big day for some.) Concerning food consumption, Super Bowl Sunday is a feast day which ranks second only to Thanksgiving. The Football season which began in August finds its consummation in the Super Bowl.
This Sunday is also Groundhog Day. In years past, AMC, taking a cue from TNT, showed the Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day, over and over throughout the day. Ironic, eh? Word on the street is that Bill Murray is reprising his role as Phil Conners for a Jeep Super Bowl commercial. Talk about a consummation of American institutions. It seems so right. What else would you do when Groundhog Day falls on Super Bowl Sunday? You’ve just got to bring them together.
It all seems a little curious to me. Why does it feel right to bring memory and festival together? To me, it seems that the desire to celebrate is wrapped up in our humanity. We remember anniversaries, and we celebrate the fulfillment of seasons. We are a people who are compelled to mark time.
This Sunday is also a holiday in the life of many churches throughout the world. The holiday is Candlemas. Candlemas is the 40th day after Christmas Day and marks the day when Mary was declared ceremonially clean after having given birth. But more importantly, it was the day that Joseph and Mary paid the redemption tax of the first born. You can read about the events that day in Luke 2:22-40.
Aside from the offerings made by Mary and Joseph, the couple and baby are greeted by Simeon and Anna. Of their interaction with Simeon, Luke writes,
Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for 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.”
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
The consummation on this day is not the consummation of commerce and performance, but of promise and fulfillment. There are many ironies that come together in this moment. Is this the sudden coming of the Lord to his Temple of which Malachi wrote?
- Jesus, the holy, is borne to Jerusalem in his mother’s arms where one day he will bear a cross and our sins in his arms to Calvary.
- Jesus, the Son of God, — the desire of nations — is redeemed with the poorest of offerings (two pigeons). One day, many days later, Jesus will be stripped to nothing, and he will redeem his people in the richest of loves with the greatest of sacrifices.
So much comes together in the gospel of grace.
Here is a meditation on the events of Candlemas which I wrote a couple of years ago. In it I try and mark some of these gospel ironies. It is a sonnet entitled, “Suddenly He Comes” and can be found in my collection of poems entitled, Walking with Jesus. Happy Candlemas!
Borne in arms to his house as a pilgrim
The Anointed who’ll bear our salvation;
Redeemer redeemed with two young pigeons
For the desire and wealth of the nations.
Suddenly, he comes to those who waited,
The refiner’s fire, promised fuller’s soap;
Simeon and Anna, made young again
Seeing Israel’s consolation and hope.
Lord, in the light of Candlemas I see
In the heart of my own mid-winter way
You gave your wealth, to become poor for me
That I might be young and long for the Day
When the sudden shaking of your revealing
Dashes the proud, but the poor and pierced, healing.