What is Candlemas (a protestant perspective)?

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By BibleAsk Team


Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ or the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Mary, is a Christian holiday celebrated on February 2nd. From a Protestant perspective, Candlemas holds significant theological and value, although it might not be observed with the same rituals and traditions as in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity. This essay will explore the biblical foundation of Candlemas, its historical development, and its significance within Protestantism, drawing upon passages from the Bible.

Biblical Basis for Candlemas

The biblical foundation for Candlemas is found in the Gospel of Luke. The account of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple and Mary’s purification is detailed in Luke 2:22-40 (NKJV):

“Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.’ And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just 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. So he came by 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 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.’

And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’

Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”

Significance of Candlemas

From a Protestant perspective, Candlemas highlights several important theological themes:

  1. Fulfillment of the Law: Jesus’ presentation at the Temple signifies His family’s adherence to Jewish law and customs, highlighting Jesus’ fulfillment of the law from the very beginning of His life. This fulfillment is emphasized in Matthew 5:17 (NKJV): “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”
  2. Recognition of the Messiah: Simeon and Anna’s recognition of Jesus as the Messiah underscores the fulfillment of God’s promises and the recognition of Jesus as the light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel. This is an essential aspect of the Christian faith, as highlighted in John 1:9 (NKJV): “That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.”
  3. Light and Revelation: The theme of light is central to Candlemas. Jesus is recognized as the “light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,” reflecting the broader Christian mission to spread the Gospel. This theme is reiterated in John 8:12 (NKJV): “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.'”

Historical Development of Candlemas

Candlemas has been celebrated since the early centuries of the Christian Church. Initially observed in Jerusalem in the 4th century, it commemorated the fortieth day after Jesus’ birth, in accordance with Jewish tradition. By the 7th century, the feast had spread to Rome, where it also became associated with the blessing of candles, symbolizing Jesus as the light of the world.

Protestant Observance of Candlemas

Protestant traditions may vary in their observance of Candlemas. While some Protestant denominations, such as Anglicans and Lutherans, maintain liturgical celebrations that include the blessing of candles and readings from the Gospel of Luke, others may focus more on the theological themes of the presentation and purification.

Theological Themes and Protestant Reflection

  1. Adherence to Scripture: For Protestants, Candlemas is a reminder of the importance of adhering to the teachings of Scripture. The obedience of Mary and Joseph to the Law of Moses serves as an example for Christians to follow the Word of God faithfully.
  2. Christ as the Fulfillment of Prophecy: Candlemas emphasizes that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, as evidenced by Simeon’s proclamation. This is a cornerstone of Protestant theology, which holds that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. The New Testament Church became “spiritual Israel” and heir of the covenant promises.
  3. Light in Darkness: The metaphor of Jesus as the light of the world resonates deeply within Protestantism. It reinforces the call to evangelize and spread the light of Christ to all nations. This missionary imperative is underscored in Matthew 28:19-20 (NKJV): “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.”
  4. Simplicity and Purity: The presentation of Jesus and the purification of Mary reflect themes of simplicity and purity. For Protestants, these themes are significant as they emphasize the need for personal holiness and dedication to God.

Candlemas and the Christian Life

Candlemas offers several practical applications for the Christian life:

  1. Obedience to God’s Word: Just as Mary and Joseph obeyed the Law of Moses, Christians are called to live in obedience to God’s Word. This obedience is a demonstration of faith and dedication to God’s commands (Exodus 20:1-17).
  2. Recognition of Christ: Simeon and Anna recognized Jesus as the Messiah through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This teaches Christians to be attuned to the leading of the Holy Spirit and to recognize and proclaim Jesus in their lives.
  3. Witnessing the Light: The theme of light challenges Christians to be witnesses of Christ’s light in a dark world. This involves living out the Gospel in everyday actions and sharing the message of Christ with others (Matthew 28:19).
  4. Purity and Holiness: The purification of Mary highlights the importance of living a life of purity and holiness. Christians are called to be pure in heart and dedicated to God’s service (1 Peter 1:15,16).

Candlemas and Protestant Theology

Candlemas also offers a rich field for theological reflection within Protestantism:

  1. Incarnation and Redemption: The presentation of Jesus in the Temple underscores the incarnation of God in human form and the beginning of the work of redemption. This aligns with Protestant emphasis on salvation through Christ alone.
  2. Christ as Light: The recognition of Jesus as the light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel speaks to the universal scope of Christ’s mission. Protestant theology emphasizes that salvation through Christ is available to all, not just to a particular people group.
  3. Prophecy and Fulfillment: Simeon’s prophecy about Jesus points to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Protestant theology often highlights the continuity between the Old and New Testaments and the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus.

Conclusion

Candlemas, from a Protestant perspective, is a celebration rich with biblical and theological significance. It commemorates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the purification of Mary, as described in Luke 2:22-40 (NKJV). The feast underscores themes of obedience to God’s law, the recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, and the proclamation of Christ as the light of the world.

While Protestant observances of Candlemas may vary, the underlying themes remain central to the faith: adherence to Scripture, fulfillment of prophecy, witnessing to the light of Christ, and living a life of purity and holiness. Through these themes, Candlemas offers a profound opportunity for reflection on the mystery of the incarnation and the ongoing mission of the Church to spread the light of Christ to all nations.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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