Meaning for today of the Purification


Scripture: Isaiah 49; 1-7


Purification of Mary and the baby

We look ahead this evening to the day after Christmas.  This year, it falls on a Sunday. On this First Sunday after Christmas, we skip ahead 33 days in the life of the Holy Family. They have travelled from Bethlehem to Jerusalem for the important ritual of Purification.  A ritual cleansing of mother and child after childbirth.

There, in the Temple, they encounter Simeon, an old man. Simeon tells them that he can now leave this earth in peace.  Because, he has set his eyes on the long promised Messiah. The Messiah, he says, will be a light to reveal the God of Israel to the Gentiles. On that point, he quotes from Isaiah, Chapter 49.  That’s the Scripture that we just read.

Christianity and antisemitism

To me, it is inexpressibly sad that Simeon’s vision became corrupted by anti-Semitism. However, Simeon could not foresee the destruction of the Temple.  It was 70 years in the future. That upended Jewish worship practices.

Meanwhile, the Followers of the Way, as the earliest Christians called themselves, became a threat to traditional Judaism. That led to their banishment from the synagogues. In turn, some Christians retaliated.  We see this very clearly in John’s Gospel, with its repeated negative references to “the Jews”.  However, that really means the Jewish leaders of the day, principally Pharisees, scribes, and elders. But taken to refer to all Jews.

The result has been two millennia of horrific behaviour of the followers of the Prince of Peace towards the Jews.  People of which he himself was a member. Happily, more enlightened Christians in our own times recognize this.  That Jesus and the whole cast of characters in the New Testament were Jews and remained Jewish. That is why we continue to read the Hebrew Scriptures, and the struggles of the people of Israel to describe their evolving understanding of the nature of God. Amen.