It occurs this Sunday – 2nd February and celebrates the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. As Simeon takes the baby Jesus in his arms he prays that he may be a light to the nations – and so that theme of light has characterised this particular Sunday with some churches lighting many candles and processing around the church with them – hence the term ‘Candlemas’.
Well this account from Luke is one of the optional lectionary readings for this Sunday and I’ve decided to preach from it.
Candlemass comes exactly forty days after Christmas and is, in a sense, a last look back at it. To some it represents the half way point of winter. And connected as it is to Simeon’s beautiful prayer, the one we often call the Nunc Dimittis, it also looks forward to Lent and Passiontide as we remember his words to Mary about her heart being pierced by a sword – a hint of the cross.
So, in one temple encounter Christmas and Easter collide and I rather like that. In a previous church in which I served our ‘flower lady’ always made sure some early daffodils graced the communion table on Christmas morning – that, I think, was her way of making the same connection.
This week I sat in St Martin in The Fields with an old college friend listening to a concert of sacred music on this very theme of Candlemass. I was moved close to tears by the beauty of the singing and the way the choir and minister wove these themes of Christmas and Easter into a brief, yet profoundly moving, lunchtime half hour.
So I think Candlemas is fast becoming one of my favourite festivals! That’s because we always, it seems to me, hold in tension the joy of faith – that celebration of light at the centre of Christmas with all the hope it offers – alongside the reality that Jesus’ message of love wasn’t universally popular and that his message of The Kingdom drove the authorities to order his crucifixion.
As his followers, then, surely it shouldn’t surprise us when the living out of this Kingdom brings us both joy and struggle. It’s not only the way it’s always been – it’s the way it was for Jesus. It is at one and the same time a path of joy and challenge. I believe every step is worth taking and I’m thrilled that Candlemas encourages us on the journey.
With best wishes,