On 2nd February the season of Christmas officially comes to an end as we celebrate Candlemas. We pack away the crib for another year and start to prepare for the beginning of Lent – Ash Wednesday is on 26th February. Candlemas is also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Counting forward from 25th December as Day One, we find that Day Forty is 2nd February. A Jewish woman is in semi-seclusion for 40 days after giving birth to a son, and accordingly it is on 2nd February that we celebrate the coming of Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus to the Temple at Jerusalem to offer sacrifice, both on behalf of Mary and on behalf of Jesus as a first-born male.
It became the custom of the church to light a central candle and bring it to the altar to represent the Christ-light praying that all who saw that outward and visible light would remember and be blessed by the inner light of Christ ‘who lightens everyone who comes into the world.’ Also, on the occasion of this feast, it became the custom to bless the year’s supply of church candles. At a time when people lit their own homes with candles, parishioners were invited to bring their domestic candles for blessing as well. We continue the tradition of blessing the year’s supply of candles in both All Hallows and All Saints.
As with other Christian festivals, Candlemas draws some of its elements from Paganism. In pre-Christian times, it was the festival of light. This ancient festival marked the mid-point of winter, half way between the winter solstice (shortest day) and the spring equinox.
People would place lighted candles in their windows to scare away evil spirits on the dark winter nights.
A few years ago, when I was going through a period of discernment trying to discover whether God was really calling me to the priesthood, I had my doubts. I said to someone ‘If God were really calling me I feel I should have fire in my belly, but I don’t!’ She replied, ‘It’s all right to be a candle’. When I mentioned this to someone else, they said, ‘Never underestimate the power of a candle!’ Do you know how far away the human eye can see a candle
burning? In ideal conditions (eg no light pollution) it’s thought about a mile and a half, but it’s a very difficult experiment to carry out. Nevertheless, if you’ve ever used a candle during a power cut you will know how effective a candle can be.
Jesus was born to humble parents, in a backwater of the Roman Empire, yet he became, ‘A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.’ When we are called by God to play our part in the building of the Kingdom, we may think of ourselves as humble candles tentatively flickering, but NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A CANDLE.
May you shine brightly throughout 2020.
God bless, Revd Christine