Today we celebrate the feast of Candlemas, also known as the presentation of Christ. According to Jewish law a woman who had given birth had to be purified by a priest after forty days. She was expected to offer a lamb or, if she were poor, two pigeons or turtle dove. Here we have Mary and Joseph fulfilling the law when into this scene of traditional Jewish life comes the unexpected. Enter Anna, an old prophetess and Simeon, a very old and devout man, who both speak about this child being the one who will bring salvation, not only to Gods chosen people Israel, but to the whole world.
“My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared…a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel…”
That theme of Christ as Saviour and light of the world is visually enacted in many churches on this day. Candles that will be used in churches and at home are carried in procession and then blessed.
There are lots of other traditions surrounding this day. According to some it is the day for taking down all your Christmas decorations, in France it is a day for eating lots of crepes -but only after 8pm. If the cook can toss the crepe whilst holding a coin in the other hand the family is assured of wellbeing in the coming year! Apparently if today is a fine day then we here in Britain can expect severe winter weather later.
But in America it is Groundhog Day and those of you familiar with the film will understand when I say that perhaps this year it is that feeling of doing the same thing over and over again that we have most in common with! Our days can become very “groundhoggish” as we make our way through this long Covid winter. Eat, work, walk, sleep, repeat. Sound familiar?
Yet even into these days we can know the light and hope of Christ. He can penetrate the darkness in our world and in our daily work and routines. He can and does make all things news. He just waits patiently for us to open our eyes, hearts and minds to his presence and light. This lovely Celtic prayer opens up for me what it might mean to look into the face of Christ as he was held by Simeon…
May the blessing of light be on you –
light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine on you like a great peat fire,
so that stranger and friend may come and warm himself at it.
And may light shine out of the two eyes of you,
like a candle set in the window of a house,
bidding the wanderer come in out of the storm.
Presentation at the Temple. Stained glass window in St.Michael Cathedral. Toronto.
Window: workshop of Franz Borgias Mayer (1848–1926); Photo: Wojciech Dittwald